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Bonsai Make a Big Impact in a Small Space

Bonsai lavender

Bonsai is the art and practice of growing plants, usually but not always trees, by dwarfing techniques that keep them very small. The Japanese started this but interest has spread and it is very popular in the Americas. It is amazing to see a tree that would grow to 100 feet tall in its natural habitat reduced to a miniature scene perhaps 2 feet tall and 100 years old in a small pot. Bonsai planes develop smaller limbs and leaves, but they bloom and change with the seasons as they would naturally.

Chris Getz of south Brandon found this method of gardening very gratifying when he lived in apartments because he could take his gardens with him whenever he moved.

"Working with bonsai," he says, "has changed me and made me grow as a person. I have learned so many different gardening techniques through these tiny trees, that now that I have a "real" garden, I am surprised at how much I learned though bonsai. I have also learned patience and commitment though bonsai, and those lessons have spread out into my home life, my work life, and almost every other facet of life. As much as I have worked with the trees, pruning, wiring and watering, they have shaped me."

He suggests that beginners start with inexpensive pots that are normal shapes and proportions. That makes for not so much root pruning involved at first and will allow them to get the hang of the constant care required with bonsai without the extreme conditions of growing trees in inch-deep pots.

Bonsai banana plant

You don't need to buy special plants to start either. You can start with something you already have or buy as regular plants in you local nursery, especially if they are irregularly shaped. Getz suggests ficus, azaleas, and holliess because they are extremely resilient and forgiving of pruning, root pruning, and under-potting. They also do well in either sun or shade, and are pretty tolerant of over and under watering. But he has almost as many and as varied a collection of plants as bonsai as he has in his regular garden, herbs such as fern-leaved lavender, bananas, natal plums, ferns, and many kinds of trees. Cutting or seedlings may take up to five years to become attractive specimens. Naturally dwarfed plants from the wild can become attractive almost immediately. Be sure they are free of pests and diseases and chose short, stout trunks, aged appearance and branches with artistic shape. Spring and early fall are the best times for starting, but in Florida almost any time will do.

Plant in shallow pots, perhaps 4 inches deep. Getz uses a soil mix of two parts soil-less potting mix, such as Jungle Growth ( He likes that one because it has a lot of peat moss and charcoal ) one part small rocks, pebbles, or stone chips, and one part sand. This allows for excellent drainage, while still retaining some water to help cool down hot roots planted in very shallow pots. Mix this with water, and plant the trees into their pots with this stony "mud" This makes potting and watering much easier and keeps the media from all washing away the first time you try to water it. He also lines the bottom of the pots with some small pebbles for more drainage and you can also use the pebbles as a top dressing, though he eventually likes moss.

Put the plants in a place with no direct sun or wind for two or three weeks.

"The bonsai must absolutely, positively be watered daily," Getz says. "For a few weeks during the winter, I usually water every other day, but for most of the year it is daily watering. Water from the top ( like rain ) and water heavy but with a light sprayer, to ensure a good soaking, all measures to ensure good drainage." For beginners he recommends Reader's Digest Home Handbook: BONSAI by Harry Tomlinson because is has many very detailed, simple instruction on the basics of potting, pruning, and care. It also has very clear pictures and is very easy to follow.

This is just a part of Chris Getz' bonsai and bonsai pot collection. Most of them are much wider and longer than they are deep. Holes in the bottom are necessary for drainage.

Getz' bonsai collection is very extensive and includes many kinds of plants.