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The craft of shaping miniature trees in a small pot first arose over a thousand years ago in China, where it was known as pun-sai.

Even then the variety of individual bonsai was astonishing, as known from ancient drawings. Gnarled, faux-windswept trunks, with sparse leaves to full-flowering miniature blossoming trees dot the historic record.

The Chinese artists often went one step beyond nature and shaped their trees into replicas of real animals and imaginary icons. Native birds, mythical dragons and a host of tiny fauna formed the models for many of these fine sculptures.

As Zen Buddhism spread from China to Japan during the Kamakura period, so too did the art of bonsai. The late 12th century saw the migration of both artists and craft techniques to the small island in the northeast.

While bonsai was already a highly developed skill in China, as it grew in Japan it evolved into the highest of arts. The care and patience required, the complexity in miniature and the creation of a living work of art suited the temperament of the horticultural artists of Japan.

Planted first in the monasteries, the art of bonsai was practiced and refined by the learned scholars and cloistered artists of this rural society. This gentle art, requiring the skill of a jeweler and the patience of a saint, suited the monks well.

Developed to a peak during the 18th century, where they were frequently regarded as treasured objects by the nobility, bonsai rapidly became popular beyond the walls of the monastery and the palace.

As Japan grew from an agricultural society to an industrial and trading powerhouse in the 19th century an ironic historical twist occurred. The agricultural art of bonsai spread from the monasteries to the general populace.

As Japan, for centuries fiercely isolationist, opened up its ports and palaces to Westerners, the distinctive miniature trees drew the attention of awe-struck visitors. Nowhere before in their travels had seamen and ambassadors seen anything like these carefully crafted living things, so like their larger cousins.

Many adopted the practice of placing fine bonsai in a ‘tokonoma’ – a special niche in every Japanese home whose purpose is to display special ornaments and prized possessions. Among these was invariably a bonsai or two.

Museum exhibitions of bonsai in the Western world became popular at the same time as they began to display animals and artifacts from travels and conquests around the globe. In London, Vienna and Paris bonsai were all the rage. With the Paris World Exhibition in 1900, the future worldwide fame of these miniature trees was assured.

As with any popular phenomena, there grew pressure to mass produce bonsai to meet the demand for these unique living works of art. But bonsai resist mass production. Each must be carefully tended over decades to produce even a recognizable tree, much less a work of art.

But many new artists developed many new forms and this living art is now practiced and the products displayed around the globe. Bonsai are treasured in the US and Asia, but also around Europe, South Africa and Australia. Anywhere there is abundant sunshine can be found the bonsai.

The history of this unique form of art is hardly finished as the artisans continue to create new and ever more varied ways of shaping and displaying these glorious miniature trees.

Spreaders are handy for laying down weed killer, fertilizer and other lawn care products that help you maintain the yard or garden. They come in two basic types – broadcast spreaders and drop spreaders – and you may find it helpful to have at least one of each.

A broadcast spreader itself comes in two different varieties, push-cart and hand-held.

The smaller, hand-held style has a large cup-like container that usually holds up to a few cups of dry grass seed or fertilizer beads. You fill the container, then turn a small crank that causes the material to shoot out holes in the bottom. They’re useful for spot seeding lawn patches or feeding specific plants.

The larger, push-cart style has a tub with a similar dispenser arrangement, but the whole assembly sits on an axle and wheels attached to a pole with handlebars. You squeeze a lever attached to the handle, thus opening the mechanism at the bottom. As you move forward the wheels turn a rotor that flings seed, fertilizer or weed killer in a broad arc.

Using a push-cart broadcast spreader it’s possible to cover a large area in a short time. For applications of combination dry weed killer/fertilizer it can’t be beat. But, it does have one drawback. Since the broadcast area is circular and the material shoots quite a distance, it’s difficult to cover a rectangular area near the edges very precisely. You may be spreading material onto the sidewalk or garden where you don’t want it.

The solution is a drop spreader. Drop spreaders have a similar tub and handle design, but the base of the tub has an entirely different mechanism. Instead of throwing material in a semi-circular arc, a roller lifts as you squeeze the handle and a series of holes is exposed. As the spreader moves forward, material simply drops through the holes, hence the name.

