Bonsai soils

Bonsai soils
This article does not discuss every soil ingredient nor does claim which is best. This is a question that only the enthusiast can answer after experimenting over time with his/her own trees and care routine. However in general terms, the soil in which a tree was originally grown is probably the best providing it is growing well and healthy.

Soil contains a multitude of living organisms that consume, digest, and cycle nutrients. These living organisms include archaea, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa, and a wide range of insects for example. Mites, nematodes, earthworms and ants all of which are important to the vitality of a soil composition, which in turn is vitally important to any and all growing mediums.

Of course, different horticulturists make various soil combinations for their trees, although much depends on species and from where they originated for example. Conifers Pinus spp. and cedar Cedrus spp. prefer the soil composition to be slightly acidic. As do some broad-leaved species Rhododendrons Rhododendron spp., magnolia Magnolia spp. and camellias Camellia japonica.

Deciduous species including Beech Fagus spp., Birch Betula spp., Oak Quercus spp. and Elm Ulmus spp. are predominantly nutrient-demanding, the autumn leaf fall provides an abundant rich humus, that decays quite quickly becoming the nutrients for a tree’s new growth in the spring. This composition of broad-leaf humus is not as acidic as the decayed needles from coniferous species such as Pines.

A bonsai is confined to a relatively small quantity of soil on which its health depends and this growing medium has to be conducive to its needs. Therefore, it must be able to retain water yet have good drainage and have the ability to allow for air circulation. Without this basic criteria the health and vigour of the tree will suffer.

Because the majority of coniferous species dislike wet soils, the soil composition should be less water re-tentative. Alternatively deciduous species especially those that flower and fruit require more water and are normally planted in soil compositions that have relatively high water retaining properties. Therefore, when preparing soil consideration must be given to the species it is intended for.

Organic and Inorganic Soils – can be described in the following manner:
organic – is plant matter which has decayed for example, leaf litter, peat, bark or compost.
inorganic – is material found in most soils sand, silt, clay and volcanic lava contain very little or no organic matter.

Inorganic soils can be difficult to obtain and can be more expensive than organic soils readily available at most horticulture outlets including, nurseries and supermarkets. But the question of what soil composition is best still needs to be answered. As previously stated the soil from where the tree was originally obtained (If from the wild) is probably best suited providing it is growing well and has a healthy disposition.

But, not all trees come from the wild, some are nursery cultivated, in this instance it pays to research the needs of a particular specimen or ask questions of the grower/vendor. Here are a few problems associated with different soil compositions:

Peat – has disadvantages in that it can be too water retentive meaning continually wet during rainy seasons. Alternatively peat in warm temperatures is prone to drying out and can be difficult to water properly leaving dry areas within the root ball.

Sand – although has good aeration has very little water retention properties due to high drainage rate, unable to store plant nutrients, is unstable in that its particles can be blown away allowing the tree to become unstable.

Silt – problems with aeration, water retention properties, drainage rate slow to medium to high, ability to store plant nutrients medium to high, can become unstable due to erosion.

Clay – water holding capacity is high with a low drainage rate, has poor aeration qualities, has good abilities to store plant nutrients is stable, but is very slow to warm in the spring.

One of the biggest problems when using any type of soil mixture is that it has the potential to break down and be compacted in the tree’s container. This often leads to problems with aeration and drainage that can result in root suffocation or rot diminishing the tree’s health. Arguably the only suitable organic component in a soil mix is bark as this holds it’s structure for a longer time before breaking down and does not reduce air circulation or drainage.

Inorganic soil mixes do have an advantage over organic, in that they are able to retain their open structure much longer without breaking down into a paste like substance. In addition, such materials have better water retention properties where any excess is drained from the container immediately and solves the problem of over-watering.

One such inorganic soil composition favoured by those dealing with conifers is Akadama a Japanese baked clay. It comes in a variety of grades purposely produced for bonsai and is imported into Europe and other Western countries. But the downside of using Akadama is that it can be difficult to obtain and usually only available from bonsai nurseries. Akadama is the favoured soil for many bonsai enthusiasts, but can be expensive for example, a 2 litre bag will cost approximately 9 -10 Euros. And if postage is required the price will almost be double. Furthermore, an Akadama soil mix has to be changed every 1 to 2 years.

