How to Pot a Regular Tree to Bonsai

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Any type of tree may be used to create a suitable bonsai.
Any type of tree may be used to create a suitable bonsai. (Image: Stephen Schauer/Lifesize/Getty Images)

You don't have to start with a dwarf or miniature tree to make a bonsai. Bonsai can be created from young trees of many varieties by confining the roots of the tree. Good candidates for bonsai include trees such as Japanese maple, as well as juniper, lemon or shrubs like azaleas. To transform a tree into a bonsai, you must start with a sapling. Saplings are simple to train into a bonsai tree by careful pruning and confining of their roots and tree canopies.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree sapling
  • Pruning shears
  • Shovel
  • Annealed copper wire
  • Wire nippers
  • Bonsai mesh sieves
  • Bonsai potting mix
  • Bonsai tray
  • Bonsai mesh screen
  • Electrical wire
  • Chopstick

Select a young, healthy, dormant tree fom which to create your bonsai. Do not purchase a discarded tree. Such trees may suffer from drought stress, insect damage or breakage. Healthy trees are easier to form into bonsai.

Remove the tree's container and rinse the soil away from the roots of the sapling. Tease out the roots so that they hang straight from the tree. Cut back long tree branches to an outward facing bud and remove one of the branches on trees that are opposite each other. Prune the tree to suggest a bonsai form. The bonsai forms are upright, leaning and cascade. Cut back the roots from one-third to one-half their length . Do not cut back the main roots at the base of the tree or the feeder roots that branch out from the main roots.

Plant the tree in a flower bed filled with loose, loamy soil to allow its roots to develop and the trunk to thicken. Wrap the tree with annealed copper wire in a clockwise spiral motion. The wire should be loose enough to prevent tree girdling. Bend the wire into the shape that you desire to train the tree. If you cannot bend the tree all the way without it breaking, bend it as far as you can. Check the tree periodically. When it naturally grows in the shape in which you have bent it, you will be able to bend it further. Loosen and re-wrap the wire to keep it from girdling the tree. Leave the tree in the garden bed for one year.

Sift bonsai potting mix with bonsai sieves. Discard any potting mix that will pass through the smallest bonsai sieve. This material is so fine that it will form clay when wet. Wet clay compacts around bonsai roots and prevents them from absorbing moisture. Place a galvanized mesh screen in the bottom of your bonsai tray and place the largest grade of bonsai soil over this. Place a layer of sifted peat moss over the coarse soil. Then place the next size of coarse potting material over the peat moss.

Prune back most new top growth from the bonsai tree one week before digging the tree up. Dig up the bonsai tree and tease out the root ball. Cut roots back to the main horizontal roots and attached feeder roots. Work quickly so that the roots do not dry out.

Pass insulated wire through the drainage holes in the bonsai tray. Place the tree on the tray and arrange it. Pass the wire around the roots and twist it to wire the tree in place. Wire the tree in place securely, but do not allow the wire to cut into the tree's bark.

Work the next grade of bonsai soil around the roots of the tree with a chopstick. Add the next smallest grade of bonsai soil over that. Top the planting with a thin covering of moss. Saturate the soil and place the tree in a protected location for three weeks or until new growth appears on the tree.

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