Principles of Bonsai
Not all plants are equally effective as bonsai. To
produce a realistic illusion
of a mature tree, look for plants with the following characteristics:
All parts of the ideal bonsai -- trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers,
fruits, buds, roots -- should be in perfect scale with the size of the tree.
Plants used for bonsai should have small leaves, or leaves that become small
under bonsai culture. Plants with overly large leaves, such as the avocado,
will look out of proportion if chosen for bonsai. Sycamores also develop
leaves that are too large. Certain species of both maple and oak trees usually
respond well to bonsai culture and develop leaves that are in proportion.
- Small leaves or needles
- Short internodes, or distances between leaves
- Attractive bark or roots
- Branching characteristics for good twig forms
Among the plants with small leaves and needles are: spruce, pine, zelkova,
pomegranate, and certain oaks and maples.
Plants chosen for bonsai should have attractive bark, and the trunk must
give the illusion of maturity. The trunk should have girth, but must remain
in proportion to the entire tree. The trunk should taper gradually toward
the top of the tree. Sometimes one or two of the main branches must be shortened
to emphasize the vertical line of the trunk and give the trunk a balanced
To give the appearance of age, the upper one-third of the root structure
of a mature bonsai is often exposed. This is especially effective if the
roots have good girth and form. Twisted and tangled roots should be straightened
before potting or repotting a tree to achieve an aged appearance.
Bonsai from nursery stock, and trees collected from the wild, should have
a root system that will -- when exposed -- add to the appearance of the
Plants have a "best profile" just as people do. Decide on the
front of the tree at the very beginning, because planting and shaping are
done with the front of the tree in mind. However, you may change your ideas
about the plants ultimate shape as you clip and prune.
The front of the bonsai should offer a good view of the main trunk which
must be clearly visible from the base to the first branch, typically about
one-third the way up. Everywhere on the tree, but mostly from the front,
the branches should look balanced and appear to be floating in space; they
should not appear lopsided or top heavy. The branches should not be opposite
one another with their lines cutting horizontally across the trunk. The
branches give the bonsai the dimension and establish the tree's basic form.
A bonsai should have a harmonious arrangement of branches without unsightly
gaps. Flaws can be spotted by looking down on a bonsai. Upper branches should
not overshadow lower branches.
Before deciding on the shape of your bonsai, study the tree carefully, and
take into account the natural form of the species. Observe the way mature
trees of the same kind grow in their natural setting to achieve an impression
of age and reality.
Decide on the final shape and size of your bonsai before starting. Make
a rough sketch of what you wish to create and use it as a guide.
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