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by Carole Schwalm A bonsai tree sitting on a table inside.

Pronounced bone-SIGH, means tray tree.

When you purchase a plant, the training has been done for you, and this is an excellent way to start. For example, if you purchase an olive bonsai tree, you’ll learn a great deal about its care and the knowledge prepares you as you buy another, and another. At some point you’ll want to start from scratch on your own. A beginner’s kit is extremely helpful. Then, go solo.

Your first bonsai tree allows you to observe seasonal changes. What it does in the spring and fall is exactly what the large olive tree does in a natural outdoor environment. Japanese maple leaves turn in the fall, and the tree is bare in the winter, then sprout buds in the spring. Makes no difference if the tree is 30 feet tall or small enough to hold in your hand.

Older bonsai plant in container Not only are there seasonal changes, but there are also other nuances involved in creating bonsai. If your tree hasn’t been trained or wired when you purchase it, in spring, you can work with it -------carefully! You are wise to practice with a supple branch cut from an outside tree, so you get the feel of it before you begin to work with your bonsai.

Some trees stand straight up. This is called formal upright. Slanting means the tree seems to lean with the wind. Cascade falls over the side of the container. Wiring is necessary for the latter two.

The best time to wire is in the spring, during the growing season, but after budding is completed. Branches are easier to handle. If working with an evergreen, do so in the fall or the winter.

Shaped bonsai plant in container Use copper or aluminum wire. Be sure your wire fits the tree. In other words, avoid a heavy wire, and opt for something like a Number 16 or lighter. And each branch should be at least 2 inches long. If you notice that the bark seems tender, especially if you are working with a maple, first wrap the branch with paper. Bend the older bottom branches downward.

If you want to make an upright tree slant:

1. Anchor the wire down into the soil.
2. Begin wrapping the wire up the trunk, evenly spacing it as you go.
3. Gently push with your thumb to bend while your other hand pulls the branch toward you.
4. Wrap the wire to the tip.
5. When the branch has settled into the form you want, remove the wire.

Your tree looks windswept, or slants as it would naturally in the wild. Your tree often tells you which way it wants to go.

Share your bonsai tree experience or if you'd like more information.