Bonsai literally translates to "plant grown in a pot," but the interpretation has evolved since its inception in ancient China. Today, we think of bonsai as tiny version of old, wooden trees.
Bonsai does not refer to a type of plant but rather describes a method of pruning and shaping to create an illusion of a very old tree in miniature. A bonsai can be created from any plant which develops a woody trunk and tolerates pruning well, such as the spiraea and potentilla in the January Plant Package. Bonsai can be created from tropical plants, perennials with woody stems, deciduous shrubs and evergreens. There are several forms, such as formal and informal upright, cascade, forest and windswept.
Below, we'll walk you through some steps to create a beautiful bonsai container. Remember, this is a learning opportunity - you don't have to be perfect. Relax, have fun with it, and learn from your experience! Since you have four plants, you have the option to experiment with different cuts and designs on each plant.
Planting After your plants are planted, give them a week or two to settle into their new home before you begin shaping. Your plants may have some shock from shipping and being replanted, so it is best to not shock them again immediately.
Tools Find a quality pair of pruning shears with a long, slim blade. The blades should be rust-free and clean to prevent infection to your plants.
Pruning Pruning establishes the basic shape of the bonsai. By removing unnecessary branches, and thus enhancing others, you establish the style the tree will be. This is usually done only once, after which small shoots are pruned or removed and new growth is pinched back.
There are two basic rules for removal of branches - no branch, with the exception of small ones at the top, should grow towards the front, and no branches should be seen to cross each other. All other pruning is your choice - it's your plant, so shape it as you please. The goal is to keep your plants small so they don't outgrow their container.
Additionally, spiraeas produce numerous long arching shoots from old wood in spring and these need to be pruned back hard or removed to keep shape. After this, pruning should be stopped to allow flowering to occur.
Informal Upright Form Since the spiraea and potentilla plants are not the traditional hardwoods used for bonsai, we recommend an informal upright bonsai style for these plants. An informal upright includes shaping into a main stem, and maintaining control on top, but otherwise letting the plant grow in a more informal manner. This style also encourages your plants to flower come spring.