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Throughout its life, a bonsai needs special attention - at times daily care - and it cannot be overlooked if the tree is to remain healthy and grow steadily more beautiful. A prime need is for fresh air and sunshine, which can best be supplied in the open. Bonsai are usually kept outdoors on tables. This not only affords free flow of air through the branches but facilitates watering, pruning and insect control.
Periodic pruning and trimming are extremely important; if these are neglected, a bonsai quickly loses its shape, and there will be no chance to develop an intricate network of branches. New growth on all bonsai is trimmed as required to improve shape. Deciduous trees have their new branchlets shortened, and in some species leaves are cut off healthy trees to promote branching and induce a new set of smaller leaves. Evergreens may have their new shoots pinched back so that only four or five needles are left at the base.
A bonsai must be watered daily in spring and autumn unless enough rain has fallen to take care of its needs, and in very hot, dry or windy weather it may need water twice or three times a day. The tree should never dry out completely or become waterlogged because the damage caused may result in loss of the plant.
There are several ways to water. If the owner has the time, he can use a watering-can with a fine nozzle, watering each tree in turn; but a garden hose
with a fine spray attachment is easier. In either case, the plant should be checked to see that an excess of water drains out the bottom hole, indicating that the soil has absorbed a sufficient amount.
Bonsai must be fertilized to keep them healthy. The tree needs good foliage colour, well-formed flowers or fruits and an intricate network of healthy branches. The easiest fertilizers to use are the water-soluble chemical compounds that contain trace elements. These are diluted to about half the strength recommended for plants grown more conventionally, because excessive feeding will encourage the growth of extra-long shoots which spoil the bonsai's shape. Deciduous and flowering trees are fertilized once a week from early spring to late summer, evergreens for three weeks in spring after their new needles have hardened and again for three weeks in the early autumn before they become dormant.
Bonsai are subject to the same pests and diseases as larger trees and shrubs. Because of their diminished surroundings, it is even more necessary to keep them in top condition, healthy and free from pests. They should be inspected frequently. Spraying with an insecticide should follow any sign of infestation.