Bonsai Plants: Indoor Bonsai or Outdoor Bonsai?

Choosing a full-grown bonsai plant or tree is always difficult – not least because of the cost involved. First decide where you are going to put your bonsai, whether indoors or outdoors, as this will directly determine your choice of bonsai. Think carefully how much time you will be able to devote to looking after your tree, and for outdoor bonsai, bear in mind as well the climatic conditions and how much exposure to light the trees will have. Always take advice from an expert, and read the following pages very carefully.

Indoors or Outdoors?

magnificent indoor bonsai tree - 30-year-old Juniperus chinensis (Chinese juniper)Traditionally, bonsai trees come from the forests of the temperate humid regions of China and Japan, so are essentially outdoor plants. The idea of indoor bonsai came from the desire to keep bonsai in the home permanently, although tradition dictated that bonsai should only be brought indoors for special occasions, as when entertaining.

A temperate forest tree cannot tolerate the confined atmosphere of a house or fiat. Conversely, tropical species which would thrive in this type of atmosphere are difficult to treat as bonsai. An exception to this is the fig tree, which, although of tropical origin, responds perfectly to miniaturization.

A number of species originating from mild climates (such as the Mediterranean coasts) can also be grown indoors, though they are generally thought of as cold greenhouse or conservatory plants. This applies to camellias and hibiscus.

Outdoor bonsai

As we already know, this group makes up the majority of bonsai. Contrary to all appearances, a bonsai is no more delicate than its big brother in the forest. Neither rain, wind nor sun will harm it -provided it is adequately watered. Resistance to frost varies from one species to another, but as a rule all bonsai benefit from protection once the temperature drops below 5°C (41 °F) and there is a risk of frost. Some trees, like the pines, firs, cedars, beeches, ginkgo or yews, need no more than a simple covering, such as a sheet of plastic, in a severe frost. Many others, like maples, elms and fruit trees in general, should be taken indoors into a cool room (10°C (50°F) maximum) when there is any danger of frost. All indoor bonsai can be taken outside, providing the temperature does not drop below 5°C (41 °F). It is essential to protect the base of bonsai trees kept outside in winter and consequently, the tray itself, since the roots do not have a thick covering of earth to protect them. Simply use straw, or cover with leaves or peat.

Displaying Your Outdoor Bonsai

Two indoor bonsai of very different sizes: left, a tall, six-year-old cordyline; right, a ten-year-old tree, Nandina domesticaThe importance of bonsai presentation is obvious, since much of their charm lies in the harmony between the plant and its container. How you display your bonsai outdoors is equally important. Whether you use only a balcony or patio, or even a complete bonsai garden, it is vital never to stand the plant directly on the ground, unless it is a very old tree of considerable size. The ideal position is just below the line of vision.

Use stands that provide different levels and will let excess water drain away. Treat the wood with a non-toxic preservative to stop the wood rotting.

If using a window sill or balcony, make sure the pots are very stable, so that there is no danger of their falling over in a high wind. The higher the balcony the more problems can be caused by wind. The combination of high winds and hot sunshine can dry trees out very quickly. It is advisable to provide a strong windbreak and also to watch for rapid drying out.

This remarkable fig tree (60 years old) with its exposed roots can only live indoors, particularly in winter. It is a superb decorative specimen.In a garden, stands can be protected from the hot sun by a slatted shade made of plastic or wood. If you have a really extensive bonsai collection, try to mix the species and cultivars, to create an interesting and artistic display.

An outdoor bonsai garden should have one or more water connections, depending how large the garden is, since the trays do not contain much soil and so the trees risk drying out rapidly in summer. If you have a large collection, you should install a watering system with overhead pipes, with a succession of sprinklers set at regular intervals. Of course, the ideal is to install an automatic programming device which will control watering.

Where possible, avoid watering in broad daylight and exposing wet leaves to direct sunlight. This is where shading comes in useful. Bird droppings may also cause a problem. These can be prevented by fitting an awning with narrow slats. It is best to water first thing in the morning and then check again later in the day.

24. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Bonsai | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Bonsai Plants: Indoor Bonsai or Outdoor Bonsai?

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