Other clay soils available are Seramis, Turface, Oil-Dri – these are fired clays and are readily available in many western nursery outlets and are considerably cheaper than Akadama. These clays are fired for longer periods, thus the break down point is much longer than Akadama. Generally speaking all clays can be mixed with bark and grit for a faster drainage, but still have good water retention. Furthermore, nearly all deciduous trees are able to adapt from an organic mix to an inorganic one relatively quickly. But there is one important factor to remember which is; that conifers must retain some of their original soil as it contains mycorrhizae fungi necessary for health and development, which was mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In reality, there is no single soil mix best for cultivating bonsai, because of many factors including, the species, climate tolerance and seasonal changes. To day there is a wealth of information available on bonsai soil compositions written by both experts and novices alike, which can be confusing. But arguably the best way to get and indication of soils types and what is suitable for your needs is this approach.

Firstly, invest in a small soil testing kit, (approximately 10 €) which can be obtained from most all nurseries and some supermarkets. Secondly, take a walk in a forest find a healthy tree with good growth. Take a small sample (Close to the roots if possible) and seal it in a plastic bag remembering to label it. If more samples are needed from different species, you must change the implement or tool to avoid cross contamination. Now test the soil sample (s) according to the instructions on the box or packet and the results will give you a strong indication of the soil parameters of that particular tree. This method of approach is a good learning curve helping to build up your knowledge in determining what is a good bonsai soil mixture.

In the next post we will look at pots and containers. Until then BW, N.



Styling, wiring and pruning

Styling a general perspective – wiring & pruning

Wiring Bonsai trees can be extremely difficult or relatively easy but much depends on the species of tree and what one is trying to achieve in the design. But it should be remembered that wiring a tree takes time to reach a particular style.

Conifers can be and often are difficult to wire because when wiring to the tip of the branch the wire has to be weaved between the needles to avoid damaged. For example, the Norwegian Spruce (Picea abies) has small needles quite close together. (2–12 mm depending on the age of the tree) Damaged needles are unable to photo synthesize properly restricting growth, which is crucial to the tree’s health. Branches devoid of needles are able to bend quite easily providing care is taken.

When wiring large branches a thicker gauge wire is required to hold the branch in position and in many cases, ‘raffia’ and rubber tape is applied around the branch to stop the bark from splitting. Guy wires are often used to hold the branch in position alternatively, a combination of both can be used. Conifer trees are wired from late autumn through winter and the wire suitable for this is copper.

Deciduous trees are said to be easier to wire because there is more space between the leaves, but again much depends on the species. When bending deciduous branches, extra care is required because the branch is likely to break at the first point of weakness. For example, branches on a Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) a popular specimen for bonsai are brittle and will break quite easily. Whilst the European Birch (Betula pendula) is quite supple and can be wired without too much problem. But in all cases it is best to research the tree in question before undertaking any work.

In general the wiring of deciduous trees commences when the sap is flowing freely, after the first leaves have attained maturity. (Late May on wards although this may vary according to the climate zone) If the wire is applied too early when the sap is rising, ugly wire indentations or scar marks are the result, that are often difficult to heal over but again, much depends on the particular species. The wire used for deciduous species is aluminum.

In both cases wiring is undertaken to either straighten or bend the trunk or branches of a tree and wire of various gauges or thicknesses are available. The general consensus is that wiring commences at the base, progressing upwards. Meaning that the trunk should be wired first followed by the lower main branches and then the middle and upper branches. Wire should be wound around the branches in coils at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees, allowing up to 2.5 cm between each coil, but can be closer if need be.

The wire should not be wound too tightly as this may damage the bark of the tree, or too loosely as this will be ineffective. Before commencing wiring, it is advisable to gently bend the branch to be wired to test the approximate strength. The wire to be used will be one that bends slightly less easily. If necessary two wires can be applied for more strength. To demonstrate this consider the following image.


With small and medium bonsai Komono, Katade mochi and Chumono and Chiu respectively wiring trunks and branches can be accomplished through time and is not that difficult. But with larger bonsai Omono, Dai and Hachi-Uye the practice becomes more difficult for obvious reasons. Here rubber tape, raffia, splints, clamps and strong guy wires come into fashion and in some cases saw cuts are made into the branch to shape it. These cuts are always on the inside of a bend, because as the branch is bent the cuts close allowing for the cambium to heal.

