Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Introduction to Bonsai: Location, Overwintering, Mallsai, Collecting and Bonsai tourism.

Contrary to popular belief, bonsai are not suited for indoor culture, and if kept indoors will most likely die.

While certain tropical plants may flourish indoors, most bonsai are developed from species of shrubs or trees that are adapted to temperate climates (conifers, maples, etc) and require a period of dormancy. Most trees require several hours of direct or slightly-filtered sun every day.

However, many successful entrepreneurs in indoor bonsai have grown many hardy trees inside. Japanese black pine and Buddhist pine are two examples of common outdoor bonsai that can survive inside, although the Buddhist pine can tolerate more variation in lighting and cold.

Those who have successfully grown hardy specimens indoors have resorted to the use of multiple techniques, such as having a cold room designated for bonsai, and even using the refrigerator. With indoor hardy bonsai, having proper lighting and the ability to give a cooling season are both necessary tasks to ensuring survival. An open window will allow the full spectrum of light through, east-facing windows being the best. Apart from that, full spectrum grow lights become necessary, to mimic the sun, and the hardy plants require more of the spectrum.

While some claim there is no true indoor bonsai, Buddhist pine and Chinese elms Both these plants have been and continue to be commonly used for outdoor bonsai as well. are common bonsai that will readily adapt to indoor climate, provided they are given acclimatization time.


Some trees require protection from the elements in winter and the techniques used will depend on how well the tree is adapted to the climate. During overwintering, temperate species are allowed to enter dormancy, but care must be taken with deciduous plants to prevent them from breaking dormancy too early. In-ground cold frames, unheated garages, porches, and the like are commonly used, or mulching the plant in its container up to the depth of the first branch or burying them with the root system below the frost line.


The pejorative neologism "Mallsai" is a portmanteau of the words mall and bonsai. It refers to inexpensive bonsai trees often sold in chain stores and gift shops.

They are usually weak or dead trees by the time they are sold. Often these bonsai are mass-produced and are rooted in thick clay.

This clay is very detrimental to the bonsai, as it literally suffocates the roots and promotes root rot. Very little, if any, shaping is done on "mallsai", and often the foliage is crudely pruned with little finesse to resemble a tree.

Due to the conditions under which they are transported and sold, they are often inadequately watered and are kept in poor soil - usually a clump of sphagnum moss or clay with a layer of gravel glued to the top.

This leaves them susceptible to both drying and fungal infections. Some "mallsai" can be resuscitated with proper care and immediate repotting, although rarely. This top layer of glued-on gravel should be immediately removed once the bonsai is purchased, and the plant should be repotted in a well-draining bonsai soil. It has recently been made against the law to sell Bonsai in this inported clay "soil" and they should be repotted and their health checked before being resold.


Bonsai may be developed from material obtained at the local gardening center, or from suitable materials collected from the wild or urban landscape. Some regions have plant material that is known for its suitability in form - for example the California Juniper and Sierra Juniper found in the American West, and Bald Cypress found in the swamps of Louisiana and Florida.

Great care must be taken when collecting, as it is very easy to damage the tree's root system (often irreparably) by digging it up. Potential material must be analyzed carefully to determine whether it can be removed safely. Trees with a shallow or partially exposed root system are ideal candidates for extraction.

Bonsai tourism.

Bonsai collections are open for public viewing in many cities around the world. 

For example:
  • Australia: Admission is free at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, where the Bonsai House displays hundreds of trees, some 80 years old. .
  • Belgium: The Belgian Bonsai Museum hosted by the Bonsai Centre Gingko at Laarne. organizes international competitions and workshops
  • Canada: The Montreal Botanical Garden has a very extensive indoor collection of bonsai and penjing that can be viewed year round .
  • China: View the bonsai at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing , Shanghai  and Suzhou.
  • Germany: The Grugapark in Essen has a permanent bonsai exhibition .
  • Indonesia: Pluit Bonsai Centre in Jakarta is an enormous sales and trading centre for growers and collectors .
  • Italy: The firm Crespi Bonsai hosts an international competition, the Crespi Cup, every year at the Bonsai Museum in Milan .
  • Japan: Near Tokyo, the city of Omiya has an artisanal village of bonsai growers and stylists grow and maintain their stock. In Omiya Bonsai Village, more than a half dozen large bonsai nurseries allow visitors to view trees most days during growing season. By one estimate, more than 10,000 trees of world-class quality can be seen in a single day .
  • Singapore: Thousands on bonsai are on display at the Chinese and Japanese Gardens on two islands in Jurong Lake .
  • Spain: Visitors to Marbella can enjoy the collection at the Museo de Bonsai 
  • Taiwan: Bonsai from Taiwan look different from Japanese bonsai as well as the ones we see in Chinese penjing books.
  • United Kingdom: The Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses hosts a rotating collection of about 25 trees at a time, and occasionally gives bonsai care workshops . Heron's Bonsai Nursery in Surrey amasses 7 acres of a wide range of bonsai trees. Also on show are examples from the owners personal collection alongside Japanese gardens. Regular bonsai classes are available, with a bonsai clinic on the first Sunday of every month . Kew Gardens has small collection of around 60 Trees, and there is also a lovely Japanese Garden.
  • United States: The United States National Arboretum in Washington, DC contains the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, an impressive collection of trees, some of them gifts from the Nation of Japan or foreign heads of state . The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota's Como Park has a Bonsai Room The Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts is home to the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection. On the West Coast the Weyerhaeuser Corporation  maintains a collection open to the public at its headquarters near Seattle. In California, the Golden State Bonsai Federation has two collections: the Collection North in Oakland, and the Collection South Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. Lastly, the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC also has an excellent display of Bonsai. The C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden houses a famous collection of indoor and temperate or outdoor bonsai plants and are exhibited in a Japanese-style architectural setting. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's bonsai collection is considered one of the finest in the world and is the second largest on public display outside Japan, featuring as many as 100 specimens at any given time. Some of the trees in the collection are well over a century old. A stylized verandah complete with tokonoma, or alcove, looks out onto the entire exhibit. Text panels introduce the history of bonsai and explain culture and care.

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