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Bonchi (Bonsai Chiles)
http://fatalii.net/bonchi

A form of truly enjoyable natural art & science!


Bolivian Rainbow -bonchi.
(Click here for seeds).

What can be more creative and versatile hobby and art than growing a chile pepper from a seed to a bonsai chile tree?

That's what you can call your own creation!
Use all techniques available, growing thick stems, bending branches, adding stones, moss etc. and of course, trimming roots, leaves and stems just the way you like them.

First, you might think that "It takes too long for my patience to do that!", but it's actually very fast project with chile peppers, we talk about months here!... read on!

The best of all, you can choose ANY from thousands of completely different chile varieties to start your own chile bonsai project, truly from a seed!

  

Suomenkielinen bonchi-ohje saatavilla täältä!

Seeds for bonsai chiles here:
http://fataliiseeds.net

After receiving your seeds, the project is very simple, germinate them with the way you want.
Here's a method I have used successfully for a decade with thousands of different chile pepper varieties: http://fatalii.net/germinating


Germinating chiles. You can use soil or rockwool for example. I prefer rockwool and oasis because of their purity and ideal moisture preserving capabilities.


Seedling just germinated!

It doesn't matter if the plant you selected grows 4 meters tall in a large container...

This plant actually reached 4 meters and yet it's a perfect base for a bonsai-chile!

The magic as simple as it it is, happens here:
Just cut the plant down and repot it into a small bonsai pot.
Keep using scissors and small bonsai pot to keep your plant looking like a small tree!

In less than a year, you might already have collected a nice crop of chile peppers and have a great -looking chile bonsai with a thick, woody stem and branches!



After harvesting your nice crop of your favorite chiles, it's time to start the actual project!

The best way to succeed with bonsai chiles, grow a chile plant in a large pot at first. (Preferably outdoors), balcony and indoors will do too.
More info for the traditional chile growing, check the growing section of the www.fatalii.net, direct link here.

You can also grow chiles hydroponically first, to hasten things even more, and then plant them into the bonsai pots.More info about hydroponic chiles here.

You can also grow your bonchis directly on small pots
, but then the resuts of the stems won't be as stunning as by growing the plants large at first.

One of the great things about bonchi-growing is that even if your yield for the season might not be what you expected, you can get plenty of joy from your favorite plants by turning them into bonchis!
You can also turn them back to "normal plants" whenever you want to just by planting them into larger containers once again.
Here's one plant which was replanted to a bigger pot on a start of a season:

Aji Bravo (C. frutescens) after turning it back to "normal chile plant" again

Read on to learn how to create your own bonsai chiles.
First, let's cover some basics.

Pots

You can use virtually any small pots you like, but most traditional bonsai-pots look very, VERY good!

Bonsai-pots I selected for chile bonsais.

Get bonsai pots from finnish bonsai store raisiobonsai.com

Soil

Basically, you can use that you would use to grow chiles, but I prefer mild peat-based soil.
As the root space is very limited with bonsai plants, you can use even higher fertilized soil with bonsai-chiles
as the yield isn't the goal in this case.
Akadama is good stuff for maintaining moisture in the soil when growing bonsais.
It's actually pieces of hard clay.
Some brands of cat litter work as a great, much cheaper substitute for akadama.
Bonsai growers often replace the soil completely with akadama, or mix it with the soil.
I just put some akadama on the bottom of the bonsai chiles and use soil on top of it.

Akadama, used to maintain the moisture in the soil. Great for bonsai growing as the
soil might dry out very quickly!

Tools

Real bonsai-growers use real bonsai tools, but as a bonchi grower I selected whatever I found useful, and here they are:

Bonsai scissors and ordinary scissors for cuttings leaves, stems and roots + stem cutters for thicker stems.
Knife, magnifying glass, pliers (with wire cutters), a small "broom" brush (toothbrush can be very handy
for cleaning the roots etc.) and two different tweezers.

For proper bonsai tools at fair price,
check finnish bonsai store raisiobonsai.com 

The stages shown below are the most critical part of the whole process so read carefully.

TIP:
To make sure your bonsai won't die after the next steps, provide some extra light near the bottom stem for a few weeks before cutting the plant down to encourage the plant to grow some foliage there.
After choosing your favorites to turn into chile bonsais, cut it/them down, preferably the one with the thickest stem(s)!

TIP 2: After cutting a bunch of chile peppers down (it's always good to cut down several as some will die in this process!), first, plant them into some cheap, regular small pots and repot them into bonsai pots when you are sure they have survived the process. This will save a a lot of time and effort.

