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Bonsai a delicate artform

Joe Clift, of Terrell County, displays an ever-red lorepatieum in his garden. Clift, a Southwest Georgia Master Gardener, has been working with bonsai growing art for three decades.

Joe Clift, of Terrell County, displays an ever-red lorepatieum in his garden. Clift, a Southwest Georgia Master Gardener, has been working with bonsai growing art for three decades.

Gardening Tips for July

Lawns still need about one inch of water each week, either through rain or irrigation. If your centipede is looking a little yellow, add ferrous sulfate and water it in. Make another application of 16-4-8 fertilizer to your St. Augustine grass. Scout and spray for chinch bugs if you find them in your lawn. July is the last chance to fertilize shrubs. July 4 is one of the suggested days to fertilize your camellia trees (also Labor Day). Use acid fertilizer, of course. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs because buds are starting to form. Be very careful with string trimmers and mowers around trees and shrubs. Young trees can easily be damaged.

You can divide your irises and daylilies after they bloom. Do not pinch back chrysanthemums after Thursday. House plants spending the summer outdoors should be inspected periodically for insects such as spider mites and whiteflies. Spray with a horticultural oil or malathion. If you are opposed to using poisons, use Safer Soap, but more often. A weekly preventative spraying with Daconil or Funginex for powdery mildew on your crape myrtles is preferable to waiting for the problem to arise.

Check your vegetables daily. Harvest vegetables while young and tender; pick early in the day for best quality.

Start planting the fall garden: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards and bush beans. Continue fungicide sprays on tomatoes to prevent diseases. Maintain consistent moisture on tomatoes to prevent blossom-end rot. Vegetable gardens need one inch of water per week. If using sprinklers, water in the early morning. When your garden produces more than you can use, take the extra to a neighbor or to Neighbors-In-Need. Contact the Extension office for information on canning and freezing your fresh produce.

People garden in order to make something grow, to interact with nature, to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon the land. A garden really lives only insofar as it is an expression of faith, the embodiment of a hope and a song of praise. Garden on!

— Joe Clift

As a Master Gardener extension volunteer, my primary activity has been the artistic hobby of bonsai. It is a gardening hobby I have been enjoying for 30 years. Bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) is the art of miniaturizing a tree and planting it in a small shallow pot. Originally the art form was developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. It then made its way to Japan and was developed in a more simplistic way. Eventually, it made its way to the Western world in the early 20th Century.

Bonsai combines the beauty of manmade sculpture with the harmony and perfection of nature in one art form. All parts of a bonsai tree — roots, trunk, branches, foliage and container — must, like traditional sculpture, express the artist’s feeling for balance, form and line. But when these are combined with the life forces of the natural world, they evoke a larger and deeper concept. A bonsai tree is a microcosm containing within it, unchanged in everything but size, the mystery of the universe. Bonsai artists may encourage the bonsai to express itself, they may assist and aid it, but they always respect the essence of the particular tree on which they are working.

Bonsai are ordinary living trees which have been miniaturized by sound horticultural techniques. The typical trees that are used for bonsai are trident maples, junipers, boxwoods, Japanese maples, bald cypress, Chinese elms, podocarpus, loropetalums and yews. The idea is to make this tree look like an old tree in nature. When you ask a bonsai artist, “How old is this tree?” the appropriate answer is, “How old did I make it look?”

The science of horticulture provides the basic guidance for all bonsai artists to produce and maintain their bonsai. The most important horticultural information required is the knowledge needed to keep the bonsai alive. A bonsai tree is like every other living organism. Provide them with the correct environmental conditions and they will thrive, some much longer than their counterpart in nature. I am frequently asked at public bonsai displays: “Why did my bonsai die?” As often as not, the answer is that the poor little tree was placed in an entirely inappropriate situation or neglected in some way. Some people have tried to bring an outdoor tree inside for long periods of time. Or they have forgotten to fertilize, water and repot at the appropriate times.

A certain amount of knowledge and skill is necessary to care for a bonsai. By understanding the growth habits of the plant, the artist can manipulate and harness those characteristics to help create and sustain a particular bonsai. Having a good teacher, whether in person or through the medium of the printed word, is absolutely essential to the process of learning bonsai. It is also helpful to have a group of interested people, whether in a formal club or just a small study group, to get together from time to time to share knowledge.

A basic knowledge of soil mixture, watering, fertilizing, pruning, repotting, wiring, insects, diseases and winter care is needed to provide the proper conditions for a bonsai to thrive. You can find much of this information online or in books on bonsai, but specific knowledge for south Georgia can only come from a bonsai artist who lives in this area of the country. If you have questions about how to care for your bonsai tree, or if you are interested in getting together with a local bonsai study group, please email me at jsclift711@windstream.net.

Joe W. Clift is a master gardener and a volunteer with the University of Georgia Extension Service.