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Size Matters & Small Is Beautiful



Robert Steven's digitally enhanced version of a Trident maple by Carl Morrow (the photo Carl submitted is below)

Continuing with the bonsai wisdom of Robert Steven, this was one of our earliest of his famous critiques (September, 2010). I’ve added the copy just below today, but Robert’s expert comments are exactly as wrote them eight years ago

The right pot can have a transformative effect on a bonsai.  This includes the right size pot. A common mistake many of us make when we start, is over-potting trees. The mistaken view  that trees need massive amounts of soil to thrive and grow is common and it can take a while to develop the confidence to move a tree into a suitably sized pot. Not so say it’s impossible to under-pot a bonsai, but that rarely happens (sometimes  for show, trees are put into pots that may be a little small for long term health, but these trees are usually moved back a somewhat larger pot when the show is over).

There’s more we could say about optimal pot size (for example the negative effect of over potting trees for health and visual effect), but we’ll leave that for another time.


The original photo

Robert’s comments
Despite the details, bonsai design is all about composition, and the pot is one of the most important composition elements. A well chosen pot can reflect and enhance the best features of a tree and effect the overall image, adding both nuance and balance.

Our first impression is a sense of visual imbalance. This is due to pot size (which is too big) and  improper potting position. Another disturbing thing is the foliage edge on the left side seems to be heavier than the right side. This creates and unbalanced effect, since the tree’s movement flows to the right.

Solution :

  1. Reduce the foliage on the left to enhance the tree’s natural flow to the right.
  2. Prune some leaves to show some of the branches structure, this will give an older look to the tree.
  3. Use a smaller pot.

“There is more than one way to design any bonsai and my critiques and recommended solutions might not always fit your taste because of personal preferences. But I always try to give my opinion based on artistic and horticultural principles.”

You can visit Robert’s bonsai blog here:

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