Friday, October 5, 2007

Growing Bonsai with Artificial Light by Susan Slobac

Bonsai is a style of gardening that artistically miniaturizes trees by growing them in containers. It got its start in China, but also has famous schools in both Japanese and Korean stylings. While bonsai can be grown as outdoor plants, you can also grow some bonsai indoors using artificial grow lights.
The container adds a lot to the beauty of the bonsai. Make sure your bonsai pot has a drainage hole for excess water to escape. Informally shaped plants look super in round containers, while more formal plants shine in containers in more of a square or rectangular shape. You will want to select a pot that looks nice with the foliage of your bonsai.
The soil in which your bonsai tree lives need to be free draining. You will often find items such as gravel, fired clay pellets, akadama, and kanuma yellow pumice in a bonsai soil mix. The tree will need to be repotted every two years or so, and root pruned. This helps to keep the tree small and also encourages root growth, which helps the tree take in moisture more effectively.
You will need some special hand tools to prune your bonsai properly. A concave cutter will allow you to make pruning cuts that leave no stubs on a branch. Wire pliers, shears, and branch bending jacks are all used to help shape the tree into attractive shapes. The tree is wired with anodized aluminum or copper wire to help maintain the branches in the correct placement until they are set in position.
Wiring the bonsai tree helps to shape it properly. You can perform this task in the spring or fall ideally. You wrap the trunk of your tree in wire, and then spiral the wire around each branch of the tree so you can bend the wire in order to shape the tree as you wish. You then leave this wire on for a single growing season and then remove it before it leaves marks on the bark, or even girdles the tree, which can kill it. Thicker wires are used for stronger branches, and thinner wire for the lighter ones. Be gentle when bending branches, because it is easy to split or break them inadvertently. Instead, work slowly and make small changes, let the tree adapt, and then make another small adjustment, and in this way you can shape the tree without doing damage to it.
Bonsai can be grown successfully under fluorescent grow lights. You will want to keep your grow lamps very close to the top of your tallest tree. Simple light fixtures for this type of bulb come with electronic digital ballasts already installed, so they are plug-in ready. Leave them on daily for 16 hours.
by Susan Slobac

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