Gardening and More: Go bonkers for bonsai this weekend!
You can also watch demonstrations on how to start growing a bonsai tree. There will be a table where you can get advice on tending bonsai trees and you can even bring your own bonsai and get technical help. Bonsai supplies and trees will also be sold. If you want to start a bonsai, you can buy everything you need and volunteers will help you plant and shape it.
The Bonsai Show will be held from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. The show is organized by the Buffalo Bonsai Society and the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
Bonsai (pronounced like the English words “bone-SIGH”) is an art in which trees are pruned and shaped to look like old trees, while remaining small.
“We try to imitate nature,” said Wendy Williams, president of the Buffalo Bonsai Society. “If you took a photo of a tree in a meadow, and you took a photo of a bonsai without showing the pot, you shouldn’t be able to tell which is the bonsai.”
Any tree that you have in your yard can be grown as a bonsai, she said, including oak, maple, juniper, spruce, apple and rhododendron. One exception is a chestnut tree, because you can’t reduce the size of chestnut leaves to bring them into balance with the size of the rest of the tree.
You can take steps to get most trees to produce leaves in proportion to the size of the trunk and branches, but you can never reduce the size of the flowers or fruit. One apple could break the branch of a bonsai.
These are not houseplants and cannot survive inside year-round. They are trees, and must undergo the same weather conditions that full-size trees experience, including winter. People often tell her that they got a bonsai as a gift and it was doing well until suddenly it died. It generally turns out that the person kept the tree inside.
There are several ways to overwinter a bonsai. One method is to dig a trench in your garden and bury the bonsai, pot and all, midway up the trunk of the tree. That’s enough to protect the roots.
If the bonsai is expensive or very old, you could keep it in an unheated garage over the winter. Some people buy an old refrigerator for the basement and keep their bonsai there. If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, that is the best way to keep your bonsai sheltered and at the proper temperature.
If you want a bonsai that will work as a houseplant, you can use something that normally grows in California, Florida or the Carolinas, such as a ficus, Williams said.
People interested in bonsai generally have three kinds of trees. They own a mature bonsai so that they can enjoy the beauty of the art, a younger bonsai that they can train themselves and a tropical bonsai so they have something to do during the winter.
A bonsai has the same life expectancy as a tree in your front yard, and, with good care, a bonsai can last a couple of hundred years. Bonsai can be passed down from generation to generation. Williams has a 75-year-old spruce and is the third member of the Buffalo Bonsai Society to own it.
Bonsai aren’t dwarf plants. If you planted a bonsai outside and stopped pruning it, in 10 years, it could be 40 feet tall.
To create a bonsai, start with a tree from a nursery, usually in a five-gallon container. Look for a specimen with an interesting trunk. Smaller specimens that other customers aren’t interested in for their yards work fine for bonsai.
The tree is then pruned and wires are wrapped around the branches to bend them into a pleasing shape.
The plants aren’t injured or tortured.
“These are pampered pets,” Williams said.
It’s not hard to do bonsai, she said, but “bonsai is one of those things that, if you don’t get some instruction, you can’t do it.”
In addition to the learning opportunities at the Bonsai Show, the Buffalo Bonsai Society offers instruction at its monthly meetings at Menne’s Nursery, 3100 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst. For a half hour before each meeting, anyone can bring in a tree and ask questions.
Williams notes that the Buffalo Bonsai society has a number of very experienced members, but there are many who are new to bonsai, too.
“Don’t be intimidated,” she said. “Bonsai is something anyone can do.”
Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.