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Bonsai is the ancient oriental art of dwarfing trees; even when these trees are young, they appear to be very old. Everything about a bonsai tree is miniature, including its leaves, flowers, fruits, branches, and trunks. It will take at least a year or more to train your own bonsai tree. To begin, you will need to purchase a young, small-leafed tree with an interesting shape. You can also dig up a seedling from your yard to train. A bonsai garden can consist of one lone, twisted tree--such as an evergreen--or a group of straight trees--such as maples or birches. Even flowering shrubs, such as cotoneaster or azaleas, can be used.

Once you have chosen the tree with which you wish to work, study the shape of the tree and try to visualize its final form. When you begin pruning the tree, keep several main branches on each side of the truck. Remember when you are working that your final result is not symmetry. Work for a composition of pleasing proportions and balance. The bottom roots of the tree will need to be trimmed to fit in a shallow bonsai tray. If the tree you have chosen has a central root, you will need to trim it back slightly. Plant your tree using insulated electrical wire to anchor the roots to the bottom holes of the bonsai tray. Spiral wire up and around the trunk and branches, bending them slightly to achieve the shape you desire.

Placing moss on top of the soil under your bonsai tree will give the appearance of grass. The tree will need to be rewired each year to allow for its growth, and the center roots will need to be trimmed after one year. Keep in mind that bonsai is a Japanese expression used to denote an artificially dwarfed potted plant or plants that have been painstakingly trained to suggest a natural scene. In most cases, a bonsai that is only twelve inches tall with an outcropping of thickened roots can appear to be a very ancient tree. Even a symmetrical miniature that is on top of a straight trunk can remind you of a stately old shade tree. In Japan, there are miniature trees that are truly centuries old, and these living heirlooms are passed on from one generation to the next.

You can purchase a bonsai that is already trained from a garden center, but it is virtually impossible for Americans to purchase a ready grown bonsai of old age. Today, many gardeners who are devoted to the art of bonsai grow their own miniature trees from hardy trees and shrubs, the foliage of which changes with the seasons. In many cases, such plants often weaken and die in the arid winter climate of an artificially heated window garden. During the summer months, these trees take a constant vigilance to keep the soil moist and protect them from drying winds.

Several bonsai adaptations have been developed that are useful to the average window gardener. Try using rapid growing tropical trees with medium to small leaves and some flowering bushes to make your bonsai. The difference in these pseudo bonsai is that on an accelerated schedule they grow throughout the year. This type of bonsai needs warmth, sunlight, and a moist atmosphere at all times. The best types to use are acacia species, calliandra surinamensis, carissa grandiflora, pink showers, weeping figs, Kaffir plum, and Brazilian pepper.

When growing your own bonsai tree, you will need to keep it sheltered outdoors from spring through fall. During the winter it should be in a cool, frost-free place with good light and temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be watered enough to keep the soil moderately moist and misted daily. If the tree begins to droop during a hot dry spell, you should fertilize it with a complete house plant food that has been diluted to 1\4 strength at least once a month. During the one or two hottest months of the summer and in the winter, the bonsai tree should not be fed at all.