Bonsai. The name alone brings images from the Orient. These artistically-trained miniatures are easy to train in your home with a little patience. If you can grow a geranium or tomato plant, you have a good chance of growing a Bonsai.

Bonsai, (pronounced "Bone-sigh,") is the ancient Japanese and Chinese art of dwarfing trees and growing them in shallow containers. Truly a form of living art, the idea is to reproduce a tree or shrub of nature on a much smaller scale.

Enthusiasts grow Bonsai from seedling, carefully training the shrub's growth to mimic the look of a wild tree. For those with less patience, pre-trained and dwarfed plants can be bought at many greenhouses, gar- den centers and import shops. If you buy a Bonsai, or are given one, you must still treat it according to its special needs. Here are some tips on how to keep your Bonsai happy and healthy.

Light: It's the most important environmental factor governing growth. Use east or west windows. Some plants prefer full sun in a south window while others require no direct light using a north-facing window. Light requirements should be specified with each plant.

Water: Maintaining a proper moisture level is crucial. Due to the porous and shallow containers, soil tends to dry out quickly - this should never happen. Water frequently across the top of the plant until water comes out drainage holes. Most trees and shrubs require daily watering in summer - adjust accordingly the rest of the year.

Humidity: Mist foliage daily, especially during periods of low humidity or when heat is on.

Fertilizing: Use a water-soluble type (20:20:20 or 15:30:15 formulations advisable), mixed at half strength. Feed late winter (end of February), in April and again in June to help plant get ready for hardening off (if you have selected a flowering type, the June feeding will help it flower).

Pinching: This is the way you maintain overall shape. Pinch new growth with fingers while it is still soft.

Repotting: Repot in spring when roots grow out of the pot (especially from bottom) and tree seems to dry out faster. The most important thing about Bonsai is you duplicate the plant's natural-like cycle. During dormant period (winter) place in a sheltered area on a north-facing porch with no direct sunlight. Place in a bushel basket and surround with potting soil. Cover top of plant with marsh hay or pine needles for protection. If the winter is mild, you may have to water a couple of times (check by feeling soil). Begin hardening outdoor-type Bonsais now for winter sleep.

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