In wiring bonsai arguably the question most often asked is ‘How long do I keep the wire on ?’ In short, the answer is ‘As long as possible’, but an important note to remember is always check periodically any wiring to ensure it is not biting into the bark. If this appears to be the case remove the wire by cutting it off and then re-wire the branch in question.


The pruning of a bonsai tree is probably the most important single factor in the forming of its shape, perhaps more with deciduous trees than with conifers due to there rather intensive growth. Pruning as such can be divided into three main headings. Heavy branch, General and Leaf pruning.

Heavy Branch Pruning – with trees obtained from nursery sources or from the wild, this pruning can be carried out immediately however, with established trees waiting till the autumn to prune is more convenient as the form or shape of the tree, especially with deciduous trees, can be visualized more easily.

The rules for initial heavy branch pruning are not written in stone, they are more of a guideline. Having decided what the material or plant’s potential may be, one can start work. But before brandishing the shears, a good tip that some bonsai enthusiasts undertake, is to either take a photograph, which can be downloaded to a computer where the style can be designed via a suitable program, or draw a sketch of the plant. Doing this allows you to finalize the design.

The illustration below shows a plant selected to be grown as an informal upright. (Shakan) Working from the bottom of the tree, a low branch protruding at the front has been removed, as has the opposing branch above it. Further up, the tree has developed a cartwheel effect. Meaning that more than two branches appear at the same height on the tree. In this case two branches were removed. At the top, the branch on the right had possibly been damaged at some point in time, and rather continuing to grow to the right, had grown across the front of the tree and this was removed. The illustration shows the effect of this initial pruning.

Branch pruning


Different styles of bonsai require different forms of heavy pruning, as a general rule, dead, damaged, or diseased branches are removed. But with conifers such deadwood is formed into Jins, which gives the tree a more aged-look. Jins are branches that have been stripped of their bark and cambium layer then coated in lime sulphur, which bleaches the branch. With heavy pruning, there will be wounds and these are susceptible to disease. Some bonsai enthusiasts advocate the use of expensive cut pastes to seal the wounds, some use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) a fraction of the cost. Whilst others do nothing allowing the tree’s natural ability to heal itself.

General Pruning – is carried out throughout the growing season and with most varieties it is started almost immediately they begin putting on the new season’s growth. New growth of all trees can be pinched or removed with the fingers. But if a tree is left until this growth has begun to lignify or harden off, then sharp scissors will be required. Pruning is done to maintain and improve the shape and symmetry of the tree and ramification. It is also necessary for the health of the tree, because a correct balance has to be maintained between a relatively small root ball and top growth. The following illustration shows pruning on a variety of species.



Leaf pruning – is a method of increasing leaf coverage and fine twig-lets, it also assists in reducing leaf size. However, it should only be carried out on trees that are healthy and are growing strongly. In some cases more mature trees are less vigorous in their growth for this treatment. June (Depending on the climate zone) is the time when the all the leaf except for the petiole (the leaf stalk) is removed. After a period of time, approximately 2 to 3 weeks, new leaves and branches will form. But do not remove all the tree’s leaves, at least half must remain as they are needed for photosynthesis in providing nutrients to ensure a strong healthy root system. In addition, it should be noted that leaf removal is restricted to deciduous trees, never with evergreens, flowering or trees bearing fruit.Leaf pruning

Maple – the right image shows a healthy branch where all the leaves are removed
the left image depicts a weak branch of an old tree where only half the leaf is removed
New buds will appear between the base of the petiole and branch.

In the next post we discuss the issue of bonsai soils. Until then BW, N.

Bonsai styles part II

Trunk and root placement  although the majority of bonsai are planted directly into soil, other styles exist for example, trees planted on rock. A mountain scene – Saikei – uses rock formations and planted with ‘live’ specimens, which is akin to the ancient art of Bonkei. However, according to the founder of this art form Toshio Kawamoto these are living landscapes and not bonsai in the true sense of the word. Nevertheless, rocks are used in bonsai styling for example, ‘root over rock’ – Sekijoju where the root system encompasses the rock. And Ishizuki – ‘root clinging to a rock’, where the root system is less dominant as shown below.

