Article 80 – ‘A question of size’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the size issue for those new to bonsai horticulture or others looking to vary their collections in any shape or form.

Introduction – all bonsai are classified into two different categories, ‘style’ and ‘size’, styles include the classics, Chokkan, Literati, Shakan, Sokan and Kengai etc. Size includes the smallest Kenshitsubo 2.5 cm to 8 cm, Shito 5 cm to 10 cm, Shohin 5 cm to 15 cm, Mame 10 cm to 20 cm, Komono 15 cm to 26 cm Katade-Mochi 25 cm to 46 cm. Chumono-Chiu 40 cm to 90 cm, Omono-Dai 76 cm to 122 cm, Hachi-Uye 102 cm to 152 cm and Imperial the largest of all Bonsai 152 cm and 203 cm. This is according to the guidelines written by the old bonsai masters however, there are bonsai that are smaller than the Kenshitsubo class and those that exceed the Imperial category as we see momentarily.

The smallest – according to Hanima Anand of Trending World the “dwarf willow or Salix herbacea (shown below) is currently the tiniest tree in the world. It only grows to 1-6 cm in height with 0.3-2 cm leaves.” Care and maintenance for this plant is relatively straightforward and would not require too much time to undertake however, due to its small size monitoring its welfare is needed on a regular basis.

Salix herbacea – credit Nellie Nilsen BBC Earth

Medium size bonsai Katade-Mochi 25 cm to 46 cm – the bonsai (shown below) called Sandai Shogun no Matsu was first cultivated by shogun Tokugawa Lemitsu a Hachi-No-Ki enthusiast in 1610. In looking at the tree it would appear that cleaning, root pruning, wiring and repotting in a fresh soil medium depending on one’s skill level would take approximately one hour as it can be accomplished by one person; foliage pruning if required will take more time.

Image credit –

Large trees – Tokugawa Lemitsu’s (red pine) bonsai Sandai Shogun no Matsu still survives today over 400 hundred years since it was first cultivated, it resides in the Akao Herb & Rose Garden in the Tokyo Imperial Palace collection. This tree is not only one of the oldest bonsai trees, it is believed to be the largest bonsai in the world. Measurements are (4.8 m) in height and over (9.1 m) wide it is atypical for a bonsai, but it still qualifies as one because it is contained in what can technically be considered a pot.

Sandai Shogun no Matsu credit – Wikipedia. Nursery Live

These two examples the dwarf willow and red pine can be considered as going from the sublime to the ridiculous, because one can be held by thumb and forefinger easily moved, whilst the other would require a small army plus machinery to move it. Both specimens require maintenance – the dwarf willow on a regular basis using a spray bottle to give a gentle misting of moisture, whilst the red pine periodically using hose pipes capable of delivering the required amount of water which would be considerable. As for repotting these two examples, the dwarf willow would be straightforward carried out by one person (approximately 15 mins), the red pine probably days with many hands involved.

A second point to consider is the cost of the container, drainage and soil medium. High grade miniature pots can be purchased from as little 20€ upwards depending on the detail incorporated and the maker or potter in question (one person) the soil composition is minimal a dessert spoon full. The red pine’s pot knowing the tree’s measurements (4.8 m) by (9.1 m) the amount of persons needed in its construction would be many and the cost would easily be a four figure sum and the soil medium a truck load.

Another consideration is how the red pine’s pot was formed, possibly by hand a long and lengthy process, as to the firing sequence a minimum of two is another question. Large kilns used in ceramic production have been existence for centuries, the world’s largest wood fired ceramic kiln with an 18 metre long furnace and a volume of 260 cubic metres was built in the first year of Emperor Qianlong 1736 in the Qing Dynasty. The Jingdezhen Zhen Kiln is located in Jingdezhen city, Jiangxi province, China and establishments like this one could easily accommodate a pot of this magnitude.

Individual choice – if one is an established bonsai practitioner you will know of the size range which is suitable to your needs beit small, medium or large. If a novice then careful planning is required so that you refrain from ‘swimming-out-of-your-depth’ or ‘comfort zone’, because the bigger you go the greater the workload which may lead to frustration and disenchantment. Small bonsai for example; Shito 5 cm to 10 cm, Shohin 5 cm to 15 cm and Mame 10 cm to 20 cm can be root pruned and repotted in a relatively short space of time 20/45 mins depending on one’s ability and skill level.

The higher one goes up the scale chart cleaning, repotting and general pruning will take considerable time, special equipment may be required and many hands to do the task, this next image makes a statement, imagine the tools and man power it would need just to remove the tree from it’s pot root prune, clean, add a new soil medium, rewire and repot it.

1000 year old Ficus retusa Crespi Italy credit – The Economic Times

This is but a short discussion on selecting a tree/plant for your collection, so where does one begin? It all depends on you, growing from seed is one option – this is an important step in gaining horticultural knowledge as you watch the plant/s develop. Moreover, the more research undertaken the greater the knowledge in maintaining a healthy plant. But having said this not all want to use this directive, due to the time for the specimen to reach a certain amount of maturity to become a bonsai potential approximately 5 years for deciduous and 7 to 10 years for coniferous however, there are many other routes to take.

Garden centres or nurseries have extensive collections of coniferous and deciduous varieties that are imported, they are packed into containers and are prone to infestation and we have written articles on this issue, hence it is prudent to do a ‘hands-on’ inspection of a potential plant. If a plant is purchased it has to be isolated (quarantined) to prevent any possible spread of infection to others. The most destructive pests include, Red spider mite Tetranychus urticae, scale Coccoidea and Sawfly Craesus septentrionalis.

There are other avenues to search for potential bonsai plants for example ‘air-layering’ and grafting see the articles ‘Selecting material for bonsai parts I, II and III’ . Waste sites and derelict buildings can be a good source for material, some of our specimens were collected from such places. Collecting from the wild is another, but permission from the landowner is a requirement if one wants to venture on to these areas to search for plants. Furthermore, it is wise to do some research of the plant species prior to digging them up; which often becomes a major workout. Whatever avenue you take is ultimately your decision, but do not be impulsive think before you act, until next time, BW, Nik.

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