A drop spreader is inexpensive, sturdy and puts material right where you want it in just the needed proportions. A dial on the handle allows the user to select the size of the opening, controlling the amount of material dropped out. You pass along an area just as you would with a lawnmower, back and forth or in a rectangular spiral.

A spreader costing less than $20 can easily last for years, if kept properly maintained. All you need to do is wash out the basin after use, to remove residual chemicals. They can spread seed, but are more often used to spread dry weed killer beads or powder or seasonal lawn care mixtures.

Either of the tub or push-cart spreaders will hold a cubic foot of material – far more than one would use in a typical application, unless your yard is enormous. A layer of material only a few inches deep in a drop spreader, for example, will cover a section of yard 20 feet by 60 feet with beads of grub killer.

Maintenance is simple: simply hose out, let dry and spread a few drops of oil on the axle once in a while.

Say ‘art’ and most will think of painting or sculpture. There is a kind of sculpture, though, that takes as its raw material not stone or wood but a living tree. That is the art of bonsai.

From the Japanese word for ‘tree in a tray’, Bonsai is the art and product of shaping trees by careful pruning to produce a miniature tree or bush. Not produced from genetic dwarfs, bonsai are the result of years of patient shaping of ordinary species by master artists.

Because they are grown and shaped in a small pot, but are produced from ordinary species – pine, maple and many others – extreme care is required to keep the delicate plants healthy.

Soil type and temperature must be just so – conditions that are only within the artist’s control within a certain range. Pruning techniques take years to master and are only possible to a certain kind of temperament. Potting and re-potting practices must be learned and they are many and varied.

Watering alone is a complex science for these small trees and bushes. Too much and the bonsai will become water-logged and develop fungi and root rot. Too little and the soil quickly becomes dry and leaves wilt and the tree dies.

Soil and potting practices overlap with watering needs since drainage is critical. Pruning habits interact with shaping techniques, which in turn are affected by soil maintenance and watering practices.

Bonsai are among the most difficult products of art to create as all these elements and many more have to be carried out to near perfection merely for the plant to survive. Add to that complexity the goal of creating pleasing shapes, styles and colors for both plant and pot and you have a high art.

On top of the inherent horticultural difficulty of learning and mastering a dozen sub-sciences, there is the need to master the artistic vision and skills to produce any of several basic or advanced styles.

There are five basic styles alone: formal upright, informal upright, slanting, cascade and semi-cascade. From that base branch out a dozen advanced types, including the literati and other difficult forms.

An art of that kind is not mastered in a month.

Craftsmen labor for years to produce a single tree, which may last a hundred years or longer. The trees are then often passed down from generation to generation, each successive artist adding his or her own distinctive style. As the tree is lovingly molded according to the personal aesthetic of each caretaker, past efforts are venerated and learned from.

Years of training and experience are required to become a skilled bonsai grower. Ordinary horticulture is by itself a difficult craft. But to produce a miniature tree from ordinary species takes a lifetime of patience and learning.

The results are widely regarded as well-worth the effort, though. Bonsai are admired the world over for their uniqueness, their longevity, variety and beauty and for the skill that goes to produce them.

In an age when brilliant technology can mass produce global cell phones and self-diagnosing automobiles, these individually designed and hand crafted, miniature works of art continue to inspire awe and admiration.

Taking care of a yard is a year round job for some. For those who get a brief break due to snow on the ground, there are still some things you might want to study up on before Spring.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Spring isn’t the only, and not always the best time to do prep work. If you need to re-seed bare patches, just before the first snowfall of the year is a good time to start. The seeds will get worked into the soil by the weight of the snow and lay dormant for Winter.

Then, as Spring arrives with the first melt, the seeds will be in good mud and start the early stages of germination. As the sun hits them, you’ll get good, fresh grass in a couple of weeks.

At the same time, since crabgrass and its relatives don’t thrive in the Fall or Winter, you have a head start on that kind of weed control. As the grass continues to spread, it has a better chance of crowding out crabgrass, which may not develop at all.

