by Jim Robinson, 1977
Bonsai are created by understanding the basic bonsai shapes, such as formal upright, slanting upright, cascade, forest groups, and the many other traditional bonsai styles. Trees are first chosen for bonsai that have an interesting trunk. Branches can be reshaped by wiring and pruning, but the trunk form, except when seedlings are used, is fixed in the choice of the tree.
Nursery stock, especially junipers, such as Prostrate Juniper and San Jose Juniper are the easiest for beginners. The finished bonsai is generally between six or seven inches to no more than three feet in height. Plants are selected with the final height in mind. Miniaturization is accomplished by root-pruning and top pruning.
Trees are repotted every year or two until they reach an age of twenty years. They are fed with a balanced fertilizer, at half strength of the usual recommendation. The object is to maintain the tree in good health, but to keep growth at a slow rate. Once the potential bonsai plant has been selected, it is looked over carefully to decide which side well show off the trunk most effectively.
The selected side is called the "front" of the bonsai and all shaping is done to maximize the beauty from the front side. The lowest branch is usually selected to leave the trunk bare about one-third the distance from the ground to the top. The lowest branch should be the largest. The second branch should be above and opposite the first branch. It is pruned to be a little shorter than the first. The third branch should point toward the rear to give the bonsai depth. The first three branches are wired with soft copper wire to hold them in a horizontal or slight downward slanted style.
Other branches are selected up the tree, repeating the three previously described. The branches should be shorter progressively up the tree. Note that all branches pointing toward the front of the tree are removed as are the branches not selected for the bonsai.
The final form is triangular, an irregular triangle, with the branches on one side longer than the branches on the other. Branchlets are wired to give a flat shape. The trunk may be straight or slanting to one side or the other, The tree will look very sparse when you have finished cutting and wiring. Be patient. The branches will fill out. You are on the way to creating your first bonsai.