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Critical Thinking And Bonsai

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Practising Bonsai for some is just as simple as putting a tree in a bonsai pot and keeping it watered, while for others it can go as deep as being something spiritual. But when we are looking at raising our bonsai practise we need to learn the skill of critical thinking.

I've chosen this topic today because i seen someone ( wont mention names because that's irrelevant ) make a comparison between 2 trees the other day but the first thing i noticed is the comparison was made purely on a face value level. Instantly i could see a stark difference between the 2 trees and what the problem with one of them may have actually been, This had me thinking about how people actually think about bonsai when they practise it. This also reminds me of something i see all the time where someone will practise a poor technique on a tree and the tree will survive the ordeal and that makes it a success in that persons mind, but what they don't realise is they might have slowed that trees growth for an entire season by doing the technique wrong where as if they had of done it correctly the tree might have recovered within a few weeks and began growing again getting another flush or 2 of growth by the end of the growing season. Just because the tree survived in that situation that doesn't make the technique correct.

So what i would like to try and pass on to you all today is that when we practise bonsai we need to look at everything we possibly can. This is especially true when we are troubleshooting with our trees. For example i had a few trees in my garden start to show some ill health after moving to the new property, leaves were going yellow and the trees growth was less then impressive. There was many things to consider straight away, Were the trees recently re-potted, were they in new bonsai soil, was there pests or disease, had they been fertilized properly, was the sunlight sufficient, was there an issue with the water or watering?

For me i know my trees well so i could start eliminating certain things off my list which lead me to test my water here at the new place first, and wouldn't you know it 7.5PH +. Bonsai like a range of 6.5 - 7. After this i got to work installing a fresh water catchment so i could water my trees all the time with fresh water and fix the issue. Critical thinking allowed me to turn those trees around fast.

This concept can help with every part of your bonsai practise though not just your troubleshooting. When you prune you need to think about the trees energy levels, length left in the growing season, how it will respond, how you will make the cut etc etc, when you are making a bonsai mix you need to consider your environment, availability to water, the stage your tree is in, what your goals are etc etc. What about styling? the same is true here as well, if we understand the guidelines in bonsai styles we can think critically about a tree when we sit down and look at it, we know how to choose the best base, line, angle and the over all best style for that material, If you don't think like this and sit down and stare at the tree you might be still looking at it an hour later with no idea what to do.

So next time you sit down in front of a tree to do any kind of work or you need to figure out what a problem might be with your tree stop and think about everything that could possibly be causing an issue or if performing a technique think about everything that could possibly happen after the technique is performed. Just for an example if you were to prune a deciduous tree in mid autumn you will activate the dormant buds the tree set for the next spring and they will begin to grow, the tree wont have time to harden off and set new buds before dormancy meaning moving into spring you wont have any buds to flush on the tree. If you were to sit in front of your tree and think if i cut this now how long do i have left in the growing season before dormancy? This might bring you to the conclusion of the fact the tree will be going dormant soon so pruning now would be detrimental to the tree.

I hope this has helped give you a perspective on bonsai too look at every possible aspect in an art that has so many variables that chances are what ever blanket information you have heard might not even be the solution. This is an art where we truly need to educate ourselves the best we can so we can make educated decisions.

Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.

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Apr 06, 2022

Hi Josh,

It turned out to be a useful post. Some of my plants have been struggling after I moved from Sydney to Port Mac, their growth has been completely stung, which I just can't understand. I use rainwater tank here for watering always assuming it is slightly acidic, as it was needed. Today I measured pH: to my wildest surprise raintank water was 7.6-7.7 !!! Tap water was even slightly less alkaline, 7.3-7.4. To make sure it's about right, I measured diluted coffee which was 6.1-6.3, just as expected.

What on earth can make rain water alkaline?! I searched and found it could be due to relatively heavy air pollution, but air quality in Port Mac is excellent >330…

Apr 29, 2022
Replying to

Hi Sergy, Sorry for the late reply as i have been flat out!, it is strange that your PH is so high on collected rain water, My collected rain water is a PH of 6.0. what is the water held in? maybe that is having some effect on the water. i would suggest putting a bucket out next rainfall and testing the water straight out of the bucket just to be sure its the actual water and not anything else. if the water in the bucket is showing a high PH it make take further investigation, i have never heard of it been that high.

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