and Mame Bonsai
Submitted by Carole Carver
is the Japanese word meaning
things that are tiny. Mame bonsai is a
subcategory of Shohin
bonsai and is even smaller. Smaller yet are trees that are called mini
Shohin and Mame are then, bonsai size
a Shohin bonsai tree is
between 5 inches and 8 inches tall not including the pot. A
Mame bonsai tree is between
2 to 6 inches tall. These
estimations seem to vary with the author as I have found several
versions. As with regular bonsai, the purpose of developing a Shohin
bonsai is to create the
picture of a fully grown tree.
However, due to fundamental size restrictions of size, there are
a limited amount of branches and foliage in a Shohin. At bonsai
exhibitions, people who do
not understand Shohin tend to
ignore the little trees in favor of larger ones. Shohin is
gaining in popularity in Japan.
Authors reviewed for this
paper indicated that things learned from
the mastery of Shohin
can improve skills for all bonsai
growers. These tiny trees do require more precise care in
many ways including watering and shaping. A misplaced branch or too
many or too few
leaves will be very obvious. One hot day
without water could cause irreversible damage.
Advantages of small bonsai suit people with limited space or
difficulty managing larger
trees 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 bonsai
are a delight to behold.
Bonsai in general was broadly
introduced to the States following
WWII when soldiers
brought bonsai to the West. Though the
art of bonsai dates back to the Tang Dynasty in
618 - 906, Shohin dates back only about 100 years and Mame is even more
recent. The American Shohin
Association was established in 2005.
Differences between Shohin and larger bonsai include the
Obviously the size.
Focus on seasonal beauty such
change of leaf in spring and fall, in addition to flowers
and fruit which makes
deciduous trees a good choice although
conifers and tropicals
are also often used.
the age of the tree
is not as important as in traditional bonsai.
displayed, Shohin are arranged in groups with a focus on unifying
harmony in the display. The arrangement will
often include suiseki and accent plants.
should express the same season but different species and different pots.
Pots are described as critical to display the tree, looking
the right size, color, shape and
Where to get Shohin seeds,
cuttings or plants from the ground. It
is suggested that you
purchase your first one for study and
practice. It is noted that unless you are under the age of
50, best not to grow from seed. It is advisable to look for plants with
naturally small leaves, if possible. Good starter plants
are cotoneasters, honeysuckle,
Chinese elm as well as a variety
of 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 because they can produce flowers and
Due to the small size of the
container, Shohin dry out more
quickly so they must be
protected 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
Shohin can be protected by placement with
larger bonsai. Also under plantings
expire moisture and can
Re-pot Shohin more frequently
than regular sized bonsai such as
every year or so for
deciduous and every 2 to 3 years for
conifers as roots have such a small space in which to
When roots appear in the drainage holes, you will know it is time to
Soil should be of smaller
particle size 1/8" to 3/16". Some
authors recommend sphagnum
peat, not fresh peat moss as soil
for Shohin should hold water better that regular bonsai. Can
use 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% sphagnum
and 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
The advantage of this type of
soil is that it absorbs water and
releases it slowly. If Akadama is
used, it needs to be the
high fired typed so it breaks down slower and does not become
When re-potting, remember to
allow the tree’s roots to be
slightly dry to allow old soil to drop
more easily causing
less stress to the roots. Then water well afterward.
In most climates place Shohin in partial shade during summer months as
dries rapidly. Also hot sun can dry leaves faster that
water can move up through the roots. In
Florida, plan to
water twice daily in summer months. For some very small plants, place
bed of moist sand to prevent drying. Some authors
recommend dunking the pot to the top
until no more bubbles
come out of pot to allow for even distribution of water. If there are
spots, the roots will die quickly and the whole tree
will suffer. If the tree has a good canopy,
watering may not reach the roots. Misting is good because it cleans the
leaves and disturbs possible buildup
require as much fertilizing as regular bonsai.
broad spectrum NPK in spring on top of soil (8 8
8) and then gradually taper off after spring
Some suggest a diluted water soluble plant food monthly. In the fall
consider a 0 10 10 fertilizer to promote root
debate about whether fertilizers should be chemical vs. organic and
about ½ strength vs. full strength. The choice
seems to be a personal one but I
would err on the side of caution
and know the needs of the
Most used style is
the informal upright and semi cascade
with the goal of
naturalness, simplicity and balance.
Another significant difference between Shohin and
bonsai is how leaves are used. In large bonsai, the focus is on style
and power of the tree, especially the trunk.
In Shohin, because trunks are often
less powerful and dramatic,
the leaves and the seasons are
Shohin are usually limited to
a canopy of 2 to 5 foliage pads.
Mame is likely limited to just
Depth is achieved by having more branches and foliage on the
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. It
illustrates the Wabi Sabi
principle that imperfection is natural.
In the words
of the late John Naka, a famous Japanese American bonsai master
“don’t let your tree look like a bonsai,
but let your bonsai look like a
Nebari is a word used to describe surface
roots at the base of a trunk which gives the
age, vigor and stability. To create nebari, plant the tree in a shallow
wooden box 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 to
have 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.
wired in the spring, check the wire often as branches also
swell in the spring.
Cutting back a trunk in early spring will result in a number
new shoots sprouting from the
base of the cut. New shoots
can be trained into new leaders and branches. A tree such as this
can be developed in 4 or 5 years which can be much faster than
Unlike leaves, flowers cannot be scaled down and can be too large for
The Japanese prefer to limit the number of
flowers or fruit as the production puts too much
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.
Deciduous and conifer trees need to go through seasonal changes with
periods of dormancy, if possible. Tropicals need to be brought in
temperatures of 50 degrees
can be placed on a bed of mulch, then carefully mulch the plants.
Smaller plants can also be protected by placement
among larger plants. Remember to keep
plants moistened. Plants
can be placed in a wooden box with
mulch or in an unheated garage.
This is the time to collect new plants from the ground: prune
evergreens and fertilize to
strengthen the tree for winter.
A basic rule for tropicals and sub tropicals is to keep them at
temperatures well above freezing. The warmer it is, the more light
Harmony, beauty and simplicity are the essential elements.
Colors of the
stand, pot and tree should blend harmoniously. Scale of the pot should
the 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
set aside for a while. By observing and recreating
what nature provides for the tree in the
wild, you are
brought closer to nature.
Simply observing by studying
the movement of the trunk, the fine ramification of the
branches and detail of roots can create a sense of well being. Daily
watering, pruning and
needle pinching create a relationship
between you and your trees that can put the stress of daily
life at a distance for
A bonsai is
never finished, it is a continual process. Our ongoing relationship
with this living sculpture helps to cultivate
peace of mind.