Bonsai for the Utterly Clueless Like Me

Back when I was first thinking about starting a garden, when my eyes were full of stars and unrealistic expectations, I decided to get my inexperienced feet wet with a couple of bonsai projects. Don’t ask what I was thinking.

Before Bonsai, Chaos

two bonsai

Rosemary bonsai (left), dwarf jade (right)

Keep in mind, this is me. No houseplant was safe under the same roof as me at the old house. Even the silk roses and decorative artificials trembled at my passing, for fear I’d water them. I’d like to blame Feng Shui. The old place had a bad layout, bad karma, bad attitude – but the truth is more like “I was completely clueless.” There. Truth in blogging.

Fast forward a few months and now I’m growing yellow squash, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, a jalapeno plant, two tamarind trees, a staghorn sumac and two bonsai who should know better since they were the first to suffer at my hand under this roof. (We won’t count the outside roses which are doing shockingly well.)

Bonsai in Survival Mode Despite Me

Today’s Examiner article about Top 5 essential bonsai care tasks got me to thinking about my own success or sheer luck. I think part of the reason the bonsai – a dwarf jade and a rosemary – are doing so well is that I was petrified of wrecking them so I did approximately nothing for four months. Each morning I’d sneak up on them and wave the watering can overhead, check the soil to make sure it hadn’t turned into concrete, and slink away.

To be fair, I did try to prune the rosemary bonsai. BAD idea. Picture a mountain lion, and how happy it’d be when trimmed like a French poodle. After that, I just kept the scissors out of sight unless I was baking chicken.

The dwarf jade bonsai is doing ok, considering the period of benign neglect it got at first. Let’s not talk about the two weeks where I misplaced it, ok? I’m a bad plant mom – and a dwarf jade is a small plant. I had nestled it between two pots of very robust decorative green thingamabobs, species unknown, and sorta — forgot to check it.  **scuffs foot**

Bottom Line

If you’re with me this far, you’ll know I’m quite happy to recommend bonsai to anyone who needs to relax. It takes time, patience, a little space, and the ability to watch peacefully for a few years – all traits I’d love to cultivate to their fullest.  I also started by buying a large armful of books – everything I could find about bonsai for beginners, bonsai for learning, bonsai for dummies – and read ’em all.

Here’s my Readaholic’s Recommendation: Totally Bonsai: A Guide to Growing, Shaping, and Caring for Miniature Trees and Shrubs for more about bonsai including starting, care, and the species most suited to beginner bonsai. That’ll definitely get you off on the right foot. It’s by Craig Coussins, is beautifully illustrated, and spends time on facts and recommendations without being dry and scientific. I give it – and Craig – five BIG gold stars.