Basic principles of the Classical School of Bonsai

How many times have you been to a nursery and stopped to look at the bonsai? Many, right? And they are authentic miniature works of art. Some plants capable of making us feel that we are in the middle of a forest, even in the city. It’s amazing. But like life itself, they too had a beginning. The first ones who started growing potted trees did so because they wanted to have a little piece of nature in their home.

Some time later, around the year 700 AD, in China, the foundations of what would be known as the first school where this art would be taught were built. We explain what the basic principles of the Classical School of Bonsai are , so that you can make your own as in the past.

Triangularity in bonsai

Japanese Pine Bonsai

All bonsai must be inside a triangle . In exhibitions, the trees are often accompanied by a small accompanying plant and a painting (called Kakemono, which represents a landscape of the season that is at that time). If we see it from a certain distance, we will observe that the three elements form the mentioned figure. This is because in the philosophy of bonsai the triangle is the path that leads us to heaven. Therefore, in the lower part the companion plant will be located, in the central part will be the bonsai representing the human being and in the upper part the Kakemono representing the corresponding deity.

But, in addition, in the same bonsai you must also be able to see the aforementioned geometric figure . Thus, the apex (known as SHIN) will always be a little above the rest. On the other hand, we will have the branch that grows in the lower part of the trunk (known as SOE), and the one that is in the middle of both (known as TAI). Putting them together, we have to have a scalene triangle.

Another thing that must be taken into account is harmony . You have to keep the triangularity in the tree, but at the same time you have to make it look natural. In the Classical School of Bonsai, we do not seek to force the tree to create plants that, although they can be spectacular by devoting many hours of work to them, since they do not have their namesake in nature, they would be very forced. Especially if you have just entered this world, it is best to let yourself be guided by your plant.

Observe the trunk, how does it move? And its main branches, how are they distributed? Only in this way, over the years, authentic works of art will be obtained .

Respect the Bonsai cycles

Eurya Bonsai

Eurya Bonsai

Do you want to start pruning, wiring, transplanting…? Yes? It’s normal 🙂 . We have all been through it, and there is no one who is free from impatience. But it is important to respect the cycles of each plant . Do not forget that a bonsai is a living being and, as such, it is convenient to treat it. This means that, unless it is a tropical species and we have a cold climate, our bonsai will always be outdoors. It is essential that you feel the passing of the seasons so that you can face them all in excellent health.

Of course, to keep it inside the bonsai tray, it is convenient to do some work on it at certain times. Here you have a small guide that will help you to know what to do in each station:

spring jobs

azalea bonsai

azalea bonsai

During these months in which the temperature remains at pleasant values, when the frosts have passed, we have to do the following:

  • Transplantation : as soon as the winter is over, all species, both deciduous and perennial, will be transplanted. We will use a porous substrate, mixing for example 70% akadama and 30% kiryuzuna. If you have tropical trees, it is better to wait for the next season.
  • Irrigation : we will never let the substrate dry. The ideal will be to water once every 2-3 days depending on the local weather.
  • Pest treatment : begins to be necessary. We will spray with Neem Oil or make infusions with garlic and/or onion to prevent them.
  • Wiring : to wire the tree it is important that there is the same distance between turns. Thus, the damage done to it is minimal, practically non-existent, and the design you have chosen will be significantly improved. Once installed, we will check it from time to time -once every 10 days for example- to prevent it from becoming embedded in the branches.
  • Pruning : prune only if necessary, removing those branches that grow forward, intersect, look weak or do not fit into the design.
    NOTE: If we have transplanted, it cannot be pruned until autumn or next year.
  • Fertilizer : We will fertilize using a liquid fertilizer for bonsai throughout the growing season (from spring to late summer).

summer jobs

Bonsai Acer buergerianum

Acer buergerianum bonsai

In these months the heat is the climatic protagonist, and bonsai usually do not like it too much, especially if the weather is very hot. So, we will have to be more aware of them, and not forget:

  • Irrigation : the substrate dries out very quickly, so we will water twice -or more- a day if the temperatures are very high (above 30ºC).
  • Pinning – As the tree is growing, it may need a few grooming sessions. We will let grow between 4 and 8 pairs of leaves, and we will cut between 2 and 4.
  • Transplantation : now is when tropical species can be transplanted, such as those of the Ficus, Serissa or Carmona genus.
  • Treatment against pests : during this time plagues of mealybugs, red spiders and aphids are frequent. We will use chemical insecticides that contain Imidachlorid or Chlorpyrifos, or we can also make homemade insecticides . If the environment is very dry, a trick to avoid them is to spray with rain or mineral water early in the morning or at night.

Fall Jobs

Fagus crenata bonsai

Fagus crenata bonsai in autumn

Little by little the trees begin to grow more and more slowly and some, the deciduous ones, will stop and their leaves will change color and then fall. But, during the autumn the works are not finished:

  • Irrigation : we will space the irrigations as the temperatures decrease. We will water, as a general rule, once every 3-4 days.
  • Subscriber : as the plant stops its growth, it does not need an extra supply of nutrients, so the subscriber must be suspended.
  • Pruning : if we have not done it in spring, at the beginning of the season is the most appropriate time to do training pruning whose objective is to give our tree a design. We must not forget to disinfect the tools that we are going to use with a few drops of pharmacy alcohol, or to put healing paste on each wound to prevent fungi from harming it.
  • Wire : during these months they can be removed to let the bonsai rest. If we see that they are still necessary, next year we will put them back.

winter jobs

bonsai

And with the arrival of the coldest months of the year, the jobs of the bonsai caretaker do decrease significantly. So much so that you only have to water from time to time to prevent the substrate from drying out, and protect it from frost if it is a tropical species .

Do indoor Bonsai exist?

Since in winter it is necessary to protect certain trees from frost, I would like to talk to you about a subject that is often doubted a lot, which is none other than indoor bonsai. Unfortunately, they do not exist ; but don’t worry, because if you only keep them indoors during the winter months in a room that is very well lit, away from drafts, nothing will happen to them. Thus, you make sure that it will get through the season without problems, while you can contemplate it all those days as soon as you get up.

What is a bonsai and what is not?

juniper bonsai

Juniperus Bonsai

You can now find trees labeled “bonsai” in any garden store or nursery. However, for the Classical School, only those that meet these requirements will be true bonsai :

  • They have to be woody plants , such as trees, shrubs, or conifers.
  • They must have been transplanted a minimum of 3 times , from when it was a young tree from seed or cutting until the time of sale.
  • Whoever has done it must have followed the principle of triangularity and have respected the cycles of the tree.

Thus, cuttings rooted and planted in bonsai trays are not really bonsai. You don’t have to be fooled by age either: not even the experts agree on this issue. Some say that you should start counting from the time the tree germinates, and others from the time you start working as a bonsai. It is not yet clear.

Now, regardless of where you buy it, it will surely help you learn . It is even preferable to spend less money on a “fake” bonsai and improve it ourselves, than to spend hundreds of euros on a tree that may not teach us as much.pine bonsai

pine bonsai

And with this we end. We hope that these tips have been useful to you, especially to make the initial fear that many of us have when we start in this fascinating world disappear. Dare to grow (or have made) your own bonsai; you will see how much fun you have 😉 .

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