How I Overcame My Fear of Bonsai

October 3, 2013 by

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Photo via Art of Bonsai, by Nacho Marin, Caracas Venezuela

As a gardener, I know what I like and don’t like. Then there’s the middle gray area: the mysterious garden endeavors I might like, but I’d always been too freaked out to try. In this corner, we have epiphytic orchids, plumeria, and the majestic world of bonsai.

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Last weekend, I tackled bonsai with my bare hands at a workshop hosted by Wolf Trap Nursery in Vienna, Virginia. Full disclosure: I attended ‘Create Your Own Tropical (Indoor) Bonsai’ with my husband in case the experience quickly went south. He was there for moral support.

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Thankfully, instructor Morris “Moe” Einhorn, owner of Little Trees Bonsai, was perfectly knowledgeable and handled my questions like a seasoned veteran. We had a terrific time.

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We were two of roughly ten participants in the class seated outside in the nursery’s shaded patio area. Einhorn taught us what he called the “clip and grow” method: essentially, if we see something we like, we leave it alone. Whatever we don’t like, it comes off.

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The most important part of bonsai shaping is exposing the trunk to reveal the branch structure. Einhorn had us trim into the middle of the plant, especially where there were two and three small branches on the same larger branch. Apparently, it’s ok to lose one of the little guys.

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Bonsai 101 Tips

• Use cut pieces of plastic screen to provide a barrier at the bottom of plant pot. This keeps the soil in and allows for drainage.

• Cut the ends of the tree branch, but leave a few leaves intact. This will force growth into the center of the bonsai.

• Plant your bonsai off-center. If the tree has some kind of movement, you’ll want it to grow toward you, Einhorn said.

• Thorough watering is key. Einhorn placed a large plastic bin off to the side, and we literally submerged our newly planted bonsai for a few minutes. This method provides even watering.

• Repot and change the soil of your bonsai every three years. Fertilize on the first of the month to keep on a regular schedule. You can place the fertilizer directly in the water of your watering pan.

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Now, watering in general depends on the plant. I chose a ficus, which needs to be watered every other day. Husband chose a portulacaria afra (dwarf jade) which requires watering twice a week. No real direct sunlight needed, just bright light will do.

Finally, Einhorn left us with these words: “Bonsai are never finished,” so keep at it and keep trimming.

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If you’re in the DC area, I highly recommend this workshop. It costs $50 and next one will likely take place at Wolf Trap Nursery early 2014.

Welcome Christine Cube, Urban Gardens’s new DC correspondent. Christine is a freelance writer who never has a pen or paper and took notes at this bonsai class by swyping on her Droid. Follow Christine @cpcube.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Christine Cube.

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