Remember, after cutting the plants down, their ability to grow thick stems slows down significantly.

Creation of the bonchi

Okay, here we go:
Cutting down the large plant to turn it into a small bonsai plant!


Cutted plant. Doesn't look too good... just yet.

If possible, cut above the leaf-level to make sure your bonsai will continue growing, on the example here, there wasn't any leaves below the cutting point so it's a lot more risky process.
Or, you can trim the plant a little less, and continue the trimming when the plant is forming enough foliage later in the new pot.

Then cut off plenty of extra roots around the plant...


...and dig up the root ball...


...and cut it small enough to fit in a preferred bonsai-pot.

Trim the plant and the roots even more for the re-potting, if needed.

Then, add soil to the bottom of your bonsai pot.

At this point, it's a good idea to clean up the upper parts of the roots from soil...

Removing some soil to make the roots more visible.

...the idea is to leave the largest roots visible above the soil level to make your bonsai chile to look more "dramatic".
You can enhance this process by encouraging the woody root growth by exposing the largest roots for the light after in the middle of the growing season, preferably many months before cutting them down.

A few stem examples shown here from few of my full-sized plants:
(Keep in mind these will still grow for months before I will cut them down...)

Fusing stems

One great way to produce very massive stems quickly is to "fuse" the stems together...
This works with some varieties, for example, most wild chile pepper varities, some rocotos (C. pubescens) and many C. baccatums are great for this! So how to do it?
Just germinate several seedlings for one germinating tray and tie them together as they grow.
Alternative way to achieve this is simply tieing separate seedlings together when they have grown tougher (Not immediately after germinating), check the pic on the left.




Here's an example of fusing stems, with results:

Two C. rhomboideum seedlings grown together, start to fuse at this point.


Here's the same plant cutted down, wired, showing some signs of life!


And the same plant year later, fused together nicely.
Still waiting for some fusing to occur.

Roots on a stone

One great methods with Bonchi`s is to place a stone under the roots and months later when the stem(s) are thicker and roots have wrapped around the stone, it`s possible to repot the Bonchi stem with the stone into bonsai pot!

Here`s one simplified project as an example:


Plants taken, wrapped together and wired (more about wiring a little later on this article), ready to be repotted with a stone!


Placed on a stone, next step would be to repot the plant with a stone.
You can choose to use either soil or hydroponics, I used soil in this example.
After several months of growing, the plant will be pruned down and planted into a bonsai pot!

Okay, here's another "roots-on-a-stone" Bonchi example:


Fusing several stems on a stone:

Many stems growing on a stem.
At the end of the season, this plant will be cut down and repotted into a bonsai pot.


Here's the same plant. In this case, I ended up removing the stone as I liked the plant
"standing".

Ok, let`s get back to the actual, simplified project.

Trimming the roots and repotting your bonchi into a bonsai pot

 

Cut off most of the smallest roots from the upper part of the chile roots... you can trim it even more after the chile bonsai has been planted to it's new home.
This operation makes your bonsai chile look more like a small tree than a small chile plant.
A nice bonsai pot is highly recommended for the best looks!


Trimming roots. Just leave the larger ones to show above the soil level to make it look better.

And then, plant your chile bonsai into it's new bonsai-pot. Add some soil on the sides and around the stem and roots the way you want it.

Designing the base for the bonsai.

Place the bonsai-stem (with not-too-much-foliage appearance at this point) on a sunny windowsill,
or for example under a fluorescent tube or bulb.
Light is the key for a new vigorous growth!

Keep in mind that as the enviroment and circumstances changed suddenly a LOT.
It might take a little while for your chile bonsai to grow some new roots and after that, hopefully some new foliage too!

Finally! Some new growth!

The picture below shows several Bonchi's growing their first leaves, right after cutting them down, yes they look ugly at this point, for a short while...


Later:

A group of bonchi's on the table.


Bonchi's on windowsill at winter.

Pruning your bonchi plants

Keep pruning the new growth (both stems and leaves) whenever needed to keep your bonsai growth very dense, this will make sure the new growth will look good. The most important tip about pruning comes here: Always cut off spindly branches without leaves.

Also remember that most often it's a good thing (especially at the beginning), to keep pruning the plant a lot more that what you would think at first.

