The Art of Ancient Japanese Bonsai


Bonsai is a Japanese word that means "grow in a container." It is the ancient art of cultivating miniature trees. The word bonsai relates to the growing style of the miniature tree rather than the species of tree used. The art of bonsai involves growing and caring for a miniature tree, making it look natural and old.

Varieties of Bonsai Trees

Bonsai trees should have small leaves, and a wide variety of plants are available, including the vine maple, the jade tree, the elm and the Japanese black pine tree. Beginners tend to pick a bonsai tree that is already well established, as cultivation can take many years. When you are picking a species of bonsai tree, make sure that it is suitable for the environment in which it will be placed. The jade tree is an indoor tree but still needs a lot of light, whereas the Japanese black pine tree prefers to be outside, which will then also stop its needles from growing too quickly.

Bonsai Styles

Bonsai trees have many styles, the most popular being the formal upright (Chokkan), which is an upright tree with branches that are evenly distributed. The main branches should be one-third of the way up the trunk, and the other branches should form a spiral pattern that shortens as they grow higher up the trunk, making the tree into a triangular shape. The windswept, or Fukinagahi tree, should look as though the wind has forced the branches to grow in one direction, and the trunk should slope heavily. Strong roots are required to make the bonsai stable. The twin trunk (Sokan) is also known as the mother-and-son style, as it has a main tree with a second smaller trunk growing next to it. The smaller of the trunks should be positioned slightly behind the main trunk to achieve a more 3D appearance.


The choice of which soil to use for bonsai trees is an important one, as the plant will remain in the small amount of soil for a long time. It needs to be fast draining and consist of a mixture of coarse sand and clay pellets, which provide support for the roots of the bonsai and retain moisture. The particles used in a bonsai mix should also allow small air pockets to form, as the roots need oxygen.


Trees should be checked daily to see if they require watering. Underwatering will damage most trees, but overwatering may cause root rot and death of the tree. Watering should not be done as a routine, but just as required. Weather and humidity will affect the tree's need for water.

Bonsai Tools

Pruning a bonsai tree should be done throughout the year. Branch cutters are one of the most important tools required and will easily prune branches, leaving a concave branch. A pair of large scissors is useful for trimming shoots as they appear. Bonsai enthusiasts also use wire, usually copper, to help shape the branches and encourage growth in a certain direction.

Keywords: art of bonsai, bonsai tools, soil for bonsai

About this Author

Katy Willis has been writing articles since 2005, and writes regularly for several knowledge banks and product review sites. She's had articles published in the "Lynn News" and "Diva." She specializes in mental-health, healthcare, dementia, gardening-related topics, photography and LGBT issues. She earned a Bachelor of Science in mental health nursing and a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of East Anglia.