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Review: Low-Maintenance Bonsai, Gustafson

 Book of the Month: Low-Maintenance Bonsai
By Herb Gustafson

Herb Gustafson has at least six book on bonsai.  Each is different, though some text may be familiar from book to book.  When the Board members got to exchanging e-mails about the hot weather, I recalled that I’d read something in one of Gustafson’s books about the color of the pot effecting the temperature of the soil and that lighter colored pots prevent root damage during hot weather.  Rich recently sent a note out from Dave Bogan about soil temperature during this hot weather. 

Low-Maintenance Bonsai is a small book that is only 94 pages long (10”X6”) and was published in 1999.  I checked the internet and didn’t find a website for Gustafson, so I suspect that he no longer travels.  This book is marked $13.95.  I added it to my library a long time ago and don’t recall where I bought it.  The book has seven chapters.  The first is “Pots”, then they are 2- Plants, 3- Soil, 4- Training, 5- Repotting, 6 – Watering and 7- Care and Maintenance. 


In the Chapter on pots he shows a collection of pots and tells which types of trees may suit each.  He says the color of the pot should match the color of the trunk.  Gustafson says the size of the container is the single most important aspect to Low-Maintenance; but following the Japanese formula could mean watering 3 or 4 times in a day.  Pines require direct sun and putting them into shade is not the solution to less watering; a bigger pot is.  If a pot dries in an hour, a tree in a pot twice as large will dry out in 3 hours, not 2.  The height of the legs allows wind to blow under the pot and increases evaporation.  And here’s the part I recalled; lighter colored pots reflect more light and are therefore cooler.  So eventhough the convention says no glaze with conifers, glaze reflects better.  He suggests selecting pots or materials resistant to freeze breakage too.

In chapter 2 Gustafson points out that there are Low-Maintenance plants and high maintenance plants.  He says you must know what the plant is – scientific name- so that you can determine what its care requirements are.  The book provides lists for both indoor and outdoor plants and even has 10 plants from each suggested for beginners.  There is also a short list of outdoor plants to avoid. 

Chapter 3 says bonsai soil must drain to prevent root rot and yet hold sufficient moisture during hot spells.  He presents five soil mixtures, one for each group of plants listed.  Plants in group 3 get half organic and half inorganic components.  Haydite and Akadama are listed among inorganic ingredients, leaf litter and ground bark are organic. He says particle size is more important than pH.

Chapter 4 is Training.  He reports there are seventy recognized styles.  First he covers styling with wire and then styling without wire.  Then he covers different “pruning methods”; he letters then starting with A for pines, B for spruce and hemlock and so on.  I wish I could remember all the methods without reading, it would really help; but this chapter is an excellent reference.  Pruning method E for maples is to leave an extra set of leaves beyond where you want new branches to develop.  Interestingly Rhododendrons are in a different method group than azaleas.