Shohin and Mame BonsaiSubmitted by Carole Carver2009Shohin is the Japanese word meaning things that are tiny. Mame bonsai is asubcategory of Shohin bonsai and is even smaller. Smaller yet are trees that are called minibonsai.Shohin and Mame are then, bonsai size classifications. Generally a Shohin bonsai tree isbetween 5 inches and 8 inches tall not including the pot. A Mame bonsai tree is between2 to 6 inches tall. These estimations seem to vary with the author as I have found severalversions. As with regular bonsai, the purpose of developing a Shohin bonsai is to create thepicture of a fully grown tree. However, due to fundamental size restrictions of size, there area limited amount of branches and foliage in a Shohin. At Bonsai exhibitions, people who donot understand Shohin tend to ignore the little trees in favor of larger ones. Shohin isgaining in popularity in Japan, either because of the challenge of growing them or becausepeople must necessarily live in small spaces such as apartments,Authors reviewed for this paper indicated that things learned from the mastery of Shohincan improve skills for all bonsai growers. These tiny trees do require more precise care inmany ways including watering and shaping. A misplaced branch or too many or too fewleaves will be very obvious. One hot day without water could cause irreversible damage.Advantages of small bonsai suit people with limited space or have difficulty managing largertrees and heavier containers. Shohin has developed popularity as it requires less space,costs less, easier to move and takes less time to develop. Perhaps best of all, Shohin bonsaiare a delight to behold.Bonsai in general was broadly introduced to the States following WWII when soldiersbrought bonsai to the West. Though the art of bonsai dates back to the Tang Dynasty inChina, AD 618 - 906, Shohin dates back only about 100 years and Mame is even morerecent. The American Shohin Association was established in 2005.Differences between Shohin and larger bonsai include the following:1. Obviously the size.2. Focus on seasonal beauty such change of leaf in spring and fall, in addition to flowersand fruit which makes deciduous trees a good choice although conifers and tropicalsare also often used. Age of the tree is not as important as in traditional bonsai.3. When displayed, Shohin are arranged in groups with a focus on unifying beauty andharmony in the display. The arrangement will often include suiseki and accent plants.Displays should express the same season but different species and different pots.Pots are described as critical to display the tree, looking for the right size, color, shape andbalance.
Where to get Shohin seeds, cuttings or plants from the ground. It is suggested that youpurchase your first one for study and practice. It is noted that unless you are under the age of50, best not to grow from seed. It is advisable to look for plants with naturally small leaves, ifpossible. Good starter plants are cotoneasters, honeysuckle, Chinese elm as well as a varietyof conifers and spruce. Tropicals can include Ficus, pomegranate and portulacaria. Again,deciduous trees are valued because they can express the beauty of spring and fall and becausethey can produce flowers and fruit.GROWING TECHNIQUESDue to the small size of the container, Shohin dry out more quickly so they must beprotected from excessive heat and from wind. A small Shohin can be blown off in a storm.The pot may have to be wired down or protected in some other way. Shohin can beprotected by placement with larger bonsai. Also under plantings expire moisture and canincrease humidity.Repot Shohin more frequently than regular sized bonsai such as every year or so fordeciduous and every 2 to 3 years for conifers as roots have such a small space in which togrow. When roots appear in the drainage holes, you will know it is time to consider repotting.Soil should be of smaller particle size 1/8" to 3/16". Some authors recommend sphagnumpeat, not fresh peat moss as soil for Shohin should hold water better that regular bonsai. Canuse small lava pieces or fired clay as a drainage layer or both. One author suggested 60%sphagnum and 40% hard particles. For pines and junipers, 20% pine bark, 40% sphagnumand 40% hard particles. For Mame, suggest 70% sphagnum and 30% coarse particles.Akadama is a general purpose soil comprised of clay granules of differing sizes and qualities.The advantage of this type of soil is that it absorbs water and releases it slowly. If Akadama isused, it needs to be the high fired typed so it breaks down slower and does not becomepowdery.When repotting, remember to allow the tree’s roots to be slightly dry to allow old soil to dropmore easily causing less stress to the roots. Then water well afterward.WATER In most climates place Shohin in partial shade during summer months as soildries rapidly. Also hot sun can dry leaves faster that water can move up through the roots. InFlorida, plan to water twice daily in summer months. For some very small plants, place in abed of moist sand to prevent drying. Some authors recommend dunking the pot to the topuntil no more bubbles come out of pot to allow for even distribution of water. If there are dryspots, the roots will die quickly and the whole tree will suffer. If the tree has a good canopy,just overhead watering may not reach the roots. Misting is good because it cleans the leavesand disturbs possible buildup of insects.FERTILIZER Shohin doesn’t require as much fertilizing as regular bonsai. Recommend abroad spectrum NPK in spring on top of soil (8 8 8) and then gradually taper off after springfertilizer. Some suggest a diluted water soluble plant food monthly. In the fall consider a NPKof 0 10 10 to promote root growth.
