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January 2017

How to Grow Bonsai Trees

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Bonsai is the art of finely-sculpting miniature trees to recreate how they appear in their natural setting. It’s a hobby suited for any gardener who enjoys spending time nurturing plants. Unlike a typical houseplant that needs intermittent care, bonsai trees need a few minutes of attention on a regular basis.

That’s because these miniaturized trees are planted in shallow pots where soil can dry quickly. But with attention to detail, bonsai trees can live to be more than 100 years old.

To see some fine examples of beautiful bonsai exhibits, take a stroll through the Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion at the Denver Botanic Gardens. When the weather warms in late spring, the trees move from the greenhouse to outside for the summer. This bonsai collection is especially relevant because it includes Colorado native species, like Ponderosa pine, Aspen and Colorado Blue spruce, some over 250 years old.

Each bonsai is like a little work of art, grown in a specific style and shaped with a sculptor’s eye while pruning the roots and branches. Each bonsai is meant to replicate the look of an ancient tree on a miniature scale.

Bonsai that take years to cultivate may cost thousands of dollars, but it’s inexpensive for beginners to get started at the hobbyist level. A suitable plant, soil, bonsai pot and scissors are all that’s needed.

A good option for bonsai beginners is to select a tree that’s meant to grow indoors. Tropical plant plants, like ficus, schefflera, portulacaria, cherry, and serissa, can do well indoors.

Bonsai can be grown outside in cold weather areas, if the tree is matched to the growing conditions. While most growers use greenhouses to protect their trees in winter, some trees can be protected through the winter in a cold frame or other sheltered area and watered to keep it from becoming dehydrated.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the hobby is that growers can start with a small tree and grow it larger or start with a large tree and grow it smaller. The difference is how it’s pruned and cared for.

Select a container that complements the tree’s size, shape and color. Most containers are shallow so they can show off some of the tree’s roots. Because of this, consistent watering is critical, and the soil should never dry out completely.

Be sure to give bonsai 5-6 hours of direct sunlight each day, whether the tree is grown inside or out.

Growing bonsai in the Japanese tradition means a little time each day is spent with the tree in quiet observation. This time allows the caretaker to observe the tree’s growth and consider how to prune, trim or wire the branches for the future.

There are some classic bonsai shapes that represent how a tree looks in its natural environment. Shapes can include formal upright, informal upright, slanting, semi-cascading, or cascading. Within these basic shapes are categories referred to as broom, windswept, driftwood or exposed root.

If you’re interested in exploring this ancient hobby, there are a number of good books that provide step-by-step instructions for getting started.

Garden Trends for 2017

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There are some exciting garden trends emerging for this New Gardening Year. I’ve looked into my crystal ball and can clearly see gardening will become more than just planting the landscape or tending the garden.

In 2017 people will still turn to gardening for exercise and a way to relax in the outdoors. But gardening will take on new meaning as individuals look for a deeper connection to their lawns, landscapes and vegetable gardens.

First, I’ve noticed more attention is focused on creating wildlife-friendly spaces. One reason is a growing awareness about the plight of Monarch butterflies and honey bees. News reports have led to more interest in not only planting to attract wildlife, but helping to sustain it. Even non-gardeners understand how important it is to care for wild birds, bees, butterflies and other important insects.

In addition to providing more food-producing plants for winged wildlife, the trend is toward using fewer pesticides, herbicides and synthetic chemicals, too. Fortunately, there are more organic options on Nick’s Garden Center’s shelves than ever before.

The second gardening trend is that gardeners simply want to garden more. In our cold-weather climate, that means trying to stretch the gardening season so it lasts longer. Gardeners want to get an earlier start each season, and they want to keep gardening even when the outdoor season ends.

Thanks to new developments, gardeners can do more than garden on the window in winter. Today’s hydroponic and aquaponic systems make it easy to grow indoors 365 days a year. New advances in high-intensity lighting provide super-bright, full-spectrum light, that’s also energy efficient.

T5 lights are small-sized fluorescent light bulbs that can fit into smaller spaces. They can be used to start seeds in spring or keep herbs and other edible plants growing indoors all year long. Houseplants also benefit from the bright lighting, and vertical planting systems make growing an indoor wall of plants a reality.

A third gardening trend will have a positive effect on those who want to grow their own food, even if they don’t have space for a vegetable garden. Small-space gardens can now sprout just about anywhere, from balconies to front porches and concrete driveways.

Plant breeders keep coming up with smaller-sized plants that produce full-sized fruit. And garden suppliers keep inventing new systems that can fit smaller spaces. Experienced and first-time vegetable gardeners alike are turning to online classes and gardening apps for ideas to help with planting and growing small-space gardens.

As part of this vegetable gardening trend, growers are looking for organic options, and they have a no-GMO mindset. That’s why new labeling on nearly every seed packet clearly states the seeds are untreated and non-GMO.

A fourth gardening trend has to do with saving water in the landscape. Some gardeners will replace thirsty lawns with water-wise plants and others will be on the lookout for more efficient ways to water them. I envision a future of more drip irrigation, soaker hoses and old-fashioned hose dragging. Smart technology will help improve irrigation efficiency, too.

Those are the four gardening trends I see this coming year. What trends would you like to add to the list?