Demonstrations, sale to be part of Bonsai Show May 19, 20

Dan Zak's Japanese maple bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Dan Zak’s Japanese maple bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

You’ll see marvelous examples of bonsai, the miniature gardening art form, at the upcoming Bonsai Show, but there is lots more to do at the show, too.

You can also watch demonstrations on how to start a bonsai tree. There will be a table where you can get advice on tending bonsai trees, and you can even bring your own bonsai and get technical help. Bonsai supplies and trees will be sold. If you want to start a bonsai, you can buy everything you need and volunteers will help you plant and shape it.

Bob Maxwell's juniper cascade bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Bob Maxwell’s juniper cascade bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

The  Bonsai Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. The show is brought to you by the Buffalo Bonsai Society and the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Admission is $9  for adults, $8 seniors (55 and older) and students (13 and older with ID), $5 for children ages 3-12, and free for members and children under 3.

Bonsai (pronounced like the English words “bone-SIGH”) is an art where trees are pruned and shaped to look  like old trees while remaining small.

“We try to imitate nature,” said Wendy Williams, president of the Buffalo Bonsai Society. “If you took a photo of a tree in a meadow, and you took a photo of a bonsai without showing the pot, you shouldn’t be able to tell which is the bonsai.”

Any tree that you have in your yard can be grown as a bonsai, she said, including oak, maple, juniper, spruce, apple and rhododendron. One exception is a chestnut tree because you can’t reduce the size of chestnut leaves to bring them in balance with the size of the rest of the tree.

Vince Philippone's azalea bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Vince Philippone’s azalea bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

You can take steps to get most trees to produce leaves in proportion to the size of the trunk and branches, but you can never reduce the size of the flowers or fruit.

“One apple could break the branch of a bonsai,” she said.

These are not houseplants and cannot survive inside, Williams emphasized. They are trees and must undergo the same weather conditions that full-size trees experience, including winter. People often tell her that they got a bonsai as a gift and it was doing well until suddenly it died. It generally turns out that the person kept the tree inside.

There are several ways to overwinter a bonsai. One method is to dig a trench in your garden and bury the bonsai, pot and all, midway up the trunk of the tree. That’s enough to protect the roots.

Hank Miller's ficus bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Hank Miller’s ficus bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

If the bonsai is expensive or very old, you could keep it in an unheated garage over the winter. Some people buy an old refrigerator for the basement and keep their bonsai there. If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, that is the best way to keep your bonsai sheltered and at the proper  temperature.

If you want a bonsai that will work as a houseplant, you can use something that normally grows in California, Florida or the Carolinas, such as a ficus, Williams said.

People interested in bonsai generally have three kinds of trees, she said. They own a mature bonsai so that they can enjoy the beauty of the art, a younger bonsai that they can train themselves, and a tropical bonsai so they have something to do during the winter.

A bonsai has the same life expectancy as a tree in your front yard, and with good care, a bonsai can last a couple hundred years, Williams said. Bonsai can be passed down from generation to generation. She has a 75-year-old spruce and is the third member of the Buffalo Bonsai Society to own it.

Wendy Williams' flowering crabapple bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Wendy Williams’ flowering crabapple bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

Bonsai aren’t dwarf plants. If you planted a bonsai outside and stopped pruning it, in 10 years it could be 40 feet tall, she noted.

To create a bonsai, you start with a tree from a nursery, usually in a five-gallon container, Williams explained. Look for a specimen with an interesting trunk. Smaller specimens that other customers aren’t interested in for their yards work fine for bonsai.

The tree is then pruned and wires are wrapped around the branches to bend them into a pleasing shape.

The plants aren’t injured or tortured.

“These are pampered pets,” Williams said.

It’s not hard to do bonsai, she said, but “bonsai is one of those things that if you don’t get some instruction, you can’t do it.”

In addition to the learning opportunities at the Bonsai Show, the Buffalo Bonsai Society offers instruction at its monthly meetings. Roy Wixon will talk about tools and tool care at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 16 at Menne’s Nursery, 3100 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst. For a half hour before each meeting, anyone can bring in a tree and ask questions.

Dan Trzepacz's larch bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.
Dan Trzepacz’s larch bonsai. Photo from Buffalo Bonsai Society.

Williams notes that the Buffalo Bonsai society has a number of very experienced members, but there are many who are new to bonsai, too.

“Don’t be intimidated,” she said. “Bonsai is something anyone can do.”

Photos are from the 2011 Bonsai Show and used with permission from the Buffalo Bonsai Society.

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