Root and rock


Multiple trunks – considered the most common forms of bonsai feature a single tree however, there are other styles that incorporate more than one trunk and these are categorised by the number of trunks within the style. For example, two trunks on a ‘single set of roots’ known as Sokan are visibly joined at the base, but separate further up. Normally, one trunk’s girth is larger and is taller than the other. The two trunk’s branches extend outwards right and left, slightly to the front and behind, but do not overlap or intertwine.

Other styles of multiple trunks from a ‘single root’ system include, a clump style Kabubuki where trunks have grown from the stump of a tree that has been cut off below ground level. In this particular style the amount of trunks can vary, but should always be in odd numbers; three, five, seven, and nine.

Similar to the clump design is the Turtle style Korabuki where the trunks rise from a raised root system creating a ‘Domed’ or turtle back shape.

Another style where trunks have grown from a ‘single root’ system is the straight raft design known as Ikadabuki. This design is said to simulate a natural occurrence such as a tree fallen over losing its foliage on one side, but continues to grow giving the appearance that all the remaining branches are separate trees although they are in a straight line.

Similar to the raft style is the sinuous raft, Netsunagari. The difference between these two styles is that the straight raft is by its definition straight where the sinuous is curved or bent. Hence the trees do not appear in a straight line.

Multiple root styles include individual trees usually from the same species having their own roots for example, a two tree design is called Soju. As with the twin-trunk style Sokan, the two-tree style is much the same, the only difference between them is a single root system Sokan and more than one set of roots Soju. In addition, the amount of trees in this style can vary for example. Three trees – Sambon-yose, five trees – Gohon-yose, – seven trees – Nanahon-yose, – nine trees – Kyuhon-yose up to a small forest – Yose-ue.

Multi trunk

Other bonsai styles include Literati – Bunjin-gi. A style originating from the Chinese brush paintings similar to those found in the ancient text. (The Mustard Seed Manual of Painting) It depicts a tree with a contorted bare trunk with minimal foliage at the apex. The design is said to represent a tree that is growing or surviving in severe conditions.

The Broom design – Hokidachi often applied to deciduous species where the trunk is a formal upright with branches radiating out from all directions with fine ramification. It is usually in a dome or ball shape.

Wind swept style – Fukinagashi depicts a tree subjected to extreme conditions for example, an exposed on an open plain or mountain side constantly buffeted by strong winds. The trunk can be an informal upright, slanting or semi cascade, but all the fine branching and foliage will go in one direction.

Lit, broom&wind

The methods of styling discussed in these two articles are but a few of the many that are in existence, too many in fact to be described on this blog. Nonetheless, it is hoped that those mentioned will assist the designer when contemplating how to style a particular tree. These styles are not mandatory, because like many other forms of art they change through time. In addition, not all trees have the potential to become bonsai, their shape, height, trunk and branch configuration may not be suitable, to styling therefore, are best left alone.

In bonsai there many styles both old and new and the range of material used is relatively wide for example. Bonsai include fruit and flowering species such as Apple – Malus and the Chinese Wisteria – Wisteria sinensis with striking results. For you the artist there are no bounds, because at the end of the day it is you who decides how your bonsai is designed. Nonetheless, some argue that a tree subjected to weird shaping and pruning, is unnatural and plastic looking and does not resemble its wild counterpart.

To counter this perspective, many enthusiasts prefer their trees to have a natural appearance as would be found in nature and is not nature the best artist there is. As previously mentioned, in bonsai what we try to do is mimic what we see in nature, but in miniature form to the best of our ability. So perhaps these words from Bonsai master John Y. Naka are very appropriate. “Don’t make your tree look like a bonsai, make your bonsai look like a tree.”

In the next post we look at styling – wiring and pruning a general perspective, until then, BW, N.

Bonsai styles part I

Bonsai styles are normally categorized by different criteria, these include: Trunk orientation, Trunk and bark surface, Trunk and root placement and Multiple trunk formats. Within these categories each particular style has its own descriptive terminology. To many, committing this to memory may seem a rather daunting prospect. However, this article will attempt to simplify matters by explaining the descriptive terminology most commonly used.

