Why Bonsai is the Perfect New Hobby to Try During Coronavirus
What’s a person to do when coronavirus cases are spiking and you’re back to sheltering in place? Well, if you’re like many other Americans, you’re thinking about sprucing up your home and taking up a new hobby to create some variety in your day-to-day schedule.
To understand how the pandemic has changed Americans’ interests, digital coupon company Picodi analyzed Google search data from March 2020 and compared it to data from March 2019. Gardening related searches saw an increase of fifty percent, which for many Americans means houseplants. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that online plant retailers’ sales have skyrocketed “from what they said was consumer desire to care for a living object and create a tranquil indoor sanctuary in an uncertain and stressful time.”
If you’re among those people using plants and gardening to create a feeling of sanctuary, bonsai may be a surprisingly satisfying addition to your quest for green zen.
What is Bonsai?
The art of bonsai began in China over 1,000 years ago, and gained popularity as a craft in Japan over the centuries. It’s now popular worldwide, with major increases in the past ten years in Brazil, Europe, and the United States. Bonsai is simply an ornamental tree in a pot, grown and styled to create a miniaturized and sometimes stylized representation of a tree in nature.
Carmen Leskoviansky “fell accidentally into the world of bonsai” and now oversees the care of the bonsai collection at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She explains that while bonsai is still a young art in the United States, there’s a lot of accessible, basic information available online from talented American bonsai artists and teachers.
Why Bonsai is the Perfect Hobby Right Now
For many people, hobbies offer a way to connect with our passions, our soul, and other people. They help us find ways to stay excited, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Jamie L. Kurtz, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, encourages Americans to slow down and adopt a hobby to help structure time, foster new social connections, improve self-concept, and cope with stress. More than many other activities, Bonsai is a particularly ideal hobby to begin now.
Increase Patience and Time Management
Developing a new hobby means that you will have to learn something that is brand new to you — this will help you build your patience. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will experience flow, a state where you’re lost in an absorbing activity and time flies and self-consciousness disappears. Dr. Kurtz explains that hobbies actually help create more time in your day by encouraging you to be more efficient with the time you have available. A new bonsai tree can be started in just a few hours, but it can take ten years or longer to develop exhibition-quality bonsai trees. The key to good bonsai is to use good starting material — select a tree that is appropriate for your environment, your climate, and your specific conditions. This article from award-winning bonsai artist and teacher Eric Schrader helps beginners decide what type of tree is best for them to begin with. Practice makes perfect as you learn to water and fertilize! Don’t be discouraged by a failure or two; like other green-care, bonsai care takes time to perfect.
Hobbies will help you create bonds with other people who have the same interests as you. As Dr. Kurtz explains, “social connection is a key component of happiness and a meaningful life, and hobbies have the potential to create” these connections. Bonsai hobbyists often belong to local clubs and attend monthly meetings and workshops to learn and work on their trees together. In COVID-19 times, there are currently many online workshops available if you’re looking to begin bonsai as a hobby and want to connect with an experienced teacher and other beginners.
Develop New Skills and Improve Your Self-Concept
To begin with bonsai, you will just need a pair of bonsai scissors, a watering can, and the ability to follow a few basic instructions to care for your trees. Choose a plant for bonsai that is easily grown in a pot in your yard, on a porch or deck, or indoors, based on your available space and local climate. As you learn more about Bonsai, you’ll have something new to talk about with friends, family, and colleagues. Dr. Kurtz says that by “adding layers to your identity and richness to your self-concept,” you’ll feel more inspired and inspire other people as well.
Hobbies let you relax and get excited about activities that aren’t related to work, chores, or other responsibilities, and remind you that there are many facets to your identity. While hobbies in general offer an opportunity to step away from your busy life and take a break, bonsai in particular, provides a break with purpose. Creating a connection to the planet through bonsai can improve your health and happiness.
Quick Tips to Get Started with Bonsai
- Begin your bonsai hobby with a tree that is suitable for your environment. Think about your climate and whether you want your tree to live indoors or outdoors. For bonsai, freezing temperatures are problematic; if you live in a cold winter climate, research the species of trees that are best adapted to your conditions. If you plan to grow your bonsai tree indoors, select a species that is ideal for the amount of light you plan to provide. Many bonsai enthusiasts grow trees outdoors during the warmer months and protect them indoors during colder months.
- Buy your tree from a reputable source to ensure you start with a healthy plant. A good source should be able to provide details about where the plant came from and how and where to grow the bonsai. Buying from big-box stores can be cheap, but often the plants are imported and become weak during transit.
- Learn the basics of bonsai care. Pick up a modern and up-to-date basics book (we recommend “The Little Book of Bonsai” by Jonas Dupuitch); and attend online workshops. Bonsai care is easier than taking care of a cat. Paying attention to the tree on a regular basis is your best bet for ensuring that growth remains healthy and your plant stays happy. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can take the steps to make your tree into a beautiful bonsai.
Bonsai is a hobby that can become part of your daily life, reducing stress, inspiring creativity, connecting you to nature, and bringing joy to your living spaces. If you’re interested in learning more about bonsai as a hobby and an art, subscribe to get my blog posts.