There is debate about whether fertilizers should be chemical vs. organic and about ½ strengthvs. full strength. The choice seems to be a personal one but I would err on the side of cautionand know the needs of the species.STYLING Most used style is the informal upright and semi cascade with the goal ofnaturalness, simplicity and balance. Another significant difference between Shohin andlarger bonsai is how leaves are used. In large bonsai, the focus is on style and power of thetree, especially the trunk. In Shohin, because trunks are often less powerful and dramatic,the leaves and the seasons are emphasized.Shohin are usually limited to a canopy of 2 to 5 foliage pads. Mame is likely limited to justone canopy.Depth is achieved by having more branches and foliage on the back of the tree than the front.It makes a flat image into a 3 dimensional one.Often the goal is to create a scalene style whenever possible as it is pleasing to the eye. Itillustrates the Wabi Sabi principle that imperfection is natural.In the words of the late John Naka, a famous Japanese American bonsai master “don’t letyour tree look like a bonsai, but let your bonsai look like a tree.”Nebari is a word used to describe surface roots at the base of a trunk which gives theappearance of age, vigor and stability. To create nebari, plant the tree in a shallow woodenbox for 3 years. This forces roots out horizontally and also producers a thicker trunk.In general, you would expect a straight trunk to have straight branches and a curved trunk tohave curved branches.Wiring should be done on a tree whose soil has dried out a bit, then water well after wiring.Care should be taken not to disturb new buds in the spring. If wired in the spring, check thewire often as branches also swell in the spring.Cutting back a trunk in early spring will result in a number of new shoots sprouting from thebase of the cut. New shoots can be trained into new leaders and branches. A tree such as thiscan be developed in 4 or 5 years which can be much faster than traditional bonsai.FLOWERS: Unlike leaves, flowers cannot be scaled down and can be too large for Shohin.The Japanese prefer to limit the number of flowers or fruit as the production puts too muchstress on the plant. Trees that flower on 2 year old branches must be pruned after flowering,and then allowed to grow freely to allow for the development of new flower buds.WINTERIZING: Deciduous and conifer trees need to go through seasonal changes withperiods of dormancy, if possible. Tropicals need to be brought in temperatures of 50 degreesor less.Pots can be placed on a bed of mulch, then carefully mulch the plants. Smaller plants can alsobe protected by placement among larger plants. Remember to keep plants moistened. Plantscan be placed in a wooden box with mulch or in an unheated garage.
FALL is the time to collect new plants from the ground: prune evergreens and fertilize tostrengthen the tree for winter. A basic rule for tropicals and sub tropicals is to keep them attemperatures well above freezing. The warmer it is, the more light plants need.AESTHETICS: Harmony, beauty and simplicity are the essential elements. Avoidunnecessary flashiness like we westerners are known to do with our tendency forexcessiveness.Colors of the stand, pot and tree should blend harmoniously. Scale of the pot should matchthe scale of the tree. It is important to see the tree first and the pot secondarily.Peace of mind is achieved when your focus is totally on the bonsai. This allows the ego to beset aside for a while. By observing and recreating what nature provides for the tree in thewild, you are brought closer to nature.Simply observing by studying the movement of the trunk, the fine ramification of thebranches and detail of roots can create a sense of well being. Daily watering, pruning andneedle pinching create a relationship between you and your trees that can put the stress ofdaily life at a distance for a while.A bonsai is never finished, it is a continual process. Our ongoing relationship with this livingsculpture helps to cultivate peace of mind.