Bonsai basics

The art of Bonsai or the growing of trees in miniature commenced in the East centuries ago.

The word Bonsai comes from two Japanese characters – bon – meaning pot or tray and – sai – meaning tree. Hence tree in a pot.

The Western world has adopted the art as a pastime and it offers a healthy relaxation from a busy lifestyle. Bonsai specimens are normal trees and plants – they must be kept outdoors, although they can be brought inside for a few days at a time for decoration purposes. The shallow containers dry out quickly and need some shade during the summer months.

Watering can be done by immersion or overhead sprinkling. Half strength organic fertiliser can be used during the spring and autumn or a slow release fertiliser can be used throughout the year.

The culture of Bonsai is considered a real art and its main aim is to acquire an appearance of age and to cultivate a miniature specimen similar to one which can be found in nature.

Branches are wired to the desired shaped, the wire being removed once the shape has set and before the wire begins to cut into the bark. This may be two months or two years, depending on the age and type of trees. Prune and pinch back the foliage so that it does not extend beyond the design. This is a constant task during the growing season as the tree can soon lose its shape.

Bonsai need to be root -pruned and repotted to be kept healthy. For most trees, this is done during late winter or early spring when new growth is about to commence. Study books on the subject or join the SA Bonsai Society, and then – with an eye for what is possible, specimens can be selected from nurseries.

Many varieties can be commenced from seeds, cuttings or seedlings found beneath large trees.


  • Olive
  • Juniper
  • Chamaecyparis
  • Cedar
  • Yew
  • Cupressus
  • Box
  • Privet
  • Coprosma
  • Pines (Black, Mugo, Aleppo, Radiata)


  • Elm (Chinese, English)
  • Ash
  • Oak
  • Celtis
  • Zelkova
  • Gingko
  • Liquidamber
  • Maples (a few varieties – need shelter in summer to prevent leaf burn )

Flowering and Fruiting

  • Bougainvillea
  • Tecoma
  • Cotoneaster
  • Crepe Myrtle
  • Azalea
  • Hawthorn
  • Wisteria
  • Crab Apple
  • Pomegranate
  • Cumquat
  • Plum
  • Apple
  • Peach
  • Quince
  • Almond
  • Mulberry


  • Ficus
  • Grevillea
  • Melaleuca
  • Leptospernum
  • Lily Pilly
  • Tea -Tree
  • Bottle Brush