DIY, Garden

Plant it yourself: how to make your own bonsai

Like most things to do with gardening, it's the moments when you've got your hands dirty that are the most rewarding. Here is a DIY guide on how to make your own bonsai.

Plant it yourself: how to make your own bonsai

You could get a really lovely ready-made mini tree from a nursery or upmarket retailer's flower section, but if you have a Sunday (and the patience) to spare, why not give it a go yourself?

You will need:

  • A tree sapling (depending on the tree this can be anywhere from a few months to a few years old. Speak to the experts at your local nursery as to which one will suit bonsai needs best)
  • a pretty pot (with at least one drainage hole)
  • fine scissors
  • bendable wire
  • chopsticks
bonsai trees china bowlsPhoto by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Step by step

Step 1: Remove the top layer of soil surrounding your sapling

This will allow you to see where the first layer of the plant's roots appear. Lift the tree from its pot and, using chopsticks, remove any loose soil. After revealing where the main roots appear, you can decide on the best angle of the tree. Also take into consideration the shape of the trunk and the main branches.

Step 2: Clear all dead or unnecessary growth

Using a small, sharp pair of scissors, remove all dead leaves on the branches close to the stem. This will reveal the structure of the plant, helping to show the best part and the strength in the tree's shape.

Step 3: Pruning the tree into shape

This is where your creativity comes into play. Follow the shape of the tree or use scissors to create new shapes into which you want your tree to grow. You can even go as far as removing the top of the sapling to create a basic shape of the diminutive structure and use branches to create new apex structures instead. You can safely prune up to one third of the tree's foliage. Take inspiration from pictures online, or on our pages in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue, featuring Joburg's Bonsai Studio.

Step 4: Wiring the branches

If you're able to achieve the shape you want via pruning, you don’t need to wire the tree upfront. But if you wish to go all out, start by wiring the main trunk at a 45-degree angle to create a less formal look (it's still flexible enough to bend). When it comes to the branches, start at the bottom and work your way up. Wrap the wire around the branches carefully, with one hand on the branch and the other holding the wire. Once you have wired the branches then move them into your desired position.

Step 5: Potting time

Although traditional bonsai pots are rather shallow, you can put yours in any pot you like. Using the chopsticks, untangle the roots further. Then, using scissors, you can trim longer roots to fit your pot – trim up to a third of the roots if needed. Now place the bonsai off centre in the pot, making sure you have the most interesting angle on display. It’s OK if the tree sticks out above the pot line as the roots are also an important focal point. Then place some soil on top and use the chopsticks to make sure that all the air pockets in the roots are filled.

Step 6: Water

When your tree is finished, give it a good dousing. And there you have it – your own baby bonsai. Over the ensuing months, make sure that you water it regularly a few times a week, and check that the wires you placed are not hurting the tree. After three months, you can start trimming the tree again into your desired shape. For more tips on how to make your own bonsai, visit Bonsai Empire on YouTube.