Bonsai–The Saga Continues

Last year, I took several classes on the care and feeding of bonsai in order to better care for a ficus that I had mishandled. When last we saw my little tree, it had been trimmed back by the instructor, who told me how to care for it over the winter. I was able to set it by a south-facing window, where it remained until the nighttime temperature remained above 45F. I then put it out on the deck, fed it slow-release and dilute regular fertilizers, and let sun and food and water do their work. Instructor and I had discussed repotting it several times, and since tropical bonsai should be repotted in the summer, I signed up for the appropriate class when it became available.

I researched pots a little bit, and realized I needed advice before choosing a new one. Pots can be oval, round, or rectangular, glazed or unglazed, rimmed or rimless, and the type one chooses depends on the style of the tree. Is it masculine or feminine, evergreen or deciduous, upright or curved? I decided to wait until class so I could discuss choices with the instructor. After all, my tree was popping right along, right? Filling out? Repotting was the next logical step.


Thing is, over the course of the year, I had forgotten the goal of bonsai, which is to make a small tree look like a full-size tree one would find in nature. It has to have the proper shape and proportions, the distribution of leaves. Even though I’d had my tree for almost 15 years, I had put it though the mill. I had almost killed it–it lost leaves and branches, the shape that its original designer had developed. What I had now was essentially a young tree, with branches growing in every direction and leaves of all sizes. To use sculpture as as analogy, I had a block of marble. Now the time had come to shape, carve, and chip away.

So, no repotting. Instead, the instructor and I trimmed leaves and branches. Many, many leaves and branches. The instructor then applied wire to remaining branches so they could be curved in the desired directions. I asked what form we were aiming for, and he sketched the general shape on the whiteboard: that of an older tree, with well-proportioned branches curving downward:

The goal


This is the current, post-trimming/wiring State of the Tree:


The large branches on the viewer’s left are too heavy, but they can be trimmed back if backbuds sprout and grow into narrower branches. Cluster of leaves, or pads, will develop on these branches and, over time, fill in and form the desired shape (with a little judicious trimming by me).

So I will continue to feed the little guy, remove the wiring before it forms grooves in the branches, and keep it outside until the nights dip back below 45F again. I will sign up for a winter prep class if it’s offered, and go from there.



About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


Bonsai–The Saga Continues — 2 Comments

  1. They are such challenging little buggers. Our calamondin bonsai almost died over the winter – it’s coming back but it’s going to be a completely different shape.

  2. Does your tree grow edible fruit?

    My instructor said that work on a tree ends when the tree dies.

    My job is to keep from hastening that along.

    A couple of the thinner branches are already showing hints of backbuds. But those two big branches really need to sprout little ones, and so far they show no signs.