Bonsai is generally achieved when a tree or shrub is crafted into a miniature version of itself.

Few things in nature rival the beauty of a fully grown tree.

Every tree develops very differently throughout its often very long life, forming unique works of art that are as breathtaking as they are life sustaining. Every landscape benefits from having some trees around to boost the aesthetics and general liveability of the location.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to raise fully grown trees. People with low space or difficult conditions can still benefit from having trees around, however, by utilizing the ancient art of raising miniature arbors. Originating in China thousands of years ago, the practice of growing dwarf landscapes started as a way to cultivate the magic powers believed to be latent in plants. This trend spread to Korea and Japan, where it was refined over the following millennia into what is now widely referred to as bonsai.

While the word is from the Japanese for “planted in a container,” bonsai takes many forms and is generally achieved when a tree or shrub is lovingly crafted into a miniature version of itself. Many bonsai can be easy to keep as long as a few simple rules are followed – they are incredibly satisfying to observe as they mature into unique reflections of your own artistic stylings.

The original miniature gardens of ancient China were mostly outdoors, while the Japanese truly perfected the art of using small pots in order to grow bonsai indoors. The practice spread into the States in a big way following World War II, and we combine both general styles in the designs here. In both situations, a few similar rules are followed in order to achieve a lilliputian result.

The main reason that bonsai trees are stunted is that their roots are crammed into tiny spaces. In nature, this would be achieved by pockets of soil in rocks, and is mimicked by trimming and squeezing the tree’s roots into a small pot or dish. Depending on the taste of the owner, bonsai trees can also be trained through the use of dense wires, strings or trimming.

Because of their limited root sizes and general dainty nature, bonsai trees require diligent watering and occasional nutrient applications for them to truly thrive. Many require watering a few times a week, and the most effective watering technique for these thirsty pets is to leave them in a dish of water for a half hour or so until they drink their fill. Bonsai also require their owners to be knowledgeable about the individual traits of each plant, as every bonsai has specific location needs depending on their age and type.

While it isn’t overwhelming in the slightest, the discipline required to raise bonsai of your own is a core part of the basic purpose behind the art of keeping these small plants in the first place. By growing a favorite plant into a form that to your sensibilities is an idealized vision of itself, you can bring some of the most beautiful aspects of nature into your home throughout the seasons.

Well grown bonsai will stick around for an entire lifetime, improving the look of spaces in which they are grown while also allowing the grower to more closely observe the amazing character in trees and shrubs as they age. If you are looking to get into this humbling and satisfying endeavor, I encourage you to purchase a bonsai from a professional grower for your first start. These plants are usually the strongest and most attractive plants available for miniaturization, as a few species don’t take well to becoming bonsai for different reasons.

The North Carolina Arboretum has an especially impressive bonsai display, and is a highly recommended look at this unique art form.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. Contact him at