Trunk orientation – the terminology used to describe a tree’s orientation is based on the relationship between its apex and trunk for example. If a tree’s apex is directly in line with its trunk, these are referred to as ‘Up-right styles’. A tree with a straight trunk is designated as a ‘Formal up-right’ – Chokkan. A curved trunk with its apex in direct line becomes an ‘Informal-Up-right’ – Moyogi. Should the tree’s apex be to one side of the trunk’s main centre, it is referred to as ‘Slanted’ – Shakan. Trees that have their branches orientated below the point where the trunk disappears into the soil, are known as ‘Semi cascades’ – Han kengai and ‘Full cascades’ – Kengai. Other styles for example, an ‘Upright’ with many branches radiating from all directions is called a ‘Broom style’ – Hokidachi and a tree having ‘Two trunks’ would be referred to as Sokan as supported by the following images

Chokkan & MoyogiHan kengai & KengaiShaka & SokanBunjin & Broom

To give further explanation, we will look at these styles in more detail.

‘Formal upright’ – Chokkan – has a straight upright trunk tapering to a point. Its branches are thickest and broad towards the base of the trunk, but diminishing in length and thickness as they progress towards the apex. This gives the appearance of a triangular perspective when viewed in addition, the tree’s roots called Nebari should be visible.

‘Informal upright’ – Moyogi, takichi – is similar to the formal upright in style, the only noticeable difference is that the trunk is curved. Branch configuration may incorporate visible curves to accentuate the trunk’s movement and are found only on the outside of a trunk’s curve, never on the inside. However, evenly spaced branches may be difficult to align because of the irregularity of the trunk’s shape.

‘Slanting’ – Shakan – gives the appearance of a formal upright, but angles away. The slant can be gentle or pronounced with the apex either to the left or right. For example, if a tree is slanting to the right from the viewer’s perspective, the branches on the left will be more prominent. The reason for this is to give the tree balance and to eliminate the impression that it is about to fall over.

‘Cascade’ – Kengai – a design to mimic trees that grow on the banks of rivers, rocky crevices or outcrops. The trunk close to soil level normally has an immediate curve, which in some cases can be severe depending on the species. The apex of a full cascade style is normally below the base of the container and to accentuate the style, these specimens are usually found in tall containers.

‘Semi cascade’ – Han-kengai – this design is similar to the full cascade, the only major difference is that the apex of the tree is either just above or just below the rim of the container. It should not exceed these parameters, otherwise it is neither a semi or full cascade.

‘Multi trunk cascade’ – Takan-kengai – a style that applies to any cascade design where two or more trunks cascade downwards.

Trunk and bark surface – contain a number of descriptions referring to a trunk’s shape and its bark texture for example. A twisted trunk is called Nebikan, a tree containing a vertical split or hollow is Sabamiki and a tree with a hole in its trunk is called Uro found more on deciduous trees than conifers.The dead wood styles identify trees with prominent dead branches or trunk scarring and are common to conifers than deciduous. A tree that has had part of its bark removed from the trunk is referred to as Shari and a tree that has had all of its foliage and bark removed from some branches is known as Jin. The following images support these descriptions.

Nebikan.2Sabamiki blogUro blogShari blogJin

To give further explanation, we will look at these styles in more detail.

Nebikan– this particular twisted trunk style can be found in both coniferous and deciduous species. It is able to present to the viewer the appearance of age. The technique of trunk shaping and the amount largely depends on the species, but should be done gradually as the tree has to recover. In addition, the branch and trunk configuration incorporated in the design have to be in balance.

Sabamikiis a ‘hollowed’ or ‘split trunk giving the visual effect of lightning damage weathered over time. The technique involves removing the bark from the trunk and carving out the wood to produce a deep wound. The hollowed area can start at the base of the trunk ending part way up tapering up to a closure or in reverse. But in applying this technique, care must be taken not to interrupt the flow of nutrients in the tree, or the above branches will die. When the work is completed, all exposed wood is treated with a preservative.

Uro – can be applied to all bonsai, but is normally found on deciduous trees where a branch has either died or been removed leaving an indentation or scar. Such a wound takes time to heal with no guarantee that the end result will look ascetic. Therefore, in most cases the wound is ‘hollowed’, which can add character to the tree. Old collected bonsai species will have Uro as a result of damaged from the elements and from grazing animals.

