The ideal sized bonsai

By August 13, 2017 No Comments


The ideal sized bonsai for those who have a limited space, is a small sized bonsai, referred by the professional bonsai artists as: Shohin.  The Japanese word Shohin means ‘a small thing’, so a Shohin bonsai indicates a small bonsai that measures up to 25cm in height.  Although the shohin bonsi might be ideal as a start-up, it still offers some challenges.

  1. The structure of the tree should follow the same rules as the bigger bonsai trees.
  2. The pot should be proportional to the tree.
  3. The type of pot should accompany the style of the shohin bonsai.  Each style of bonsai has a somewhat different pot design.
  4. Maintaining the shohin bonsai tree in a small pot needs a specific watering system.
  5. Feeding the bonsai when actually needed is another factor to keep a vigorous shohin bonsai.

Juniper species trained as a shohin bonsai

Small tree in a small pot

In bonsai size matters, and the shohin bonsai are getting more popular due to their small size.  Enthusiasts with a growing limited space are growing shohin bonsai as their hobby.  This advantage can easily turn to a disadvantage.  When planting a small tree in a small pot, one has to consider some important points.

  1. The Type of soil used.
  2. The small amount of soil in the pot.
  3. Avoid having a root ball due.
  4. The right watering system.
  5. Feeding the tree constantly and at the right time.
  6. Good drainage.
  7. Repotting more frequently.

The right temperature

The micro temperature plays an important part in a shohin bonsai.  Too much sunlight might damage the foliage, and dries out the soil very quickly, and low temperatures for tropical trees might also be very harmful, and stopping them from achieving the perfect look.  One has to keep in mind the tree species he/she is training.

  1. If the species is a deciduous or an evergreen.
  2. What type of temperature the tree needs.
  3. How much sunlight is needed for a particular species.

For most trees creating a humid micro climate is beneficial, and this does not mean, maintaining the roots immersed in water.  To create a humid micro climate is to put a pot over a container filled with water without the pot touching the water level.  This way, oxygen can pass through and water has a good drainage.  Water vapour from the container will keep the tree humid and maintain a nice green foliage.

Styling a shohin

Although the shohin bonsai is a small sized tree, it does not mean that styling it is a quick and less painstaking one.  In fact it’s size makes it more delicate to work with, and if a n important branch is cut by mistake, it takes some years to recuperate and fill that empty space.  Plenty of attention is needed when styling a shohin.  Use a small sharp shears when pruning the branches.

Wiring the branches of a shohin is even more difficult, but not impossible.  Being difficult those not mean impossible so use the right wire thickness and delicate fingers plus attention and patience.

One can follow these rules when styling a shohin bonsai:

  1. Look for the front of the bonsai.
    1. The trunk movement can be the reference point to choose the front.
    2. A good portion of the trunk must be kept visible
  2. Visualise a style.
    1. The tree itself might indicate the style one should follow.
  3. Make a pencil sketch to refer to it in the future.
  4. Start pruning from the lower branches up to the apex.
    1. Do not trim more than 1/3rd of the foliage.
  5. Wire any branches that needs to be moved.
    1. The guy wire system is also recommended.
  6. Nip of buds using the finger tips.
    1. This will encourage new back buds to achieve a fuller foliage.

Ficus Retusa Tiger bark as shohin bonsai

Starting a shohin bonsai

There are more than one way to start a shohin bonsai:

  1. Buying a ready trained shohin bonsai from a nursery or an enthusiast.
    1. They might be somewhat expensive.
    2. It can be risky since one needs to learn how to maintain it’s health.
  2. Buying a small pre bonsai.
    1. Less expensive than a ready shohin.
    2. This can be ideal for a newcomer since he/she will learn how to maintain the tree’s health.

 Pre bonsai juniper trained as a shohin bonsai
  1. Reducing the size of a larger tree.
    1. Myrtle tree can be a good shohin bonsai although it is a slow growing tree.

  • A cutting from another bonsai.
    1. Small cuttings are ideal to start with although it takes more time to arrive to the desired thickness.
    2. Thicker cuttings needs to be selected perfectly, since one has to have movement and thickness in a short trunk.

 Ficus Pands cutting
  • Starting from a seedling can be more time consuming, but more rewarding.

Exhibiting shohin bonsai

When exhibiting shohin bonsai, a collection of shohin trees are set on a display stand that holds three to five different species and displayed as one.

 Five shohin bonsai displayed together





Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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