Bonsai Myths Abound Get the Facts

There are many bonsai myths connected with growing bonsai trees.

Some seem somewhat logical; others are difficult to imagine how they ever came about.

Many have long been proven wrong, but continue to appear in bonsai literature, as well as online.

Some of the more common ones are listed below.

“Bonsai are Only Made from
Real Trees

… not Shrubs or Bushes”

‘Pixie’ Bougainvillea bonsai shown above was grown from a ‘bush’ and is over 35 years old.

In my early bonsai days, I heard many bonsai untruths, this was one of them.  Think about all the the famous bonsai subjects in my Japanese books.  One of the most famous is the azalea, a flowering shrub.

The common shrub juniper and even the rangy Bougainvillea are good bonsai subjects.

Many vines, such as wisteria and grape are also utilized. Some hobbyists are more traditional than others, but most agree if a plant can be made to look like a small tree, it qualifies.

“Bonsai are House Plants”
one of the biggest bonsai myths

This is also one of the very oldest bonsai myths.  Today, reputable sellers are much more explicit as to where trees should grow.

Circumstances permitting, bonsai grow best outdoors.   In most climates, these small trees are treated the same as any other potted plants. In winter, the tropicals are brought indoors or placed in greenhouses.

Others are placed in pits and garages to be protected from bitter winters. Some will tolerate the snow, you must know your species!

Guests coming? It will not hurt to display your tree indoors for a day or two. (Unless it is in winter storage; then do not move it!)

First, water the tree thoroughly. Trim off any stray branches or leaves and clean the pot. Inside, keep it away from air vents. When your guests leave, place the bonsai back to where it normally grows.

The best bonsai for indoors are tropical and sub-tropical species. Some can be grown indoors year round with proper Indoor bonsai care including proper light, water and air circulation.

“A Plant Must be Imported
to be a True Bonsai”

Many bonsai are imported; however, many more are grown using plants common to the area of the artist.  As the popularity of bonsai spreads throughout the world, new bonsai plant subjects are constantly being discovered.

This is one of the bonsai myths that is rapidly disappearing.

While junipers and pines are traditional bonsai in temperate climates, fig trees (Ficus) are popular in tropical areas.

Native trees around the world are becoming very popular with bonsai growers.

“A Tree Stops Growing Once it
Becomes a Bonsai”

Hopefully not!  Another one of those bonsai myths! Good bonsai plant health requires that it shed and grow new leaves or needles, bloom and drop flowers, extend its branches and develop roots.

As it matures, a bonsai may slow down and may need a less trimming, but it will continue to grow.

“Bonsai Wire Keeps the Tree
from Growing”

The purpose of wire is to bend and shape a branch or trunk.  It is not permanent. Wire is removed when the job is done.

Some bonsai enthusiasts use copper wire; others use copper-colored aluminum

There is no magic in the type of wire used.  Whichever does the best job for you, is the one to use.

“Pruning Roots will Kill the Tree”

Just the opposite!  Trimming roots keeps any plant healthy in a container. If there is a tap root, it can go first; it is not necessary in a container. (This continues to be one of the most consistent bonsai myths!)

Cutting roots (even the tap root) will not kill a tree if it is done judiciously and at the appropriate time of year. The “perfect” time of year to prune roots varies from species to species.

Don’t let this happen to your bonsai!

“No Fertilizer is Part of the
Dwarfing Process”

That’s a scary thought!  Bonsai are living plants. Fertilizer is like plant food.  Nature feeds plants in the ground. Plants in containers need to be fed by us.

One of the biggest bonsai myths about fertilizer is to use weakened versions of the original instructions.

In the beginning, I followed “half strength” advice. It seemed like a miracle when I began to use fertilizer according to package instructions!

“You Can Make Tiny Grapefruit
on a Bonsai Tree”

Jaboticaba fruit

No way!

There are bonsai techniques to reduce the size of leaves.

Fruit and flowers remain just about their normal size.

There are fruit trees with small fruit, such as Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflorashown here.

Fortunella hindsii bonsai

Some people may swear they have seen miniature orange bonsai trees.  Calamondin and varieties of kumquat both look similar to tiny oranges. One of them is most likely what they saw.

Rather than grapefruit, try one of the one of the small fruited plants as bonsai.   Despite these facts, this is another one of those bonsai myths that continues!

  “Always Use Humidity Trays Indoors”

Is this another myth?  Yes and no.   A tray with water in it is not necessary.  The amount of humidity it puts in the air will make no difference.

There is a theory as to why humidity trays do work, and it has nothing to do with humidity.

Reasonable Theory:  Someone with a humidity tray tends to water indoors without concern.  Their trees are frequently watered and cared for better (while indoors) than trees sitting directly on furniture, shelves and/or window sills.

Without the tray, hobbyists go to a lot of trouble moving trees to watering locations (sinks and tubs) … allow them to drip dry … and then return them to the assigned growing area.  On those days when everything is going wrong and there is no time, the water ends up on Grandma’s antique table!

More and more often, the humidity tray is referred to as a “drip tray”.  The truth is they do not create enough humidity to make a difference.  It’s all about the ‘drip!’

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