Bonsai at the Chicago Botanic Garden

January 28, 2012 7:08:40 AM PST
The Chicago Botanic Garden is celebrating winter with its latest exhibit, "Three Friends of Winter."

The silhouette bonsai show features a bonsai display, an interpreted display of the "Three Friends of Winter," family activities, and lectures. In Japanese tradition, the "Three Friends of Winter" are pine, bamboo and plum. Ivan Waters, curator of the bonsai collection at the Botanic Garden (, came into our ABC7 studio to tell us all about selecting bonsai, caring for them, and the "Three Friends of Winter" event.

"Three Friends of Winter" January 27-29 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Chicago Botanic Garden 1000 Lake Cook Road Glencoe, IL

    Bonsai Basic Facts
  • Bonsai are not dwarf versions or genetically different from a regular plant.
  • Bonsai should last the normal lifespan of the plant species, and possibly twice as long.
  • Almost any long-lived plant can be trained to become bonsai.
  • Bonsai are not houseplants. They need to be outdoors, with special protection in winter.
  • Bonsai are traditionally displayed on wooden benches. They have a front and back and are always shown from the front.
  • While most bonsai rarely exceed 3 feet in height, the Imperial Size grows up to 4 feet. Only the Japanese Emperor can have bonsai larger than 4 feet.

    Bonsai Caring Techniques
  • Correct pruning is the chief technique, which separates bonsai from a houseplant.
  • Wiring is used to shape plants into the desired form.

How to Bring Home a Bonsai Bonsai experts and professionals at the Chicago Botanic Garden suggest the following tips for selecting and caring for bonsai at home.

    Selecting Tips:
  • Leaf color should be even, with no blotches or blemishes.
  • There should be no scars on the tree's trunk or branches from pruning or wiring.
  • The tree's trunk should be strong and even tapered.
  • Surface roots should fan out naturally from the trunk's base.
  • Roots intended to clasp a rock or piece of wood should truly adhere.
  • Branches should be well proportioned and evenly spaced.
  • The plant's pot or container will be in proportion to the tree, and of complementary nature.
  • Bonsai should be placed in a container in a way that creates visual balance, slightly raised so the plant can be viewed at eye level.
  • Flowers, fruit, leaves should be in proportion to each other and the plant overall.
  • Decorative stone, moss or other surface covering should be natural and in scale to the plant.

    Caring Tips:
  • Tropical bonsai plants must be protected in winter. Hardy bonsai can remain outside.
  • Turn bonsai frequently so plants receive light equally on all sides.
  • Water plants only when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Then, water the entire root ball until it is moist.
  • Regularly apply a half-strength organic or non-organic 20-20-20 fertilizer. Full-strength fertilizers can burn tender roots.
  • Treatment for insects and diseases vary, depending on season and type of plant.