ACS Distance Education UK
Making plants into bonsai is often thought to be a very complex skill, needing years of experience to be mastered.
This may have an element of truth to it; but bonsai is also something that can be taken on and practiced by a beginner in a relatively short period of time.
It is a passtime that can become addictive; and for many proponents of bonsai, it develops into a passion; for some a hobby, for others an escape from the pressures of life; and for yet others it may even become a business.
You only need enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
Maples are one of the most popular plants for bonsai.
The scientific name for maple is "Acer"; and a number of species of this extensive genus make striking bonsai. They are deciduous trees and the native Chinese and Japanese varieties are renowned for their ornamental green or purple foliage which turns into shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.
Acer palmatum is one of the classic bonsai specimens and can be grown in a variety of sizes and styles. As well as the five lobed leaves, they also develop an attractive silver bark as they age. There are many other cultivars of Acer palmatum which can also be used.
They are all well suited to all the bonsai styles save for 'literati' which have a twisted and curved trunk. Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum' has deep purple finely cut leaves, Acer palmatum 'Deshojo' has bright red spring leaves which turn green in summer and then back to oranges and reds in the autumn before leaf drop.
The ‘Amur Maple’, Acer ginnala, has three lobed slightly cordate leaves and is a bushy shrub to small tree. The pale to mid green leaves turn to vivid oranges and crimsons in the autumn. It is quite hardy. These trees make effective group bonsai plantings.
The ‘European Field Maple’ or ‘Hedge Maple’, Acer campestre, is a rounded tree with mid green leaves that have a downy underside. It is not so well suited to small bonsai due to its coarse twiggy nature and so is best used on a medium to large scale. It will suit most styles except literati.
All acers benefit from a sunny aspect (but avoid intense sunlight) and daily watering during the growing season. Avoid frosts. They can be fed weekly when leaves first appear and fortnightly after the first month of feeding. Hardy varieties should be re-potted annually and new shoots can be trimmed back to just a couple of leaf pairs during growth.