One of the biggest (and best) parts of working here at the Museum is interacting with the public. People from around the world stroll through the exhibit in awe. Guests approach me with many questions about the trees. I often have an opportunity to discuss with visitors some of the basic skills it takes to grow and maintain bonsai trees.
A frequent question I get from visitors is about the tea bags they notice placed at the bottom of each tree. At the Museum, we fill tea bags with fertilizer and place them on the tree’s soil (as opposed to sprinkling granules of fertilizer on the surface soil, as you often see elsewhere). We use the teabags in an effort to maintain a “clean” soil surface, as well as to concentrate the dispensation of the fertilizer components. A common misconception is that this fertilizer “feeds” the plant. In actuality, a tree makes its own food through photosynthesis. Fertilizer simply enhances this natural process within the plant.
Fertilizer provides at least three essential elements necessary for photosynthesis: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). Nitrogen provides plants with the ability to produce more chlorophyll, which in turn allows plants to grow quickly. Phosphorous aids in root development and increases flowering ability and bloom size. Potassium has many functions: it guards the plant against diseases and aids in drought protection and cold tolerance, as well as enhances root development and helps in the process of photosynthesis. Most of the results of fertilization is not seen until the following growth cycle occurs.
Sharing horticultural and bonsai knowledge with patrons is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work at the Museum. Keep the questions coming!