It takes some practice to master a technique for getting some pretty tree-looking bonsai chiles, but a decent amount of light, good care, patience and experience will do that automatically.
It's much, much easier than you might think at this point. Actually I'm personally the guy who managed to kill all room plants... perhaps they didn't motivate me enough.. :)

After a few weeks of growing some roots, add some growing fertilizer (more about this in the next section) to boost the growth and still, keep pruning the plant all the time, again, more than you think is enough. This will keep the future growth compact. When it's a bonsai chile we're speaking, the foliage should be very dense altough it can be minimal, just avoid spindly growth.
In other words, cut the growth when it's getting too spindly and it'll start branching. Repeat several times. Later, pruning isn't needed that ofter, just cut off the longer stems as they form.

TIP: you can turn clipped branches into plants by rooting them! Here's a link to a guide how to do that.

Bonchi pruning examples


Cutting off spindly stems.

Here's the same plant just before pruning:


And immediately after pruning:


Fertilizing bonsai chiles

In larger pots, chiles won't need too much fertilizing, but with bonsai chiles, the plant will consume the nutrients very quickly, so make sure to add some fertilizer (like NPK 1-1-1) every once in a while.

I prefer using Biobizz products for both, fruit production & bonsais.
I've had a great results with a combination of next biobizz products:
BioGro, BioBloom, Alg-a-mic and BioHeaven, if more flowers pods wanted, add TopMax also.


Biobizz fertilizers. (click the picture to get them)

Decorating your bonchi plants

When you're sure your bonsai is making some new growth, you can start decorating the surroundings of your bonsai chile, just to make sure you won't decorate a dead plant.

Just use you imagination!
I like to make the chile plants look like a miniatyre trees.

Use stones, moss, lichens, pieces of wood, sand... just about anything you can think of to make your chile bonsai look as cool as possible!


Assembling some stones under the roots.


Adding some moss and few more stones. Still need to patch up some spots and add some details like small shrubs and weeds.
Also that hole in the stem needs some blackening, drilling it a little deeper would do the trick, but for now, I'll just use a black pen. :)

It's all about the details!

It's even possible to make a moss grow on the soil of your bonsai plants.

You can grow some moss in a container for around-the-year-use.

Moss growing in a container.

One technique is to mix minced moss, sour milk and coffee and then use a paintbrush to spread it wherever you want the moss to grow, on soil, stones and even roots.


A decorated bonsai plant. Some new growth can be seen on the branches!
Notest the colored black hole he stem. :)
Click the picture for larger zooming!

Some decorating examples here:




Wiring



I got plenty of emails asking about wiring so I decided to show how simple it actually is.
The basic idea of wiring is to bend the stems and branches just the way you want them.
To make the Bonchi`s look "real trees", you should try to bend the branches down, as older trees tend to do.
Keep in mind this important tip: there are NO RULES with Bonchi`s.
As a father of a bonsai chile idea, I can make the rules, can't I? :D

This picture illustrates how the wiring is done.
Choose different kinds of bonsai wires to wire both stiff and loose branches.
Remember that some varieties break very easily so be careful!
A good idea is to test how fragile the plant actually is by bending some extra brances first.


Wiring a rocoto branch.

Then, you need to carefully bend the branch with the wire.
Apply more wire to place where you need most bending.
You can also twist the branch carefully after wiring it.
Just bend it like you want it.
There might be some "bald" spots on the branch, don`t worry, new growth will emerge there quite soon!
Bonchi`s tend to be very vigorous!


Okay, here`s the bent branch on this rocoto I used as an example.
Notest there is an extra branch on top which I'd like to remove for better looks in a long run.


A wired rocoto branch.

At this point the plant looks like this:
(Notest the same extra branch I just mentioned on top right.

Then, it's time to pinch off the largest leaves from the rocoto Bonchi.
This might make it look a bit ugly at first, but after few weeks with added fertilizer and plenty of light,
It will definitely look much better than before.
In order to get a beautiful Bonchi plant, you need to make it ugly at first.
Removing large leaves.


Removed most of the large leaves.

After removing most of the large leaves, let the plant grow a little,
progressively pinching off the new large leaves that will emerge.
A little later, this Bonchi looks much better:

Rocoto bonchi.

Apply more wiring when needed.
You can remove the wires when the branches have settled and in some cases,
after they`ve became woody.

Few more examples about wiring and trimming here:

C. lanceolatum in a bad shape after a while left on it`s own.


Same plant immediately after wiring.

Still need to continue pinching off the large leaves .
Needs also a little trimming, but eventually, it did look better once again:

C. lanceolatum.
Less than one year old on this picture.


Another pruning example, Dutch-Habanero.
It looks kinda good at first too, but I need to prune and wire it to get better looks for it to produce some yield.


And here it`s wired and most big leaves removed.
Will look much, much better with more leaves, flowers and pods hanging there!

