Bonsai basics

A few basics…

Bonsai (pronounced “bone-sigh”) is a Japanese word composed of two parts – bon and sai. Bon is pot and sai is tree, so a simple translation is “tree in a pot.” The tree in a pot is not an artificial plant, but rather a miniature of a tree found in nature and cultivated to become a living work of art. The art is not a mystery,
but requires time, patience, a desire to learn, the ability to observe and an appreciation of nature and of plants.

The objective of bonsai cultivation is to achieve in miniature form what nature creates in full scale. When elements are properly combined, the result is a miniature work of art that reflects what occurs in nature. We cannot always be in the forest or garden to admire trees and plants. We can, however, cultivate as bonsai those plants that we find most attractive to us and keep them nearby.

Indoors or outdoors?

Tropical plants can be grown indoors and in the summer moved outdoors. Many outdoor plants such as trees cannot tolerate indoor conditions for long periods. Seasonal changes are necessary for many plants to survive and maintain their internal clocks. Outdoor plants, however, can be brought indoors for short periods of time to be enjoyed for a special occasion.

What plants are used?

The plants used in bonsai range from common local plants to the exotic. You can use plants found in your own area or more unusual species purchased from a greenhouse, garden center or other suppliers. There are many sources of fine plants in the Cleveland metropolitan area.

How do I get started?

If you are taking the time to visit a garden center or a bonsai or garden show, you probably have an interest in plant life. Bonsai cultivation and design require an interest in plant growth, some skills in observation, and patience. The techniques used in developing bonsai can be learned from books available at the public library, the Botanical Garden Library, bookstores, and from demonstrations at bonsai clubs and shows. The hobby does not take a lot of room, and an apartment dweller can be as successful as the homeowner with an ample yard can.

There are no special talents or unique equipment required, although, as with most hobbies, as you become more involved in bonsai you will want to acquire tools and materials that make participation more interesting and rewarding.