How to Mindfully Optimize Light for Bonsai Trees

How to Mindfully Optimize Light for Bonsai Trees

This is the fifth 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. We’ve previously covered watering, fertilizing, and weeding bonsai trees, with reminders in each article of the importance of the connection between you and your trees. We believe that a regular practice will help you and your trees connect and realize the benefits of mindfulness - a reduction in your stress and anxiety, improved sleep and attention; and improved health, optimized growth, and increased beauty in your bonsai trees. 

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

“You know those plants that are always trying to find the light? Maybe they were planted in a location that didn’t necessarily facilitate growth, but inexplicably they make a circuitous route to not only survive but bloom into a beautiful plant. That was me—my whole life.” ― Jonathan Van Ness, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love

This article is focused on light availability. Light is the driving force in plant growth. Each plant or tree has an ideal set of conditions for growth including sun exposure and temperature. To grow healthy and strong, bonsai trees require ideal light and temperature for as many days and hours as possible. Many conifers (e.g. cedars, cypresses, firs, junipers, pines, and spruces) like full sun - no less than 6 hours of direct sunlight, and preferably 10-14 hours. Many deciduous trees (e.g. maples, stewartia, quince, hornbeam) prefer light shade - a term that can be quite confusing; however 30%-40% shade cloth or the natural equivalent is often about right, consider reducing the intensity of the sun for these trees.

Afternoon sunlight is often more intense and combines with higher temperatures; trees that prefer more direct sun should be placed in positions that get more afternoon sunlight while trees that thrive in some shade will do better in areas that get morning sunlight. Indoor bonsai trees usually need more than standard artificial light. Place the trees where they can get lots of natural sunlight. If only limited sunlight is available, combine that with grow light supplementation. Supplemental lighting can be as simple as a lamp placed in close proximity to the bonsai.

Follow these six practices to mindfully work toward optimized light for your bonsai:

Pay Attention – Examine the light exposure of your space over time. Notice the shift in sun and shadow through the day and through the seasons. How does your tree shade itself? For example, upper branching causes more shade for lower branching. Notice how this changes through the day.

Find Joy in Simple Acts – Pick up your trees and move them every few weeks. If the front of your tree normally faces south, shift it to face east. Shift it again a few weeks later to face west, thus ensuring even light exposure. As your tree’s position changes, how does your observation of and appreciation for that tree change?

Accept Yourself – Create a rotation schedule that works for you. Find different ways to accomplish this task, such as spinning tops on pedestals or a water-collecting tray on top of an indoor turntable. Whenever you attend to your plants you are learning and growing, and  helping your trees to become better bonsai. 

Sitting Meditation – After moving your plants to a new location or angle, close your eyes and sit envisioning how the sunlight will pass over the foliage. In your mind’s eye, view the passing of a day’s worth of light in rhythm to your breath, moving in and out. 

Walking MeditationPlan a short walk around your space. It can be as little as ten paces and either be in circles, or back and forth along a straight line. Concentrate on your stride: lift a foot from the ground; move the foot forward; lower the foot heel-first to the ground; and shift your weight to start the cycle with your other foot. After ten paces, stop to notice where you are, and how your perspective has changed. Return your attention to your feet. Once you have walked ten paces ten times using this attention to your movement, return your attention to your surroundings. Repeat as desired.  

Focus on your Breath – Position yourself in front of one or more of your trees. Leaving your eyes open, or closing them if you prefer, focus on your breath, allow your eyes to de-focus so that the feeling of the air passing in and out of your body is clearer than your vision. Consider what information you gather from your blurred vision and breathing that was not apparent with a sharper view. 

We’re coming back next week with the sixth article in this series, “How to Mindfully Inspect Bonsai for Insects and Disease”.

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