Of course, the trees are the most important part of bonsai. This page will soon have links to various important aspects of
the hobby. But trees are the most complicated part of the art also, so it will take some time to get these pages right. All of
the subject below will be discussed in more detail on pages to come.
So many conversations about bonsai start off with the comment, “I had a bonsai once, but it died.” The answer to the
problem is almost always two- fold. Water - Too much of it or too little of it and sometimes, both too much and too little
sequentially. This will do in a tree very quickly. The trees should never be standing in water. The trees should never get so
dry the leaves wilt or drop. If you control the water well, the tree can still be too wet, but then it is a soil issue rather than a
Soil - Bonsai will not thrive or maybe will not even survive in “dirt.” Most garden and commercial potting soils are too heavy
and hold too much water and too little air. While there is variation in requirements between the various plants used for
bonsai, the best soils are generally very granular and quick- draining. There will be a page devoted to this subject.
Environment - This also plays a role, but is generally a secondary cause of bonsai death. If you are going to take up
bonsai, you have to make a decision about what you are going to grow. That can be determined by where you live. (A
special note here: This website is directed to those living on the East Coast and more specifically, the MidAtlantic. I am
writing this from Wilmington Delaware. We have winters with many nights below
You must decide whether your trees are going to live outdoors or inside. In an
apartment, one should probably stick to tropicals that stay indoors year-round.
Supplemental light and humidity may be necessary. If you have access to a balcony
or outdoor patio, your choices are broadened because your trees can enjoy direct
and copious sunlight.
Most of us in Brandywine Bonsai Society work on trees that would live outdoors
in this area - maples, junipers, pines, azaleas, boxwoods, etc. To lead healthy lives,
these trees need to experience a winter just as they would if they were planted in the
ground. A maple that never has a winter will quickly loose vigor. A little snow never
hurts them though hard freezes can be an issue.
Bonsai literally means tree in a pot. There are many different ways of growing trees in pots. Rock gardeners love their
trough plantings. It may be nice to have a potted maple on your deck during the summer or a potted orange tree or ficus in
your sunroom. These are not bonsai despite commonalities. Bonsai is an art form originally developed in China and then
refined in Japan. We will later discuss the various styles and the rules of design. One should learn those rules before
One can always buy a pre-styled bonsai. But what is the fun in that? There are many classes and clubs available -
those are great places to learn. The best time of year to be starting is in the fall when nurseries and big-box stores are
getting rid of their materials for the winter. One can purchase a number of garden junipers very inexpensively and follow
instructions on how to start a bonsai. Subsequent pages will provide step- by-step instructions. There will also be several
pages on the virtual trimming of trees.
One of the best sources of material for bonsai is collected. One can (and must always!) get permission to dig trees in a
variety of locations. National Forests (but not National Parks) are fair game. “Urban Collecting” in neighbors’ yards can be
very productive (Again, we are not talking about midnight digging.) If neighbors are tearing out landscaping plants, offer to
help. Some rather dramatic examples will be documented in coming pages. Trees in the middle of pastures that have been
trimmed annually by cattle or deer can be good deciduous material.
Display is one of the major reasons for doing bonsai. There is the pleasure of doing, but in the end, bonsai is an
aesthetic art meant to be appreciated visually.
This does not mean that one has to display for the public or others. One can simply appreciate one’s own effort. But
whether the tree is for public or private display, displaying it well can bring greater appreciation. Display at home can be a
couple trees on a table on the balcony of an apartment. A bench on a deck in suburbia can expand to benches or stands in
a working area in the yard.
Trees will always look better in well-proportioned pots appropriate to the tree. A stand highlights the tree and the pot.
While many trees are better suited to life out of doors, bring them into the house for special occasions can make them a
focal point. In the Japanese home, this has been formalized to the Tokonoma in the living area.
Putting trees on display at shows or walking thru the bonsai displays at a number of gardens or arboretums takes the
experience to the next higher level. One will always want to groom the tree for a show and the combination of stand and
companion plant can set a wonderful mood.
Education or Enlightenment
If you get very involved in the ar of bonsai, you will want to know more about it. There are hundreds of book on the subject
that ranbge from simple “how to” to elegant coffee table books showing some of the world’s greatest creations. There are
also several magazines available and later in the web site there is a list of other useful web sites. Public gardens and some
nurseries provide beginner classes and there are clubs in quite a few areas of the country. Finally, one can attend regional
or national meetings that provide lectures and possibly more importantly for beginners, comprehensive vendor areas where
one can buy material, tools, wire, pots, stands and other accessories.
Brandywine Bonsai Society is an educational organization and as a result, the material in this site may be copied for
educational purposes. If large portions are copied, we would appreciate attribution. We welcome links to this site.