Bonsai Woes and the Sad Gardener

Education Geek Culture
Found on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Found on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’ve been killing trees for a long time. Years ago, at a bonsai exhibit, I heard a quote that would stick with me for the rest of my life. “To begin learning the true art of bonsai, you must first kill one hundred trees.” I regularly need to stop and consider this, apparently.

I recently went on a vacation, and came home to dead trees. I did not leave adequate instructions for watering and care. The instructions I should have left amounted to: leave them alone. It is easy to kill a house plant. I’ve known people who felt stupid or like they had the dreaded “black thumb”. The truth is, plants just need to be left alone. Other than that, I have a few pieces of advice for the budding (heh) gardener or bonsai enthusiast.

  • The person most likely to kill a house plant is someone who has a love for plants, but doesn’t know how to take care of them.
  • They don’t crave an emotional connection, even if you do.
  • Don’t over-water. Drowning your tree sucks, and does happen. Just ask my dead pines.
  • Seek professional advice from local garden and botanical shops. They deal with your climate, average rainfall, and soil conditions as a matter of course.
  • Don’t fret over them too much! Over-care will kill your baby tree.
  • Don’t constantly prune your trees! Only trim them once a year, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t keep your trees inside. They need natural soil and light conditions.
  • Did I mention that you shouldn’t water them too much?
  • Bonsai don’t have to be tiny. They are a work of art in any size.

The trick is to be patient, but mindful. Read, study, learn. There are a lot of ways to take care of a tree, and there are more ways to kill it. Don’t just go into a garden shop and buy everything you see. Check out the plants and varieties that are best suited to your climate and conditions.

Finally, don’t give up. If and when your tree dies (as it just might), do your research. Make notes about the condition of the tree after death. Did it have enough leaves? Was the soil under-fertilized? Every observation you make will help you in the future. After you have an idea of what changes you need to make in the future, go get another tree of the same type. Even if you’ve only had one tree die, it is now the tree you know the most about. You need to build in layers to know everything about a tree.

So start with some good advice, grab a podcast (I like The Bonsai Garden Podcast), and learn about the tree you want before you bring it home. Start from a place of knowledge. Good luck, and have fun creating your next piece of living art.


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