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You Can Grow It: Beautiful Bonsai

Would you like to combine your love of gardening with your artistic side? If so, then Bonsai may be for you.

STAR, Idaho — It's the art of growing miniature trees in small containers, and it's becoming a very popular hobby.

This week, KTVB Garden Master Jim Duthie visits with a local bonsai enthusiast and shows us how with a little patience and vision, 'You Can Grow It.'

If you've ever heard of Bonsai, you've likely imagined tiny plants that take a long time to grow, but there's much more to it than that. Duthie travels to Star to meet with Jon White at High Desert Bonsai to talk about what bonsai is and the process involved.

"Bonsai is the art of growing trees in a container," White said. "They range in different species and types, and different challenge levels - from simple to difficult. We focus on the aesthetics, making the tree look good, being healthy, and then putting it in the right container so it grows happy and healthy into the future."

Almost any plant with a woody stalk can be grown and trained as Bonsai. White has dozens of bonsai specimens of different variations growing in his back yard. Some kinds of plants are more popular among bonsai growers than others, ranging from pines and junipers to deciduous trees like maples and elms.

Credit: KTVB
Credit: KTVB

White said it's a hobby that anyone can get into. Although, there are certain barriers that could pose a challenge, depending on how difficult of a tree you want to try to grow. While some plants are fast and vigorous growers, others may grow more slowly. There are also some bonsai specimens that are over 100 years old and are passed down from generation to generation.  

"There are a couple of different methods to training a tree. Some of them can be done by using wire applications, so you manipulate a branch from one location to another. The wire stays on for a length of time until that branch hardens off. The other is called a clip-and-grow methodology. For that one, you prune the tree as it grows, and that pruning redirects energy and growth in a different direction," White said. 

Credit: KTVB

White shared the story of a Jade tree (pictured below) he bought several years ago while in Florida. He said he held it carefully on his lap the entire flight home. The jade is around 20 to 30 years old - it's another example of the wide range of plants that can be grown as Bonsai.  

Credit: KTVB

His other prized bonsai is a Chinese elm that's been growing for almost 20 years.

"This tree grows very quickly. And within a week or two you'll get elongation and growth right here that just happens all over the tree. So, you can prune this numerous times throughout the year. And what we want to do is we want to redirect the growth back into the tree. And we do that by removing some of the elongation," White said.

"Two things – one, by clipping this growing tip out, we direct energy back into the tree, which keeps it nice and small. But we also can select how this tree will grow based on where this cut is made. This is called directional pruning. So, at this junction where this clip was made, the leaves at the base of this petiole will extend here and grow out that way, so you create some movement by the proper clipping technique," White continued. "And it makes it look much fuller. It serves two purposes: One, by aesthetically keeping it in shape. And two, horticulturally, by keeping it refined and small."

Credit: KTVB

Some bonsai can be grown indoors, but most stay outdoors during the warmer season. White said his tropical trees have been outside this August because the weather's nice and the trees love the heat, "they love the climate." But when that temperature starts to dip, the bonsai trees should go inside.

It's important to remember that Bonsais are container plants, so soil and water are crucial to survival. Since Idaho can have extreme heat and cold temperatures, using a proper soil mix is key to keeping the right amount of water volume in the pot itself. However, these elements vary based on the size of the tree and the size of the pot.

And remember: Depending on the type of tree, Bonsai does require some time and patience.

"Some trees are a little bit more aggressive than others," White shared. "Some need more time and care than others."

Getting started in Bonsai doesn't have to be expensive. Although some Bonsai specimens can sell for thousands of dollars, you can grow it with just under $100. All you need is a plant and container, a few tools, and a guidebook or two.

High Desert Bonsai is located in Star. They can help you get started in Bonsai with education and support, including classes, plants and growing materials. Another great resource is the non-profit, Boise Bonsai Society, with dozens of active members throughout the greater Boise area.  

It may be for you; it may be something you just want to see others do. Either way, it's a very interesting and beautiful hobby. 

Watch more You Can Grow It:

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