BonsaiFormal Upright

Bonsai - A Formal Upright from a Fig:

Very easy to work on and easy to grow as well - a good choice for our first bonsai

To create 'an image of an old, weathered tree in miniature', which is our definition of bonsai, we must prune and shape it to keep it small but encourage the trunk growth and branch development that portrays the illusion of age. Usually major pruning is done only when we first form our bonsai from a tropical plant, shrub or small tree. This decides the style our bonsai will assume. After this, new growth is nipped out regularly, and wiring can change the position of branches to achieve and maintain the desired style.

There are a few rules that are generally followed for all bonsai styles. Branches should not grow toward the viewer from the front of the tree, except the smaller, top ones. No branch should be seen to be crossing another one or the trunk. You should be able to see each branch; it should have its own space to be in. That is about it for rules! There are several traditional bonsai styles, each suitable for different trees. Once we have chosen the style most appropriate for our tree, there are a few guidelines, which help us create the image.

A formal upright has a straight trunk, which tapers evenly from base to top, forming a conical shape. It might remind us of a spruce or oak, growing in the open with no stress such as wind or competition from other trees. It is usually planted toward one side of a rectangular or oval pot. The first, longest branch starts about one third of the way up the trunk and grows toward the side of the pot with the most space. The next grows toward the back, a little higher up, and the third toward the other side. This pattern is repeated as you move up the trunk, with branches becoming shorter each time. Any exposed roots grow toward the sides and back, not the front. A formal upright is not an easy style to create, but is very majestic and strong.

A fig tree is a tropical plant, 'Ficus natasha', which has by nature a straight trunk and small leaves. It is very easy to work on and easy to grow as well - a good choice for our first bonsai. It should be available in garden centres, or a substitute with roughly the same branch structure could be chosen.

The front of the tree is chosen because it shows the side branches to the best advantage. To remove branches completely, cut flush with the trunk, or even slightly concave, to leave no ridge when the cut surface heals. Branches to be shortened are cut back to just beyond a branch facing in the direction you want growth to go. When branches slant slightly downwards they leave an impression of age. They might be wired to keep this form, or weighted with small fishing weights! Leaves or small branches pointing downwards are removed. The size of the tree must be in proportion to the root system, so some root pruning is done and it is planted in an appropriate pot. The width is usually about two-thirds the height of the tree, and the depth about the width of the trunk at the base, although this isn't always practical with a new, young tree. As new growth begins, it is pinched out to encourage branching.

With tender loving care and some regular shaping and transplanting, in time it will remind us of an ancient, proud tree, standing straight, tall and elegant.