Shari – is deadwood on the main trunk of the tree usually running vertically on or near the front in order to be visible. This shallow wound reveals the ‘non-living’ portion of the trunk, but is still surrounded by living bark. Shari in natural circumstances can be caused by a branch being ripped off by a lightning strike stripping the bark from the trunk below, or damage from another external source. If the amount of damage is severe including other dead branches the tree is classed in the sharamiki or driftwood style, due to its silvery, weathered driftwood appearance.

Jin – is used on branches and or the top most part of the trunk and meant to depict age. Jins in nature are formed because the tree has had to struggle to survive in harsh conditions for example, extreme temperatures, lightning and wind. Creating Jin on the top most part of the trunk can give the illusion of a shorter tree and assists in distributing more energy to lower branches. These tend to grow more quickly and help increase the trunk’s diameter, reinforcing the illusion of age. When applied to branches, the Jin technique increases the illusion of age.

Before we conclude part I, there is another style in this in the driftwood category, which is Tanuki. But this technique is not currently accepted as part of the Japanese bonsai tradition and would not be displayed at a formal Japanese bonsai show. Nonetheless, many bonsai growers outside Japan consider tanuki as an acceptable technique. Arguably, the main reasons why it is employed is because, (a) creating Shari and Jin on ‘live’ specimens takes considerable time and patience – one mistake can result in the loss of the tree. (b) Obtaining a natural driftwood style bonsai is rare and should an owner have one for sale, then a rich aunt or a lottery wind fall would certainly help, But if these sources are fruitless, be prepared to take out a second mortgage. Hence the reason why Tanuki is an alternative solution, because it reduces the amount of years to produce a bonsai specimen in the traditional way and expenditure is minimized.

Tanuki is the Japanese word for Raccoon dog (or Badger as some in the west prefer to call it) and this animal in Japanese folklore is responsible for playing tricks on people, so when a tanuki is involved, nothing is quite what it appears.

The Tanuki technique is the marriage of a living tree affixed to a interesting piece of deadwood (often from an entirely different species) with the idea of creating a driftwood style composition. A technique known as ‘Phoenix Grafts’ (after the mythological Phoenix, which arose from its own ashes)

The combination of live and dead wood was usually restricted to coniferous varieties resulting in some surprising and effective displays. But now is a common practice with deciduous varieties. Nonetheless, combining live and dead wood is not that easy to accomplish if one wishes the final outcome to have a natural appearance. There two common approaches of how this technique can be accomplished, (a) by surface fixation and (b) insertion method.

Surface fixation – can be considered as a quicker method of achievement, because the ‘live’ specimen is affixed directly on to the deadwood held by screws or by wire. But the result at best is ascetically poor, because (a) the wounds created by the fixings although will eventually heal will still be visible as callouses. Furthermore, the screws used unless of a non-corrosive material can effect the health of the tree. (b) Using wire will leave indentations in the ‘live’ wood, which can be difficult to disguise. In addition, to make the ‘live’ wood adhere to the deadwood, a small sliver of bark (depending on the trunk thickness and species) has to be removed on both sides of the ‘live’ wood so that new growth will eventually roll over creating a bond between ‘live’ and ‘dead’ wood.

Insertion method – requires a more delicate approach as it involves the use of extremely sharp carving and or power tools and one slip can result in catastrophe.

Once a ‘dead’ wood candidate has been selected, it needs to be treated to remove any decaying material and bacteria potentially harmful to the ‘live’ wood partner. The deadwood in the images below was boiled for approximately 20 mins, allowed to dry then treated with preserver and left for 2 years.

Having determined which would be the front of the deadwood, the girth of the ‘live’ specimen’s trunk was measured. A channel was cut into the rear using a ‘key-hole’ approach. Meaning that the channel below the opening was widened further. The reason for this approach is that once the ‘live’ wood is inserted, it would be allowed to grow locking itself within the channel. As the ‘live’ wood develops, its trunk will eventually fill the channel creating a uniformed bond with it’s host. When fully developed, a sliver of bark (2-4mm) on both sides of the ‘live’ wood will be removed for the bark to roll over allowing adhesion to take place.

