Chinese Art Of Bonsai – Penjing

Chinese Bonsai Tree

Chinese Bonsai, also called Penjing, is about creating a miniature tree or a landscape in the container. Chinese artists believed that by better understanding nature they will improve their spiritual development.

This beautiful art form was originated in China thousand years ago. Bonsai was created by highly educated aristocrats of China, inspired by nature, poetry and landscape paintings. These different art forms were linked closely together.

Each area of China had its own bonsai style, specializing in a certain species of tree, certain training techniques and certain type of design. There is a deep Chinese philosophy behind each bonsai tree and landscape scene. It is more about revealing an untold story and discovering mysteries of nature.

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Japanese and Chinese Bonsai Differences

Chinese Bonsai TreeChinese Bonsai, known as Penjing, was created in China thousand years ago and got to Japan during period of Zen Buddhism around 1195.

Once it was introduced into Japan, bonsai art began to develop in its own way.

At first, only aristocrats of Japan had access to this kind of art. It was a symbol of prestige and honor. But as time went by Chinese bonsai got very popular and was introduced to the public.

Simple bonsai art was refined by Japanese artist, who created a set of rules and shapes. Because Japanese bonsai art was born from Chinese bonsai they both have a lot of similarity that makes it sometimes quite difficult to distinguish.

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Is Chinese Bonsai An Art of a Tree Torture?

I never thought about Chinese Bonsai as a tree torture and I was very surprised to see a series of bonsai by Chinese artist Shen Shaomin presented at Frey Norris Gallery. Shen shows them trussed and tugged by the thumbscrew brackets, collars and barricades that engineer their growth.

Chinese Bonsai Tree Chinese Bonsai Tree

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Chinese Bonsai Rules

Chinese Bonsai TreeChinese Bonsai (Penjing) has much less strict rules and is more philosophical and spiritual form of art than Japanese bonsai. Chinese and Japanese bonsai have their differences but are very closely related and are sometimes difficult to distinguish.

A high quality Chinese bonsai composition has to look entirely natural. Although there is more freedom in the Penjing, many of the general bonsai rules still apply.

To create a successful Chinese bonsai composition you need to know basic training techniques and be familiar with plant maintenance like re-potting, watering, feeding and etc.

After learning main Chinese Bonsai Styles and rules you’ll have better control of your bonsai. It will make it easier for you to pick the right tree for your bonsai.

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How To Water Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees like regular trees need water to survive. Most of the beginners run into a problem of overwatering or underwatering the tree. Don’t feel bad. We all have done it. We all killed a few trees before getting it right. Watering bonsai the RIGHT way takes time and practice.

Regular trees in the natural environment can adjust and regulate their water intake by growing more or less roots. If there is not enough water, trees will extend their roots far into the ground searching for moisture. As a result, trees that grow in drier climates have larger root system.

If the tree grows in a wet climate where there is a lot of moister available, it doesn’t need long roots to get enough water. Those trees usually have a shallow root system. Bonsai plants need considerably less water proportional to its size.

Since bonsai grows in a small shallow pot with a little compost, it doesn’t have the ability to adjust or regulate water intake. Also, because there is not much soil in the pot, it dries out quicker and is greatly affected by the surroundings, like humidity levels, temperatures, season, location (outdoors/indoors) and so on.

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Where To Buy Bonsai Tree

Once you have decided on growing conditions and bonsai style, it is time to buy the plant. When it comes to buying a plant for bonsai you have several sources:

1. Specialized nurseries

It is always best to buy from the dealer that is specializing in bonsai, because they know what trees are suited for the local climate and how to take care of them. Trained staff provides bonsai trees with proper care assuring that you are getting a perfectly healthy tree, unlike department stores and farmers market, where employees know nothing about bonsai.

2. Garden center

Most of the garden centers sell established bonsai trees, but be careful buying plants that are newly potted and pruned to create an instant bonsai. Avoid buying plant that has torn or damaged leaves. Shrunken and dried buds might be an indicator of incorrect watering. Buds should be well formed and shapely bursting with life and strength. And don’t forget to check for pests and diseases.

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How to Choose a Bonsai Tree

You need to consider few things when choosing a bonsai tree. First decide where you are going to put your bonsai tree, whether you would like to grow it outdoors or indoors. This will directly determine your choice of bonsai tree.

Outdoors or Indoors

A lot of people think that bonsai are houseplants but most of the bonsai are hardy trees and cannot live indoors. Imagine digging out a maple tree from your yard and bringing it indoors. I will not survive for long. Bonsai maple is just a smaller version of the real tree.

If you want to grow your bonsai tree outdoors make sure your winters are not too cold and not too warm for the species you select.

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How To Fertilize Bonsai Tree

Like any other container plant bonsai trees need to be fertilized. Very often in the fertilizers are called plant food. That can confuse many beginners. Fertilizers are NOT food but rather vitamins for the tree. The real food for plants comes from water and oxygen. In natural environment, trees have long roots and are able to gather necessary elements from the soil and water.

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