At its most basic, bonsai is the Japanese practice of growing and shaping living, small-scale trees in shallow containers. Bonsai themselves are mesmerising diminutive versions of a wide variety of tree species, from juniper and ficus to bougainvillea and pine.
Even absolute beginners can indulge in this relaxing pastime with satisfying aesthetic results. You’ll need nothing more than a pair of small scissors, secateurs and a few brushes to grow your trees, but if you become passionate about the hobby you will probably find yourself investing in soft brushes for cleaning the bark, hard brushes for the deadwood, scissors, saws, wire cutters, chopsticks, pliers and a selection of cutters to use on roots, branches and for hollowing out.
What plant should I use?
The best trees for indoor growth are those that can survive the sometimes harsh conditions found inside, such as light that can be too hot, or too little.
The following species are recommended:
• Wild fig (Ficus natalensis)
• Tree of a thousand stars (Serissa foetida)
• Crassula (Crassula sp)
How do I care for my bonsai?
• Position your bonsai close to a window to receive bright light, possibly some morning sun, too. Avoid hot afternoon sun. Since light from windows comes from one direction it’s important you rotate your tree a quarter-to-half-turn every week to ensure an even growth pattern.
• Allow the shoots to grow up to six to eight leaves and then trim back to two leaves. Repeating this results in the development of branch ramification. If you want a certain area in the tree to develop more, leave the region to grow to the preferred size, then start trimming the shoots back.
• Since interior conditions are often quite dry, it is recommended to place the tree in a drip tray filled with coarse sand or gravel. Ensure the pot of your bonsai is above the water level of the drip tray at all times. Misting your tree daily helps to increase humidity.
• It’s better to saturate the soil and wait for it to dry a little than constantly watering a little. The tray should always be moist but never soaking wet.