Then you can apply the recommended Spring fertilizer at the earliest possible week. That helps to give those young shoots a great beginning and, if you use weed control fertilizer, you can solve two problems with one effort.

As that snow continues to melt off you’ll find areas where the grass has become thatched. That’s a condition in which the blades get lain over one another, then compressed from the snow pack on top. Some of them die over Winter. As a result, you have a kind of straw-like covering, hence the name ‘thatch’.

Solving that problem is easy, though. Just cut the grass a little later in Fall than you need to just for length control. That keeps the height down and helps keep thatching to a minimum.

Then, follow up in Spring by raking the grass. Of course, if you raked in the Fall, there won’t be any leaves to get rid of. Nevertheless, this helps pull up thatched areas and allows air to get to the soil.

If the ground has become hard, or the soil is the sort to easily become compacted, you can follow that up with an aeration. There are several ways to do that. You can use a special attachment on a riding lawnmower and run it over the grass. There are also special large-drum rollers with spikes poking out you can use.

A very inexpensive method involves using special shoes, somewhat like golf shoes with spikes on the bottom. You just put them on then walk around the area you want aerate. The shoes make tiny holes that allow air to easily penetrate the soil. At the same time, it makes channels for solid fertilizer pellets to fall into.

After you’ve de-thatched and aerated, your lawn will be in good shape to carry out weed control, seeding, fertilizer application and regular mowing.

Whoever said lawn care was easy?

Apart from your lawnmower, the trimmer or edger may be the tool you use most. Very few lawnmowers will get everything, since most lawns butt up against a wall, patio bricks or have trees in the lawn. As a result, the only way to keep that lawn looking really neat is to finish the job with an edger of some kind.

But which kind?

Traditional edgers are dual blade affairs with a long wooden handle. Despite the aging design, they still do the job and do it well. They require no gasoline, are lightweight and there’s no cord to get in the way. If the blades are kept clean and sharp, they can edge a 20 ft x 40 ft patio or 30 feet of sidewalk in a few minutes.

But they do require a lot of muscular effort.  For those who still enjoy working outside, but may be getting along in years, they may not be practical. It’s no fun to keep a yard looking trim when the result is an aching back and sore wrists.

A step up is an electric trimmer. Inexpensive and easy to use, they remove shaggy grass by slicing it off with a rapidly whirling plastic string. The cartridge holding the string is easy to replace, lasts for several weeks to months and costs only a few dollars to replenish.

They have another advantage over manual trimmers: they can easily be worked at different angles and in areas that manual edgers can’t work. If you have a lawn that abuts against an outbuilding, such as a shed, it can be very difficult to use a pole trimmer to remove the grass. An electric works great.

Ditto, if you have grass that winds around large rocks or a lawn that is bordered by scallop-shaped bricks, using a manual pole edger is out of the question. But the string style edger works perfectly in these circumstances. It does no damage to the bricks and removes grass easily.

A step up in some eyes, a difficulty in others, yet another style of power edger uses a small gasoline-powered motor. They’re a bit noisy, but the largest drawback may be the weight. They’re much heavier than electric trimmers. On the other hand, they have no cord to get in the way.

Since there’s no cord, they also have no restrictions on where you can take them. If you have a large yard, or want to trim in certain areas where there’s no outlet nearby, using an electric trimmer can be near impossible. Using a couple of hundred feet of extension cord makes the job unpleasant, and the cord itself is heavy at that length. In those circumstances, a gasoline powered trimmer can work wonders.

Gasoline-powered edgers also typically have much more power. So if you have thick brush, weeds or other debris that you want whacked down to size, this type can do the job. They do cost a bit more, but they last for years and the investment is worthwhile for the effort they save.

What could be simpler than moving a lawnmower over the grass? Why would anyone need advice on that? Well, like anything, there’s always more to it than appears at first glance.

Selecting the proper length is always the first puzzle to solve in lawn care. The answer is complicated by the variability in types of grass, average amount of sunshine and rain and other factors. But, in general, the following holds true…

Keeping most grass a little longer saves effort cutting. Allowing the lawn to grow an extra week between cuttings, mowing every two or three weeks instead of every week, reduces the effort by up to a third. That saved hour or two can be well used on other activities – fertilizing, weeding and other needed tasks.

