Bonsai is much more than growing potted trees. It is an art form designed to provide the grower with expressive tranquility. Similar to its grower, the bonsai always changes as it is always growing. The art form is an evolving practice that requires commitment and patience. The limits of bonsai are only limited by nature's collection of trees and plants, keeping even the most advanced bonsai enthusiast an amateur by nature.
The art of bonsai originates from ancient China. It was a simplified process that resulted in rugged looking trees that often resembled symbolic dragons and serpents. These trees were used to landscape courtyards and were often depicted in ancient Chinese carvings and displays.
Although the art form originated in China, it was refined by the Japanese. First introduced to the Japanese by Buddhist monks, bonsai was reserved for Buddhists and noblemen. The practice of bonsai was introduced to the general Japanese public after China's invasion of Japanese soil. From there, the art of bonsai was refined to include the processes of pruning, thinning, various watering methods and other practices that have defined bonsai traditions.
The variations and selections of bonsai are endless. Still, it remains an individualized experience. While two growers may grow the same type of bonsai at the same time with the same scheduled practices, both growers will find a completely different outcome with two very different looking bonsais. Like full-sized trees and plants, the bonsai will develop its own characteristics and growth patterns that are different, even when compared to another of the same species.
In essence, any tree or plant can become a bonsai with the right practices, environment and care. Still, some bonsais can present more challenges than others. Many plants and trees have positioned themselves as ideal selections due to their hardy and adaptable qualities. These popular selections include the Japanese black pine, ficus benjaminia, sago palm, Japanese juniper, Chinese elm, Japanese maple and the succulent jade plant, to new just a few.
The practice of bonsai requires a long-term commitment. The ultimate mission of bonsai is to maintain an endlessly thriving tree. While the maintenance of most bonsai is similar, the care should be based and scheduled around the individual needs of the bonsai. These practices should only be completed by the bonsai's "giver," and no other, since only its primary "giver" knows exactly what it needs.
Contrary to common belief, bonsai plants and trees can be more than tiny, table-sized plants. Bonsai trees are bonsai because they are planted and permanently raised in containers. The Bonsai Site explains bonsai as "heaven and earth in one container" as they are part of nature but grown outside of nature. While many bonsai specimens adapt well to miniature sizes, the vigorous growth rate of some specimens demands a larger size. Equally, you have free reign to grow your bonsai to whatever size you desire.
Bonsai trees and plants are susceptible to pests, disease and other factors of adverse health, just as their full-sized counterparts. The patient and regular care of the bonsai will allow you to quickly identify your bonsai's adverse health, if and when it should occur. Diseases and other irritants should be handled quickly to avoid permanent injury and fatal results. Common diseases of bonsai include powdery mildew, leaf spot and rust, along with the common predators such as spider mites, aphids and gnats.