And here's the  same plant with pods later:

Dutch-Habanero F1 -bonchi.


Growing bonchi's without growing large plants at first

This example isn`t a Bonchi with a woody stem,
but it shows what you can achieve very quickly with a cutting and a tiny pot:

Many people have asked about growing Bonchi plants directly in a bonsai pots.
You can do that, but keep in mind that the whole idea is to grow as large plants (or just thick stems) as possible.
And that doesn't happen quickly in a small pot.
That`s why I highly recommend growing chile plants normally at first.

Even when your plants are not in time to produce any yield, you can cut them down into Bonchi-shape.
Then grow them as ornamental Bonchi`s all winter long.
And after the winter, repot them into large pots and you`ll be very early for that season!

Bonchi's indoors

As indoor plants, bonchi's are ideal for many reasons:

The amount of light

The light is usually problem with large plants as even the most effective lamps won't cover the whole foliage of the plants.
The yields in most cases are quite poor when grown big chile pepper plants indoor because of the insufficient light.
With bonchi plants, even smaller energy saving fluorescent bulbs are enough to cover several bonchi plants! Just place the lamp close to bonchi plants, preferably middle of them. For example, one 30w fluorescent bulb can cover four bonchi plants so that they will produce good yields. For one large plant, that one lamp is not nearly enough.
In other words, you can get much better yield from small bonchi plants than with big plants indoors!

Pests

Growing large plants can be painful indoors if you get pests like aphids on your plants. There are no natural enemies for them indoors so the problem can grow severe very quickly. And large plants indoors infested with aphids or other pests can be a real pain in the ass. Trust me. I have been washing off the aphids from hundreds of plants indoorsand that is not certainly fun. In most cases you have to repeat that very often.
With bonchi's, it's a whole different story as all you need to do is to dip them into a bucket filled with pinetree soap to suffocate the pests. After a waiting for a 5-15 minutes, rinse of the soap water and you're done, very quick and easy!
Preferably you can add some neem oil to prevent the pest infestions again, or even better, at all. Read this article from this link to learn more about pest control: http://fatalii.net/pests

The visuals

If you have grown large chile pepper plants, you know that in most cases, it isn't very compelling visually.
Large plants tend to drop leaves and flowers. Some people can say they are ugly for decorating.
But then, bonchi's are a whole different story.
Just take a look at the picture on the right.

Bonchi season is all year around!

Last but perhaps the most fun fact about bonchis is that you can grow them any time of the year!
Normally chile plants are ideal to be timed for mostly spring and summer.
Bonchi's can be grown in the middle of the winter or any other time. And believe me, they can make your winter and rainy days much more fun! Gardening in the winter is very good for your mind while waiting for the spring!
 

Examples


Few pics to show how fast chile plants will grow very thick stems:


C. lanceolatum cutting 28th of march 2007



Same plant, 22th november, 2007, less than 8 months old!



CGN 19198 (C. sp) germinated 1 month before the pic. (pic was taken 14th april, 2006)


Same plant, 22th of november, 2007, 1 year 7 months old plant.
Just think how it'll look after few more years. :)


Some more bonchi examples



Bird's Eye Baby -bonchi.


Cumari Pollux -bonchi.


Ulupica Large -Bonchi.


Bolivian Rainbow -bonchi flowering.



Medusa (C. annuum) bonchi.


Before and after turning C. baccatum plant into a bonchi.


Tepin,National Park of Tikal, Guatemala -bonchi.


Bolivian Rainbow Bonchi and it's proud owner.

If you're able to grow a nice looking chile bonsai, email a pic of it to me (fatalii -at- sci.fi) and I might even post it on this page along with the growers name.
There's actually an competition for the january year 2013 and 2014. So start on with your own bonchi project early, the prize will be GREAT!
I will add an article about this competition soon, so join to fatalii mailinglist here to be informed.

Start your project by getting the varieties you want, from: http://fataliiseeds.net
It's recommended to grow several plants for a better change to get a nice, thick complicated stem and roots! Try with different varieties of chile peppers as they give you greatly varying results.

Aaaarghhh!! Too much information at once!
In that case, here's a summary of the most important things:

GO FOR IT, IT`S BOTH VERY FUN AND RELAXING.
DEFINITELY WORTH TRYING!

So what now? I'm excited and I want to start growing my own bonchis!
Start below, with getting some seeds for ideal bonchi varieties and then look for some bonsai pots and equiment you might want.

Seeds for the best bonsai varieties & other chile peppers here:



Bonsai-pots and other bonsai-equipment available at:



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Onet Finland oy and Fatalii