How to Mindfully Inspect Bonsai for Insects and Disease

How to Mindfully Inspect Bonsai for Insects and Disease

This is the sixth article in our seven-part series “Establishing a Mindful Bonsai Practice”. Throughout this series we are focused on incorporating six key practices into daily bonsai tasks to develop a Mindful Bonsai Practice. Like people, bonsai thrive when they are given daily considered attention. There will be days when your tree requires a lot of time and support from you, just as you have days where you need a long talk with a good friend. Some days you may only inspect your plant and do nothing else - not even watering. We believe that this regular practice will compound over time, helping you and your trees realize increased benefits of mindfulness - for you, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and improved sleep and attention; and for your bonsai trees, improved health, optimized growth, and increased beauty. 

Remember: creating a bonsai requires interaction and connection between a person and a tree. 

"Every small positive change we make in ourselves repays us in confidence in the future.” - Alice Walker

Even the most diligent, detail-oriented bonsai enthusiast might find that their plants have become infected with parasitic insects or damaging fungal or bacterial colonization. Not all insects are damaging to bonsai or plants, and not all fungus and bacteria are bent on consuming plant tissue. Symptoms like leaf burn, browning needle tips, or yellowing foliage are often the first sign of a problem with our trees. To minimize problems regularly inspect your plants for signs of distress or decreased vigor. Try to catch the early signs of infestations and infections and treat them to prevent further damage.

Follow these six practices to mindfully inspect your bonsai for insects and disease:

Pay Attention – Pests can arrive on your tree in a variety of ways; check branch junctions, the underside of leaves and other hidden places on your tree regularly. The tiny spaces between needles on a juniper; the undersides of leaves on a Japanese maple; and the very tip of a pine needle; each can provide minute clues to plant health. Spider mites love those little juniper spaces; aphids appreciate the underside of maple leaves in spring; and root pathogens in pines may first show up as a yellow needle tip. The signs of tree health or disease are in front of you, if you take the time to notice. 

Find Joy in Simple Acts – gently picking up a bonsai and rotating it in your hands introduces you to angles you don’t normally see; appreciate the novelty. Looking upward into the branching of a maple might just delight you. Carefully twisting a pliable branch and needles on a juniper to examine the undersides and interior can show potential structure - and reveal pests.

Accept Yourself – Enjoy the process of bonsai, accept that perfection is not a reasonable expectation, but that pursuing it is a reasonable aspiration. Where insects and disease cause damage, simply accept that this is what happened. Accept that you can improve and your tree can regain health; what you are experiencing now is a path to achieving improvement.

Sitting Meditation – In stillness, alternate for a few minutes between a focus on your breath and a focused “body scan” of your tree. Begin by considering the foliage tips, then the petiole or sheaths that connect them. Move through the parts of the plant one by one slowly, considering their connections as if they were limbs, veins, or tissue from your human body. End with a focus on your breath, taking air in and pushing it out.

Walking Meditation – As you notice small changes in your bonsai that may indicate an insect or disease is present, take deliberate steps to heal your plant. You may literally need to walk to a nursery to pick up a fungicide spray. If you don't want to use chemistry on your indoor plants, first try spraying the pests off with water. You can smother many types of insects by mixing soap with water, applying a spray to all leaf surfaces, and then rinsing it off. If that doesn't do the trick, consult integrated pest management websites for pest specific advice and best practices. 

Focus on your Breath – Don’t panic. Draw on your box breath or other breathing techniques to slow and deepen your breath. Concentrate on what you’ve discovered is happening to your tree, and focus on the steps you will take to help it heal. Everyone gets sick from time to time; why should your bonsai tree be any different? It’s important now to slow down, so you can determine the best path forward for your tree, and then have the energy to quickly care for it.

Only one week left! Next week we conclude this series with our seventh and final article, “How to Mindfully Harness Growth in Bonsai Trees”.

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