Bonsai are artistically trained healthy and dwarfed trees or other woody perennials growing in relatively shallow containers.  Pronounced as "bone-sigh," the term literally means "tray planting."  Living outdoors and requiring their caretakers to provide them with water, nutrients and protection when needed, these never finished "slow sculptures" up to at least four feet in height resemble full-grown specimens which have been shaped by the elements over the course of many years.  They can remind us of our relationship to nature and help us appreciate the giants in our yard, neighborhoods, and forests.

        Most likely these originated in China some two thousand years ago as natural stone incense burners and other amulets, in the shapes of the sacred mountains, which were then married to portable living medicinal herbs from India and elsewhere...  Transmitted to the Japanese islands via Korea over a millennium ago, the art was greatly influenced by the Zen Buddhist philosophy of "beauty in severe austerity."  The potted landscapes there were distilled down to a single ideal tree which symbolized the universe...  And then bonsai in their native lands were seen and described by early Western explorers, missionaries, and other visitors

        Plants are collected by digging up wild or landscape specimens, or from nursery stock, rooted cuttings, air layering, grafting, or (very infrequently) seed.  Confining the root ball of the tree in an aesthetically designed and complementary container (which has bottom drainage holes) limits to some extent how vigorously the plant will grow.  The pinching back of new buds (even needed weekly during our two growing seasons here) and the pruning and temporary wiring of branches and trunk are done to shape and direct growth.  The foliage is kept in balance with the roots.  A smaller second set of leaves sometimes will develop from proper pruning.  Enough fresh air, sunshine, water, and fertilizer is given to each individual tree to maintain good health but not promote excessive growth.  At least part of the soil mix is changed every few years.  Sanitation and physical removal is the first line of defense against pests, but not the only one.  (This paragraph contains the essence of bonsai's horticulture: all the rest is truly creative art.)

        A massive gnarly trunk, a few large surface roots, perhaps mossy patches underneath a twiggy canopy of proportionately small leaves, perhaps a little naturalizing deadwood among the downward growing  branches which are heavier toward the base of the tapering tree: such are the characteristics of good bonsai.  The more of these that can be seen in the tree when first selected, the easier the designing of the bonsai will be...

       The art is an ongoing experience because this entails not only height, width, and depth, but also time and the living and changing material...

       What is it that so attracts people to bonsai?  We see it at our shows; we hear it when an acquaintance first finds out that we grow these tiny portable oases which can transport us to other climes, locales, and times.  Is it a fascination with something from the Orient?  Is it an interest in a miniaturized world?  Is it the appreciation for and recreation of a gardening art?  Is it our successful/responsible caring and shaping to accentuate the natural changes and cycles of the seasons?  Perhaps it is a blend of these...

                                                                                                       (from  Designing Dwarfs in the Desert , pp. 1-2)

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     We were organized in the Autumn of 1962, one of the first twenty such clubs formed outside of Asia.  Our objectives have always been:
 to study, foster and encourage the enjoyment of the art of Bonsai,
 to assemble and make available information on the culture of Bonsai,
 to promote the collection and exhibition of Bonsai,
 to acquaint Bonsai fanciers with each other.



          The club holds meetings at 7:30 p.m. on the first three Tuesdays of the month from September through May.  We meet at the Valley Garden Center, 1809 North 15th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ  85004.  This is one block north of West McDowell Rd., about 2 miles or so northwest of downtown Phoenix.  Visitors are always welcome.  See  Calendar  for specifics.



       Annual Dues:    $20 per individual or $30 per couple / family.

       Membership is for one full year from the date dues are paid.  It is requested that all renewing members pay in either September or January.

        Benefits include a copy of the latest year-book; three meetings/workshops per month
September through May; accessibility to our club library and that of the Valley Garden Center; first spaces in our Summer Workshop; participation in Matsuri and other shows, our Spring Trip to Los Angeles, summer get-togethers, digs and other events; ready access to sources of wire, containers, plants, and other supplies; sharing the experiences and interests of the various other club members; and occasional visits from out-of-town enthusiasts.


       See also  Club History Highlights .

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       The city of Phoenix, in south-central Arizona in the U.S. Southwest, is located near the northern edge of the Gila Semi-Desert subregion of the horseshoe-shaped Sonoran Desert. Extending northward from Mexico and covering over 120,000 square miles, the subtropical Sonoran is the hottest and driest of North America's four deserts.  It also is the only desert in the world that has two rainy seasons.  Summer temperatures can reach or surpass 120 F, and most of the Sonoran receives less than eight inches of precipitation annually...  The five seasons here typically begin with a warm and dry March and April, followed by a hot and dry May and June growing period.  This ends with the heat of wet July and August, a hot and dry autumnal growing season of September through November, and then the three mild and sometimes wet winter months of December through February...

         Per the Sunset Western Gardening Guide, Phoenix is in Hardiness Zone 13 (Low or Subtropical Desert).  One hundred miles to the southeast, Tucson is in Zone 12 (Intermediate Desert).  The crucial climactic difference between these is harder frosts over a longer cold winter in Tucson.  The two cities' temperature and precipitation records usually don't coincide.
       Some teachers have observed that Phoenix is one of the most challenging places on earth to grow bonsai -- outdoor dwarfed plants in shallow containers -- especially because of the long, hot, dry summers.  We have risen to and continually take the challenge.
        The spirit of the art of bonsai extends beyond any specific climate or geography.  And that is why it even found root in the Valley of the Sun and has flourished..



       Whether it be a strong wind or a light breeze, the dry Summer air will quickly dehydrate and burn the thin edges of the leaves of many types of plants.  The strong sunlight helps decrease the size of bonsai here for several seasons: the leaves don't have to be their usual size in order to absorb their optimum light energy.  Exposure to south-central Arizona's sun causes faster growth in plants at temperatures up to about 105 F.  And the mid-Summer intensity virtually stops new growth until the start of "cooling" in late August.  When growth picks up then, a second set of leaves can be expected for plants whose Spring set was fried.


 Soil Mix:

       A coarse, well-draining soil mix is of absolute importance here.  When the Summer air temperature, even in the shade, is 110 F, extra water sitting in the bottom of a bonsai container has a similar temperature as it slowly cooks the roots of your tree.  A coarser mix than is usually recommended elsewhere allows for drainage of that extra water and provides a wee bit of insulation as well.
       [See "The Effect of Heat on Root Growth" by Andy Walsh, Bonsai Journal, American Bonsai Society, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 49-53, for background and empirical research on what we've long learned and known.] 


 Watering & Feeding:

       With a quicker-draining soil mix we might have to water more often during the hottest, driest days of Summer, but at least we have living trees to take care of.  The soil mix dries out more quickly here, but we still need to keep watering in balance.  The leading cause of death of our trees -- as it is for bonsai and houseplants almost everywhere -- remains overwatering.
        Over about 90 F air temperatures, fertilizer added to the soil works much faster, sometimes with disastrous results as extra levels of especially Nitrogen draw moisture out of the tree.

  SEE ALSO:  Seasonal Care

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