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This bantigue has a slanting style. NELSON MATAWARAN

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How to grow bonsai

By Marge C. Enriquez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:32:00 05/19/2009

Filed Under: Lifestyle (House & Home)

MANILA, Philippines ? Horticulturist Modesto ?Mody? Manglicmot Jr.?s fascination with bonsai began nearly 40 years ago. After reading an article in Reader?s Digest, he began experimenting by bending and twisting plants to produce dwarf trees. For many years, he continued this process without any references.

When a Philippine delegation joined a bonsai exhibit in Osaka in 1980, Manglicmot faced a major embarrassment. His companions produced graceful miniatures that were properly developed. ?My work was ugly compared to theirs. I wanted to hide,? he says. ?I should have learned the basics, because it?s all about knowing how to cultivate them.?

Eventually he learned the technique from a Japanese bonsai master who showed the right containers, tools, and materials. Today, Manglicmot runs the Philippine Bonsai Garden of Indigenous Species?Mang Mody?s Garden, for short?at the University of the Philippines.

This 6,000-square meter garden, which produces over 400 plant species, is one of the best-kept secret destinations in the city.

His bonsais thrive among a backdrop of giant acacias, fruit-bearing and flowering trees. Manglicmot says there are more than 20 bonsai styles, with their own prescribed sense of order and proportions.

The informal upright is the most common. ?There?s movement because the trunk is not straight, although the tree is parallel to the center,? he explains.

The most difficult style is the classic formal upright, which takes five to 10 years to cultivate. ?The trunk grows vertically from the base to the apex, and tapers off from the base to the tip.?

The forest style is composed of dwarf trees in a big container, while the root-connected style is characterized by several upright trees whose roots originate from one source.

?It?s micro-gardening,? says Manglicmot. ?If you have a small area, you can concentrate on growing bonsai.?

The red balete, the leaves of which can be very intense depending on the light, is one of his favorites. ?Even if you?re too busy to attend to it, the tree will still grow.?

Starter tip

His tip for starting hobbyists: Know your material and your medium?the soil. The most common mistakes are ignorance of the plant, using the wrong soil, and growing them in the wrong place. Bonsai thrives under sunlight, not shade.

?Before you start, ask why you should grow bantigue, kalyos or balete,? says Manglicmot. Of the three, the balete is the most enduring.

?Succulents and softwoods cannot be used as bonsai. They are only supplemental plants. In a classic bonsai setting, supplemental plants such as grasses, flowering herbs and four-inch bonsai are used as accents beside or under the bonsai masterpiece.?

Woody materials make better bonsai. Even if they are old, they can withstand harsh conditions with proper planting and fertilizers. Some trees such as the kalyos thrive on heavy, clayish soil that absorbs the fertilizer?s nutrients. The bantigue prefer sandy terrain.

Healthy bonsais need continuous fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They need to be watered twice or thrice a day so they don?t shrivel. If the soil lacks salinity, Manglicmot recommends adding rock salt to the water.

As trees mature, the branches start to weigh down and droop, while young branches stay upright. ?Once the material starts growing, initiate the characteristics of a miniature tree by bending the branches and making it look old,? says Manglicmot.

Always display the bonsai trees at eye level in order for people to better appreciate their symmetry and proportions.



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