The term bonsai is composed of two words: BON means tray, container, more generically vase; SAI, on the other hand, means growing, educating, cultivating. The bonsai cultivation technique consists in growing a tree in a pot, in which the best conditions that the plant needs to live must be recreated. Obviously the tree will not grow in height and width as much as it would in nature, but it will grow anyway, mature and age giving rise to the characteristic flowers and fruits of its species, thus representing a perfect natural landscape of reduced dimensions. The bonsai technique allows you to comfortably transport trees that in nature would occupy much larger spaces in pots of a few decimeters in diameter. Where did this need come from?
The concept of bonsai was developed in the ancient East, ... continues
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continue ... , probably through the figures of itinerant doctors / herbalists, who treated the populations of the villages visited with the help of medical herbs and various remedies contained in the roots, leaves or bark of trees. Since it was believed that the plant was effective only if it was still alive, instead of carrying the pruned and dried parts, these ancient doctors carried the entire tree with them, transplanted into a vase.
The doctor-herbalist had to keep his main working tool alive, therefore when it was necessary to take a part of it he did so as not to destroy the bark or prune entire branches, but limited himself to carving vertical strips from the trunk, detaching leaf tips or pruning parts of roots that did not compromise the life of the plant. The overall effect was to see curious "dwarf" trees, old and with a twisted, barked or leafless appearance, transported in containers of a few decimeters.
Over time, Bonsai techniques have evolved and refined, going beyond the borders of China and Japan where they were born, and including the aesthetic factor in the maintenance of the plant: the bonsai tree must not give the sensation of being suffering, or of being been badly pruned or peeled, as it happened in past centuries when the use was only for therapeutic purposes. In Japanese culture, bonsai is a vegetable that, thanks to a perfect artificial environment created around it tailor-made, has everything it needs to live well, and for this reason it no longer feels the need to expand typical of the spontaneous condition, when for example the tree grows in height to reach the sunlight earlier or more than its "neighbors".
A good bonsai is considered a small work of art, and like any work of art it can be composed in the most free and creative way, while respecting some cornerstones, which allow you to objectively evaluate the quality of a bonsai.
The roots must be superficial and radiate around the trunk, both for an aesthetic reason and for a better anchoring to the ground. The tree trunk must be sturdy and conical, i.e. with a wider diameter at the base and progressively narrower towards the apex of the plant; it must also follow one of the predefined styles.
The branches must be few but well distributed, so that the tree does not look like a random tangle but a harmonious structure with an orderly appearance. The leaves must appear intact, not damaged or withered, and must have a healthy appearance and a bright color, a sign of the well-being of the plant. The flowers and fruits must be of adequate size for the plant, so a good bonsai (or a good bonsai expert) must have been able to proportionally reduce its fruits as well. Finally, the VASE in which the plant is contained is also very important: it plays the same role as the frame for a painting, that is, enhancing it and being in harmony with the work, without however attracting all the attention to itself. This is why it is important to carefully choose the material, shape and color of the container.
A bonsai is also classified according to its size, in particular its height, understood as the distance from the base of the trunk to the apex of the plant. The Kengai bonsai is an exception, where the branches can fall lower than the trunk and the pot in which it is contained: in this case the distance between the upper apex and the lower apex is measured. Bonsai can be very small (Mame), small (Shohin), medium (Chuugata) and large (Ohgata). Mame bonsai have a maximum height of 7 cm; they can reach up to 10 cm, in this case they are often called Mini bonsai, while Shohin bonsai have a height that varies from 10 to about 20 cm. In increasing order of size, there are the Chuugata bonsai: they are 20 to 70 cm tall, and can be further distinguished in Kifu (up to 40 cm) and Chuhin (from 40 to 70 cm). Finally, Ohgata bonsai can reach 120 cm, typically a large bonsai does not exceed one meter in height. An alternative and more curious classification is based on the number of hands needed to move them: we will thus speak of "one-handed bonsai", or "two-handed", for small to medium-large sizes, up to bonsai "by a man "To" more men ", depending on the amount of arms needed for the transport.
Getting the starting material to create a bonsai is not always easy; in Japanese yamadori is defined as the process of going to collect saplings in nature destined to become bonsai: these plants are called Araki. The most suitable araki are young plants, as they are more likely to survive than older ones, which have a conical trunk and flexible branches, and possibly which have already assumed a curious or twisted shape, perhaps due to the passage of animals that have naturally "pruned". The best time for harvesting is early spring. Once the best specimen has been identified, it must be removed carefully, taking all the stick of earth contained in the roots, and transplanted as soon as possible into a "temporary" pot, which allows the plant to adapt to the new conditions; in this period it is important not to expose the plant to direct sun or air currents, not to overdo it with fertilizations and to check that the soil does not contain harmful insects.
When the first shoots appear, a sign that the plant has re-settled, the apex can be replaced; the operation consists in cutting the upper part of the main trunk at a sufficiently large lateral branch, then tying the branch and directing it in the desired way. The plant will continue to live following the direction of the remaining branch, which will temporarily become the new bearing trunk, at least until the next replacement.
As for the leaves, it is necessary to periodically carry out defoliation or pinching operations. Defoliation involves the elimination of all the leaves of a branch at about half of the petiole; it must be done in late spring. In this way the new leaflets will be born at the apex of the petiole, anticipating their vegetative process by one season; however, their growth path will be limited and therefore the average size of the leaves will be smaller. The stapling can be done in different periods of the year, and involves the elimination of the apex and the terminal leaves of a branch; it also has the purpose of reducing the size of the leaves as well as shortening the internodes.