Shohin and Mame’ bonsai

By December 12, 2017 No Comments


While visiting a bonsai exhibition, one will notice that there will be a variety of bonsai sizes: from a very large bonsai trees to small bonsai trees in small pots and normally exhibited as a group on bonsai stand.  This stand might hold three, five or more small trees, and each bonsai will creatively connect with each other.  Bonsai trees in this size are listed as ‘Shohin’ and the smaller ones are listed as ‘Mame’.

The Shohin

What distinguish the Shohin bonsai is its size:  not more than 20cm from top of the pot to the apex.  Some Japanese nurseries specializes in the Shohin bonsai with a large variety of different species.

Their compactness creates different challenges:

  1. Harder to maintain in small pots
  2. A limited surface area to work with, since lesser branches are found in a bonsai of this size
  3. The overall design is more compact and less detailed when compared to a larger bonsai tree.

Although smaller in size, these bonsai trees can be styled in all the styles as bigger trees.

A Shohin bonsai Cascade style

The Mame

The Mame is even smaller when compared to a Shohin.  Trees listed as Mame are less than 10cm in height, from top of the pot to the apex.  This makes it even harder to keep since less soil is found in the smaller pots.  In Mame trees, not only the size will decrease, but also the number of branches to work with, thus lesser details found on the finished trees.  The very small size of the Mame bonsai makes it hard to style in different bonsai styles such as larger bonsai trees.

A mame tree potted in an oyster shell

The Shohin and Mame

Caring and maintaining a Shohin and Mame bonsai is the common ground of these two types of bonsai.  The soil in their small pots will tend to dry out quicker:

  1. Sucked by the tree’s tiny hair roots
  2. By absorption from the day’s heat

Partial sunlight is recommended on hot sunny days.  The day’s heat might heat the pot and water is quickly absorbed.   Individual attention is also needed while watering these trees.  Greater attention should be given when wiring and styling these bonsai trees.  One tiny branch or one leaf might interrupt the overall design.

Another important protection should be from strong winds that will dry these tiny and delicate trees.

 Wiring small trees

Although the small size, a Shohin and Mame bonsai trees are not ideal for newcomers, mostly for those not trained in the wiring technique.  The wiring technique used on these small trees, is identical to the technique used for bigger bonsai trees, but more delicate.  The tiny branches and leaves makes it harder for a new comer, so our recommendation is to train on somewhat larger bonsai trees before attempting any wiring on the Shohin or Mame trees.

Training and wiring of a Shohin bonsai in a pre bonsai pot

Caring your Shohin and Mame bonsai

One important factor when taking care of Shohin and Mame bonsai trees is the micro climate of these trees.  The micro climate is the temperature close to the tree itself.  Excessive heat will quickly influence these tiny trees, and when we say heat we also mean the heat reflected back from the tree benches, especially those placed outside.  Concrete slabs reflect heat, so they are not ideal to display your Shohin or Mame bonsai.

Wooden displays are more ideal to place these trees outside.  These display benches should be slightly higher than normal ones, this will permit a better viewing of the trees.  Give each tree enough space, and one thing to avoid is to touch other trees.


Use a fine spray garden hose to water your bonsai.  The soft spray will not harm the leaves and will not damage the soil surface inside the pots.  Those having a small number of Shohin or Mame bonsai, a water can, fitted with spay nozzle is also ideal.  Water the trees with two or three passes of watering.  Watering by soaking does the job but not really recommended.

When watering the trees with the use of a soft spray hose pipe, air will enter the soil, thus introducing oxygen to the root system, which is as important as water itself.

On hot days, mostly in summer, watering should be carried out three times a day.

A special technique

A special technique that offers a good number of benefits, is to group and place a number of Shohin and Mame trees in a large tray.  Make sure the tray has some drainage holes.  Gravel is then added inside the tray and watered well.  Then the pots are placed inside the tray over the wet gravel.  This will keep the micro climate low while providing more humidity to the trees.

On watering the tree, wet the gravel good enough to maintain moisture.  In some cases, this works on what is called the ‘Escape system’, used to permit roots to pass from the small pots to the gravel under neat.  This will encourage more sap to flow thus thicken the trunk and branches.  These roots should be cut from time to time.


Keeping the Shohin and Mame indoors

To showcase your bonsai on having guests at your home is a great idea, but keep in mind that not all trees can be kept indoors for a long period of time.  If you don’t have any access to any outdoor space, keeping bonsai indoors is the next good thing.  Invest in trees that will thrive indoors such as the ficus.  Avoid draft and never place under an air conditioner.

Train yourself on how to care for your indoor bonsai by buying inexpensive bonsai trees of the species you would like to have.

Starting a Mame

Winter time is ideal to start a Mame bonsai from a cutting.  Follow the propagating technique.  Place a number of cuttings in a large filled with compost.  If left for a long period of time, the roots will outgrow and mingle together, so after a month, repot in a small individual pot.

A small cutting in a small pot: one way to start a Mame bonsai

One last important thing is to be patient.  Bonsai is not a hobby that will offer quick results, in fact bonsai becomes more interested as time goes by.  Japanese bonsai trees have been passed to the family by three of four generations.

Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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