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Gardening: Two-striped Walkingstick Image

Bonsai is the combination of horticulture and art. The combination of these two disciplines makes bonsai an enjoyable and unique hobby. Master Gardener Clyde Holt will provide a seminar on “Bonsai for Beginners” at the Galveston County Extension Office on Saturday, July 14.

Photo Credit: Lola Thomas

Bonsai, An Ancient Art

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

July 13, 2007

“Bonsai for Beginners” Seminar

DATE: Saturday, July 14, 2007

TIME: 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.

PLACE: Galveston County Extension Office, 5115 Highway 3, Dickinson

EVENTS: Master Gardener Clyde Holt will introduce the novice to the art of bonsai. Topics include plant selections, growing and training bonsai plants and general care of bonsai plants. Demonstrations provided on potting mixes, potting procedure and pruning techniques. Variety of established bonsai plants available for viewing.

No fee, but pre-registration is required (phone 281-534-3413, ext. 1,2 or e-mail as seating is limited.

The history of bonsai dates far back. The first known records of small potted trees being maintained by gardeners include those discovered in Egyptian tombs constructed over 2000 years ago. Records also reveal that about 1500 years back Indian herbalists kept prized plants dwarfed in containers to increase their mobility.

But bonsai as we know it today appeared in Chinese history around 700AD in the Tang dynasty. This was also a period of great cultural learning for the Japanese, who sent emissaries to China and were borrowing much of its culture, especially the arts.

The art of bonsai is very old indeed. These ancient gardeners appreciated the wild contorted beauty of the plants that were stunted by the harsh extremes of altitude and poor soil. They brought this beauty into their homes and gardens through ingenuity, cleverness, and an understanding of plant physiology.

The word bonsai literally means ‘plant in a tray’. When you say the word "bonsai" to people, they usually think of a type of tree. However, this art form is actually a way of growing diverse types of plants.

The concept is simple: restrict the growth of a plant’s roots and shoots and allow the trunk to grow. The end result is a plant that appears to be a miniature representation of its relatives in the wild.

The actual mechanics of bonsai are simple enough that anyone could become an enthusiast. The skill that most of will need to hone is the patience that is needed to allow a plant to properly develop.

Bonsai trees can take years to develop. There are many trees in existence today that are over one hundred years old. In nature, trees grow relatively slowly and even slower when cultivated as a bonsai. Achieving a dwarf plant that is a true mimic of a tree in nature in one of the specific styles is the art of bonsai.

There are many styles of bonsai. The simplest would be the formal upright or erect style. The trunk is encouraged to grow straight and the tree is usually pruned into a symmetrical form. Another simple design is the informal upright. The tree is trained vertically but is not forced to grow straight. Other upright designs include the double trunk and the leaning.

There are more challenging designs for advanced gardeners. Using a trailing groundcover shrub, the cascade design allows the plant to hang over the edge of the pot and grow downward. Other very interesting styles are the roots-over-rock style where the tree is planted so that it grows over stone and the windswept design where the plant is pruned to make it appear as though it is growing in the desert.

The "art" in bonsai is the design of the tree to make it appear to be a mature forest specimen, in miniature, living in a relatively small container. The designs or styles of bonsai are taken from trees growing in a natural woodland or forest.

emember though that your choice of bonsai plants may include any number of selections. While I have seen bonsai plants selections ranging the stately oak and to the maligned Chinese tallow, I have also seen attractive plantings ranging from cedars to oleanders.

Bonsai is the combination of horticulture and art. The combination of these two disciplines makes bonsai an enjoyable and unique hobby.

Are you curious about bonsai but don’t know how to get started? Then join the crowd. Better yet, attend an upcoming seminar entitled “Bonsai for Beginners” (see inset for more information).

Gardeners’ Q&A

Question: I have seen several tiny black gnats walking on the surface of the potting soil that my houseplants are growing in and even flying in the area? What are they and how can I control them?

Answer: The tiny black insects are called fungus gnats. Although fungus gnats are a nuisance, they are not harmful to plants. An adult fungus gnat will deposit her eggs on the surface of potting soils that are high in organic matter.

Fungus gnats are best managed by controlling moisture levels of the potting soil since the larval stage must have fairly high levels of moisture to survive in addition to the organic matter on which they feed.

Therefore, effective long-term control of fungus gnats depends primarily on allowing the soil to become moderately dry between waterings. Since most, but not all houseplants, should be watered in this manner anyway, it will not affect the health of your plants. If need be, however, a soil drench using malathion or Sevin will control fungus gnats.

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