As this is a relatively small tree, (approximately 25 – 35cm) its trunk is no thicker than a standard pencil. But it had to be made pliable by bending gently back and forth so it could be manipulated into the channel. Using screws because of potential damage was not an option. The solution was to keep the ‘live’ wood in situ by binding raffia around both woods at strategic points taking care not to cover any nodes that will develop into branches. The image below shows the combination of a ficus ginseng with its deadwood host. (Work undertaken 27/02/2016)

Tanuki 00

To some the method used in this experimentation may not be to everyone’s taste, some prefer to use screws or wire to secure their ‘live’ and ‘dead’ wood bonsai potential/s. But as stated the argument from this perspective is that such securing methods leave unwanted scaring and can be harmful, detrimental to the health of the tree, something to avoid.

In part II we continue the discussion on bonsai styling, until then, BW, N.

Bonsai size classification

As mentioned in the last post the classifications for tree sizing, which tend to vary in exact specifics is due to the fact that each individual bonsai is unique and may or may not fit into a specific category, despite their exact size. Arguably, for the bonsai enthusiast not concerned with exhibitions, classification specifics are of little importance. But for those contemplating exhibiting, bonsai size classification may be a relevant factor.

Miniature Bonsai
Kenshitsubo – Are the smallest possible variety of bonsai, which are simply seedlings referred to as ‘poppy seed’ sized trees, their height is approximately 2.5 cm to 8 cm.

Shito – The smallest common size of bonsai are usually between 5 cm and 10 cm in height. Their containers are no larger than a thimble and are normally described as the thimble bonsai.

Shohin – These bonsai are in a category that overlaps others with their height ranging between 5 cm and 15 cm. They’re also known as the palm bonsai, because of how they fit in the palm of one’s hand. Shohin and Shito are differentiated from other small bonsai trees because of the techniques used to create them.

Mame – Bonsai grow between 10 cm to 20 cm in height. They are considered to be the smallest of bonsai trees known as ‘one handed’ trees, because it takes one hand to move them. The containers they grow in are larger than those of Shohin bonsai and are more commonly found than those described above.

Komono – Also known as the ‘all-inclusive’ small bonsai grows to a height averaging between 15 cm to 26 cm and are considered as the largest tree which can be moved with one hand.

Although there is some variation between the exact heights of bonsai at such a small size, these are the most common classifications.

Medium Bonsai
Katade-Mochi – Classification is for bonsai that can be lifted by ‘one hand’, growing between 25 cm and 46 cm in height. It is contended that this size of bonsai is easier to work meaning they are neither too large to handle or too small to prune.

Chumono and Chiu – These two categories are similar with bonsai growing to a height of between 40 cm to 90 cm and considered as ‘two handed’ bonsai. It is often said that some tend to disregard the Japanese names for size classifications, their viewpoint is that Medium bonsai is between 30 cm and 60 cm, whilst larger specimens are between 60 cm to 90 cm in height.

Large Bonsai
Omono, Dai – These bonsai are large and perceived as the first among the ‘four hand’ category as they grow from 76 cm to 122 cm in height, hence the need for two people to carry them. Omono and Dai both share the same size range and styles.

Hachi-Uye – Are among the largest bonsai trees and known as ‘six handed’ growing to heights of between 102 cm and 152 cm tall.

Imperial – The largest and probably the most majestic of all Bonsai grow between 152 cm and 203 cm in height and are be found in the Japanese imperial gardens, but can be in prominent nurseries and private collections. They are referred to as ‘eight handed’ bonsai.

Bonsai tree size classification is as much an art form as designing the shape and style of a tree. However, these categories although having relative importance, are not considered mandatory as many are not concerned about the exact size. Arguably the only classification that remains unchanged through time, is the Imperial bonsai, due to its origin and name. Meaning, that the largest bonsai trees found in the Japanese imperial gardens are Imperial bonsai.

Another consideration is the design and style of bonsai and in which category does it belong. For example, the traditional 2 dimensional Japanese style where the tree is only viewed from one side – the front, the 3 dimensional European perspective where all sides are seen – or would it have a style of its own – that of what the individual artist has visualized. There is a lot of argument regarding this topic something to discuss in the next post. Until then, BW, N.