Frequently Asked Questions
What does some of the terminology used in the plant descriptions mean?
Jin – these are dead branches (usually intentionally killed) that have had the bark removed. This deadwood simulates an aged tree that has had to struggle against the elements.
Shari – bark from a portion of a branch or the trunk is stripped. Like jins, this deadwood helps give the impression of an aged tree.
Nebari – the exposed roots of a tree.
Shin – the portion of the rootball beneath the trunk. When a tree begins being trained for bonsai it is often repotted leaving the shin untouched. This puts less stress on the replanted tree and speeds recover. For the second re-potting this section will be cleaned out while the outer section is disturbed as little as possible.
Shohin – a smaller bonsai, usually no more than 8-10″ tall.
Movement – this refers to changes in direction in a trunk or branch… waviness if you will.
Formal Upright – a tree with a nearly straight trunk where the apex (top) is directly over the roots.
Semi-formal Upright – a tree with movement in the trunk but the apex is still over or nearly over the roots.
Slanting – a tree that leans heavily to one side; the apex is not over the roots.
Semi-cascade – a tree with a drastic lean or downward growth where up to half the foliage is below the soil line.
Cascade – a tree with an even more drastic lean or downward growth where all or nearly all the foliage is below the soil line.
Caliper – the diameter, or width, of the trunk. Usually measured about an inch above the surface of the soil.
Training Pot – a relatively large bonsai pot that is also deeper than it would normally be. The rootball of a tree is often gradually reduced instead of being cut down all at once. This puts less stress on the tree. A tree trained like this might go from a nursery pot to a training pot for a few years and then put into a bonsai pot. Training pots are often made from mica or plastic instead of being ceramic.
Cut-down Nursery Pot – this is a regular black plastic pot like you’d see in a garden center. The rootball of the plant is reduced and rather than being transplanted into a bonsai training pot the tree’s previous pot is simply cut shorter to accommodate the new size. This is common with pre-bonsai plants that are just starting to be trained as bonsai.
Nursery Soil – a catchall phrase used to describe the soil a plant comes in when purchased from a nursery. It is usually a mixture of bark, sand, and other material making for a fairly well-draining planting medium.
Bonsai Soil – a “soiless” mix of various materials usually primarily crushed stone or clay. Here at Black River Bonsai we try to note what type of bonsai soil is used for each tree. Some common examples are lava rock, pumice, akadama (a type of volcanic clay), and diatomaceous earth (DE).
What does it mean when the description says the tree still has training wire?
Aluminum or copper wire is often used when training (styling) bonsai trees because it will hold the trunk or branches in the shapes they are bent to. This wire is usually removed when it starts to “bite in” (the branch gets thicker as it grows but the wire wrapped around it doesn’t move). When that happens the wire is remove by cutting it off with wire cutters.
Do you have any advice for buying a tree as a gift?
First, make sure the person actually wants one! Bonsai trees as gifts can be like puppies as gifts: appreciated at first but can become burdensome due to the care they need. Trees are living things and should be respected and cared for properly.
If you know they want one, though, or that they’re a “plant person” who will be able to take care of it then by all means g ahead and get one! While it would be best to let the person pick out their own tree that can ruin or lessen the surprise so if that’s what you’re looking forward to then just pick out a tree that you like. Since it is a gift from you it will represent your personality and tastes to that person.
Any advice for a first-time buyer?
Tons. More than I could write here! First, pick an easy to care for tree like a juniper, elm, jade, or ficus. Then, go online and read all you can find about what its needs are. Some trees like sun, others like shade. Some like lots of water, some don’t. You need to know! It is usually a good idea to join a local bonsai club where you can learn and ask questions.
What trees are good for inside?
None! Well, that’s not completely true. There are some that will do better inside than others like ficus, jade, schefflera, Brazilian rain tree, Chinese elm (to some degree), fukien tea, and natal plum. However, it is more difficult due to reduced lighting, low humidity, and poor air circulation. Even these trees will appreciate being kept outdoors (usually out of direct sun) when temperatures permit.
However, if you take a tree that requires dormancy, like a juniper or maple, and keep it indoors year-round it will likely die within three years unless you have specialized growing equipment.
Wait, so I have to keep my bonsai outside all the time where I can see them???
Yes and no. While they need to be outside most of the time, and most will need to be allowed to go dormant in winter, you can bring them inside for a few days to a week without detriment. Some people have multiple trees and just swap them out and some only bring them inside for special occasions.
Dormant in winter? How do I keep them from freezing?
I have an entire article about that! Click here.