In layman terminology, a bonsai is basically a tree, which in conventional terms is exactly similar to any ordinary tree, except for its miniature size. However, a natural dwarf tree is not necessarily a bonsai, unless trained to look like a large natural tree in shape and restricted to a size smaller than its own maximum potential. A bonsai and its container in unison must represent a well-balanced and aesthetic picture.
There are many aspects of bonsai presentation and bonsai styling that are worth remembering when you looking for ways to make a bonsai look good.
The outline of the tree should be almost triangular. The apex should either be round or triangular but not pointed. The trunk should be strong, well shaped and should taper upwards, merging naturally with the growing medium. The base of the trunk should not be thinner than the rest of the trunk. The trunk must not have inverse taper, which means that half to two-thirds of the trunk should be visible from the front to reveal its structure. Trunks should be free from any growth of algae or moss. The branches should begin around one-third to half the height of the tree. The first branch of the bonsai should always be the thickest and branches should start thinning out in diameter as they ascend to the top of the tree. No two branches should emerge from a common point or seem to be of the same height. Also, no branch should lie directly above another or cross another branch.
The roots should spread out from the base of the trunk and gradually disappear into the soil. The spread of the roots should not only provide firm anchorage but should also indicate the form of the tree. The roots of trees with upright forms should radiate evenly from around the base of the trunk, whereas for slanting forms or cascades, the roots should appear stronger on the opposite side of the trunk to the direction of lean. In general, surface roots should not be straight, instead should display some taper and branching. The flowers, fruit and foliage should be proportional to the size of the tree. All the leaves should be almost of the same size and any large leaves should be removed. There should be no signs of white lime deposits on the leaves owing to the usage of hard water. In addition, you should pluck out any dead and/or diseased leaves. Make sure that your bonsai has no cobwebs or insects.
The pot also adds to the beauty of the bonsai tree. Pots should be preferably in monochrome glaze. You can use polychrome pots but they are best suited for bonsais that do not bear flowers or fruits. The tree should not be planted centrally in the pot except when a round or square pot is used and the technique of plantation should create a visual balance. The tree should be well raised in the pot, so that the bole can be clearly seen over the rim of the pot when viewed at eye level. Needless to say, the pot should be clean and undamaged. Also, the color of the pot should not clash with the color of any part of the plant, be it the leaves, flowers or fruit.
There are many aspects that could ruin the overall look of the bonsai tree. Uncharacteristic growth for any species or an unbalanced tree does not please the eye. Weak and badly shaped trunks reflect poor aesthetic value. Branches stuck in the ground or badly spaced, cut, scarred or crossed branches also prove as negative points. Other features that degrade the quality of the art include snagged and abruptly cut roots visible above the soil; dead fibrous roots standing in the air; flowers, fruit or foliage out of proportion to the size of the tree; soil surface and bole of trunk sunk well below the rim of the pot and superfluous additional decoration.
A bonsai tree should look as natural as possible in its surroundings. However, it must be remembered that faults in the trunk and roots are far harder to rectify in comparison to problems related to the branches and leaf presentation.
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