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Growing, shaping Bonsai trees a year-round hobby

Mike Wojick works with a plant which he started in 2021. He carefully tends to each plant, encouraging growth and shaping at it matures. Note the netting overhead; the purpose is to offer partial shade for plants that may be sensitive to full sunlight.  He had the shade netting during the hottest months of the summer to keep the leaves from burning. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery.


About 15 years ago, Mike Wojick of Hannibal took up a new hobby - that of growing Bonsai trees.

Wikipedia describes Bonsai as the Japanese art of growing and shaping miniature trees in containers.

During the ensuing decade and a half, he has attended conventions, taken courses, associated with others who have similar interests and practiced trial-and-error techniques associated with Bonsai.

“You can turn almost any tree or a bush that has small leaves into a Bonsai,” he said. For example, a Japanese maple. “You can force the leaf to reduce, and cultivate it down to where the leaves are small.”

In June, he said, he removes almost all the leaves on his tropical Ficus trees, which forces the tree into producing new branches and smaller leaves.

As for the trunk, “you want a big trunk, to make it look old.” He uses wire to keep the trunk and branches in a certain position, then bends the branches so they look like a tree, but small.”

In July, he starts wiring Junipers, then removes the wires later to keep the bark from scarring.

To date, he has more than 50 Bonsai trees. “Every time I go to an auction, I come home with more,” he said. He also propagates his own plants. “I will cut a branch off of an existing plant, put it in hormone powder and stick it in a pot.” He keeps it watered, “and it will sprout roots.”

While he keeps most of his Bonsai plants outdoors, some can be kept in the house all year around.

Junipers, he said, are not meant to be inside. He kept his first two junipers inside in the winter, and they both died.

Tropicals, he said, can’t tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees at night. They are typically grown in glazed pots, and temperatures of 28 degrees will freeze the pots. 

In the winter, he puts the junipers into a room with windows on three sides. “In May, I’ll bring them outside.”

He takes the pine trees into the garage in the winter, watering them about every 10 days.


Bonsai conventions take place all over the world, he said, including St. Louis every four to five years. There are well-known instructors who give classes at these conventions, such as for air learning. 

“Air learning is where you take a tree and take a branch on the tree, strip the bark down to the ambient, put hormone stimulator, wrap it in dirt or moss rapid, and within 6 to 9 months it should generate a new root to be able to be separated and get a second Bonsai.”

That said, you  can take a normal bush, and shape it into a Bonsai.

With a Bonsai, the more branches it has, the prettier it will look.

One trick he has learned is to bleach a plant’s trunk with sulfur. “Juniper is a great tree to kill a branch strip off the bark, and then when it dries out bleach it with sulfur.  Most pine trees, you can do this to,” he said.

“It turns white and looks like it is 100 years old,” Wojick said.

His Bonsai plants include bald cypress, orange trees, Rocky Mountain junipers, and a Colorado blue spruce. 

He uses Akadama clay fired dirt from Japan as pot soil.

The hobby of Bonsai, “It’s so relaxing,” he said.  “As you get older, you figure what hobbies you can do. At 70, I’m still learning stuff,” he said.

Over the course of 15 years, Mike Wojick of Hannibal has learned various techniques to turn ordinary plants into Bonsai trees. This example is 15 years old, and he has learned how to make the trunks look old, how to add roots to the trunk, and how to perpetuate small leaves and multiple branches. The goal is to make the small plant look like an old tree. He has some 50 Bonsai plants in his collection. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery


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