Table of Contents
Guide for Growing a Bonsai
The Bonsaï: a long history
The art of Bonsaï first appeared in Egypt 4,000 years ago, before being developed in China, and then codified in Japan. This art which crossed the planet only came to Europe as late as 1878.
According to evidence from the time of the Pharaohs, growing plants in pots began on the banks of the Nile around 4,000 years ago. The technique was invented to allow for the transport of plants. Later, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Indians used this technique for the same reason. Growing for aesthetic purposes was invented by the Chinese at the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC. to 220 AD.). At the time, the technique involved recreating a landscape in a large bowl. The first single trees grown in a pot appeared during the Qin Dynasty (220 to 581 AD.).
The codified structure of today’s Bonsaï was created in Japan. The art of growing Bonsaï most likely crossed the sea from China with the arrival of Buddhist monks who came to preach their beliefs in the 6th. and 7th. Centuries. Documents confirm that it took several centuries before the Japanese adopted this art. During the Yuan Dynasty (1279 to 1386 AD.), Japanese politicians and merchants brought these trees back from China and the first full collection was brought back by the Chinese civil servant Chu Shun-sui when he was sent into exile in 1644. This passionate Bonsaï grower fled the Mandchou rule and initiated a few Japanese in the art of Bonsaï to while away his time in exile. A privileged few continued to follow his teachings over several centuries. Only the dominant, feudal and religious classes mastered the art, which really became popular after the first national exhibition of Bonsaï in Tokyo in 1914. It wasn’t until 1934 that it became officially recognized as an art form in Japan.
The first Bonsaï exposed in Europe was shown at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Documents from this time show that these Bonsaï were totally different than the ones we know today. Today’s codification dates from the 1950’s. The Americans imported many specimens from Japan during the Second World War. Bonsaï were introduced to Europe from 1965 on, mainly coming through Germany and the Netherlands. They only became popular in France in the 1980’s.
The different species of Bonsaï
Although all trees, or almost all, can be developed as bonsaï, some species are more suited than others.
In theory, there are no trees specifically grown by bonsaï lovers, but varieties with small leaves, flowers, and fruit are usually preferred. Among these, there are three main categories.
Rustic species are preferred for growing outdoors. The most common of these are the Japanese white pine, the trident maple, the field maple, the alder, the European barberry, the box tree, the common hornbeam, the cedar, the Cyprus and false Cyprus, the hawthorn, the spindle, the ash, the ginkgo, the Japanese holly tree, the juniper tree, the crape myrtle, the larch, the Common Privat, the American Sweetgum, the honeysuckle, the crab apple tree, the redwood tree, the olive tree, the vine, the pine, the cinquefoil, the Chinese quince, the firethorn tree, the pomegranate, the English and the cork oak, the yew, the Chinese, Siberian, caucasian or small-leaved elm, the wisteria and the Japanese zelkova.
The orange grove species
Like their rustic cousins, the orange grove species need to be protected from severe winter frost. The most common of these are the Bougainvillea, the sacred bamboo tree, the snow rose, or the rhododendron.
The more fragile species, especially tropical tres, must be kept in a warm place, with a temperature not exceeding 10°C.. The most common of these are the Jade plant, the Carmona, the tropical fig tree and other varieties of fig.
As every species has different needs, it is highly recommended to ask the advice of specialists concerning the treatment of these trees. The main differences of treatment concern the proportion and frequency of watering, the amount of exposure to the sun and their resistance to frost.
Local rustic species generally tolerate severe frost if the pot is sufficiently protected from this. Tropical species commonly sold are logically more fragile. They need to be kept in a cool place in winter, which must also have plenty of sunlight and a stable humidity level. If you don’t have a place like this (a veranda, a glass roof, a greenhouse) it is advised to grow outdoor rustic bonsaïs.