Misconceptions about bonsai

As the art and science of bonsai cultivation remained the prerogative of a privileged few for a long time in Japan and China, bonsai was shrouded in mystery. It is not surprising therefore that a person who sees a bonsai for the first time looks askance at these diminutive trees and feels certain that some magic is involved. These persons are very much prone to form wrong notions about bonsai especially due to the half-truths and mis- interpretations propounded by self styled experts and even half-baked nurserymen out to make a fast buck out of a high price item like bonsai. The public is ignorant about the true nature of bonsai – the sound horticultural principles on which it is based. They are only aware of the final beautiful form, not the creativity, the painstaking care or the patience and skill acquired over the years by the bonsai artist.

It would be worth our while to have a clear perception of what bonsai is or is not.It would be better to differentiate between what is a mis- belief and misconceptions (born out of ignorance and what is reality (based on knowledge and fact). Let us examine the misconceptions objectively:

A] The main objection to bonsai is that plants are confined, pruned and are not allowed to grow. This is deemed to be unnatural; it is argued that bigger tree varieties especially should not be confined to pots
but should be allowed to grow unchecked in the ground where they belong.

This argument is senseless and unrealistic.

Firstly, it is not only bonsai that are grown in pots; plants are also grown in general in pots. It is Natures’ bounty that plants and trees can be grown in pots and that they display every characteristic that is seen in plants and trees grown in the ground. If plants should not be potted, then plant lovers the world over would be deprived of the facility of growing plants where they can. Nowadays the price of city dwellings is at a premium and the size of flats is reducing day by day. Concrete jungles are replacing natural flora #038; fauna everywhere, disturbing the ecology and resulting in global warming. The city dwellers are forced to breathe canned air as heat and pollution in cities is high. Potted plants, which act as natural air purifiers and oxygenators are a boon to city dwellers as they can maintain plants on balconies, window sills, patios, etc and somewhat restore the natural balance. Pot culture is able to satisfy the craving of plant lovers of indulging in the ability, nay, the passion for growing plants in their own homes. Bonsai are also potted plants in a way except that the shape of the pot is flat rather than bucket like and in most cases, more plants can be accommodated due to the small sizes of the pots.

Further, even ordinary potted plants require occasional pruning and repotting, in fact all the things that are objected to in the case of bonsai. Potting/repotting and pruning are necessary to maintain the health of plants. In bonsai, since the shape of the plant needs to resemble a tree in nature, pruning is all the more necessary. Actually, timely pruning results in more vigorous growth. Then why should there be any objection to the potting and pruning of bonsai?

B] It is said that the bonsai are stunted by deliberately depriving them of water #038; starving them to keep them dwarf.

This is absolutely incorrect.

All living things including plants require water. Bonsai are no exception. The water requirements of bonsai-just as that of other plants- may vary according to species as well as climatic conditions #038; season. In very hot weather they need to be watered maybe twice a day depending on the temperature and strength of sunlight. In winter, some plants may need water only on alternate days although most plants may need to be watered daily or at least misted on days when they are not watered. In temperate climates it is said that during cold freezes, plants may require watering only once every week or ten days. But this is a common practice for all potted plants, not just bonsai.

In case of flowering plants, watering is held back during flowering to induce profuse flowering, but that is also a standard practice, not confined to bonsai.

Generally speaking, no plant – be it bonsai or ordinary potted plant- can survive without water and therefore cannot be starved of water if they are expected to be healthy and remain alive for many years. Bonsai, being living ordinary plants are not deprived or starved of water in any condition; in fact, contrary to common misconception, they are always watered very well and fertilized from time to time in order to maintain optimum health.

C] It is argued that it is cruelty to tie bonsai with wire; their roots are cut often and also tied to prevent them from growing fast.

This is also untrue.

Although wire is wrapped around the trunk and branches of bonsai, it is as a means of bracing these parts in order to bend them to alter and conform them to a specific shape as planned by the bonsai artist. Wires are not expected to be kept permanently. In fact, wires are required to be removed before they cut or bite into the bark of the trunk and branches and before they scar the bark.

Further, the roots of bonsai are never wired at all, period. But sometimes, in case of planting tall trees in shallow pots or where the roots are inadequate and unstable to support a newly potted tree, or where small plants are placed in very small (mame) pots, the plant is tied into the pot for a brief period till its roots are well established to support the weight of its foliage.

As can be seen from the above mentioned points, there is no cruelty involved in the cultivation of bonsai. In fact bonsai fans are ardent lovers of nature and keep their plants in optimum health by the sometimes simple #038; sometimes complicated horticultural practices of pruning shaping repotting watering #038; fertilizing. If they are genuine bonsai fans then it is certain that they would take care of their bonsai like they would take care of their children or pets.

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