Longer grass will also grow slower, since the length increases at a higher rate at first, then decreases as the blade extends upwards of a couple of inches or more. The longer the blade, the slower the growth.

Keeping the grass longer helps the grass, too, in many cases. Longer grass can retain moisture better, making for lower water bills and better growing rates. Longer blades have more surface area for photosynthesis, the biochemical process that turns sunlight and compounds into energy used for growth and reproduction.

Keeping the grass longer reduces weeds and time spent on weed maintenance. Weeds have to germinate in order to grow, just like nearly every plant. Longer grass blades rob weed seeds of the sunlight and warmth that stimulate that process. That kind of theft is to be encouraged.

Longer grass encourages deeper roots. This is one other way that grass out-competes weeds, since the amount of nutrient and space under the surface is limited. When it’s occupied more by grass roots, there’s less left over for weeds. Longer roots also help grass reach moisture further down, making the plant stronger and better fed.

There are limits, however. Apart from the appearance of a shaggy lawn, grass that’s too long can encourage the growth of lawn bugs and mosquitoes. The latter prefer cool weather, and the longer grass gives them a place to ‘hide in the shade’. Keeping the grass down to a moderate length will help keep the bugs at bay.

Also, when grass gets to more than a few inches, it buds at the end, throwing off new seed. This completes a natural lifecycle and the blade then dies off. Unlike some organisms, slicing them actually helps keep them healthy.

Cutting grass doesn’t harm it in any way, provided it’s not cut too short. Grass grows from the base (or ‘crown’), not from the tip. So, provided the crown isn’t damaged by nicking it with a blade, it will do fine.

Though the crown is far down and most lawnmower blades are set to between 1-3 inches, if the yard is bumpy it’s possible for the blade to dip. At a large enough angle, the tip of a wide blade can dig into a crown.

Keep the grass a little longer in hot weather, a little shorter in cool weather and you’ll achieve the perfect balance.

Building a foundation for your greenhouse offers you many choices.

Some people, especially if they buy a pre-made greenhouse, will simply lay it on top of whatever ground exists at the location they choose. That may be gravel, or dirt or even grass. Some pre-made greenhouses come complete not only with roof and walls, but a floor, as well.

If you choose to build your own greenhouse, you’ll probably want to prepare the ground underneath it in some way. This could be as simple as smoothing the earth and laying down railroad ties spaced an inch apart. An alternative step up could be creating a simple platform of eight-foot 2 x 4’s or 1 x 6’s nailed to 4 x 4’s spaced out about every 18 inches under the slats. That way you have a solid base and drainage.

But those simple designs leave you with the problem of controlling weeds, replacing floor boards, controlling mildew and other issues associated with wooden floors.

The next step up is laying a cement foundation, similar to the type under many houses. This is easier than it sounds, but it requires more effort than the other alternatives and has a few potential drawbacks.

Creating a cement foundation requires laying out an area, smoothing it and building a temporary ‘container’ around the area you intend to pour. You’ll want to make it fairly smooth and level – not an easy thing to do unless you have a fair amount of experience pouring cement.

In the end, you’ll be left with a semi-permanent foundation which would be difficult to move or remove later if you change your mind about the location.

But a cement foundation will last longer and give you some options about heating. You could lay carpet or tile on top with heating tubes or wires underneath, for example. It’s easier to take care of and very sturdy. Cement floors also can absorb and reflect a lot of heat, which can be handy in a greenhouse.

Building a good cement foundation will require a couple of weekends. The materials, tools and construction plans are available at a hardware store or can be ordered online and delivered.

Beyond following the directions for mixing cement, creating the frame and properly forming the surface, the key is temperature and humidity. It’s important that you carry out the project when you expect moderate to warm temperatures, relatively low humidity and no rain.

Whichever option you choose, make sure you plan ahead. Make sure the floor is sturdy enough to support the benches, tables, pots and people that will be inside. After you have all that installed, it’s much tougher to replace flooring.