|Customers inspect heavily fruited, bonsai kumquat trees at Tu Lien Village in Tay Ho District. The trees attract higher prices.— VNS Photo Truong Vi
HA NOI (VNS) — With Tet just around the corner, Tu Lien Village in Tay Ho District has seen many customers come looking for kumquat trees.
This year, buyers are particularly interested in bonsai kumquats as alternatives to traditional kumquats. While bonsai kumquats yield 50 per cent more profits, they require a lot of hard work and meticulous attention to grow.
The Manh, owner of a 3,600sq.m kumquat garden, used to grow traditional kumquat trees. However, he switched to the other variety in 2004 after noticing that customers usually preferred the bonsai types, which are smaller and grown in miniature clay pots.
He didn't succeed with his first try and the majority of his bonsai couldn't survive. After a lot of trial and error, he learned that careful preparation and planning were fundamental in growing bonsai kumquats.
Manh uses a mix of riverside earth, fertiliser and a few other materials that must be rich yet soft enough for the trees to grow. It must be further enriched in a garden for another year before it can be used.
The trees must be fed fertiliser and soybeans every 15-20 days in addition to being watered every day. Weaker trees require even more care, according to Manh.
This year, he successfully grew almost 400.
"Keeping them alive is just the first step. Growing them in the desired shape is the true test of a gardener's skill and patience," said Nguyen Xuan Loc, who has over 700 bonsai kumquats in his field.
Small metal strings are used to shape the trees, but applying too much force can break the trees, while keeping the metal strings on for too long can ruin their shape. This process takes up to a year. Then the trees can be sold.
"It's a delicate balance to maintain but it will come with experience. The worst part is that even if you did everything right, it only counts for 10 per cent. The rest is up to the weather," he said, explaining that too much sun or rain could also kill the trees.
When it does pay off, it's good money. The price varies from VND700,000 (US$33) to VND30 million ($1,400) but most are sold for about VND2 million ($100). Some rare trees are not available for sale but can be rented for a short while.
Both gardeners said business has been good this year, as they had sold 70-80 per cent of their trees.
President of Tu Lien's Farmers Association Ngo Thi Nga said that roughly 400 households in the village were growing kumquat trees but only about 20 knew how to grow the bonsai types.
The association is planning to create a co-op group to help disseminate useful information and provide support for gardeners looking to switch to growing bonsai kumquats.
During the holiday season, vendors have taken advantage of the high demand by selling low-quality or fake bonsai trees.
Do Huu Vinh, born-and-raised in Nghi Tam, Ha Noi, is the owner of a well-known bonsai shop on Giang Vo street.
Vinh said that over the last few years many fake-bonsai vendors haven't had problems selling out their stock because they offer such cheap prices.
Vinh said, in his 20 years of bonsai trading experience, that bonsais trees that are most often faked or artificially enhanced are the sung, hai duong (amplexicaul tea), loc vung or hoa tra my plants.
Vinh said fake bonsai traders can now apply a variety of superficial treatments to the substitute plants to fool customers. For example, they glued bunches of sung fruits to the branches of other plants with a special glue, used steel wire to graft branches to fake tree trunks and topped it off with fake resin detailing. Vinh said it is difficult to grow and care for bonsai trees.
"It takes a long time, at least three months to have a real bonsai tree growing," he said, adding that, "fake trees will die or spoil and fall apart quickly, so vendors will sell these plants at any cost."
He said that if buyers check the flowers and the roots carefully, "it's won't be difficult to discover traces of glue or thin steel wires."
Tran Viet Anh from Thanh Luong, Ha Noi said his wife bought a hai duong bonsai tree (camellia amplexicaulis) for VND120,000 ($5.7), three times lower than the first asking price of the vendor.
At first sight the tree was eye-catching, Anh said, but after he carried the flowerpot the short way to the corner of his street, many of the flowers had fallen off.
"We found out that two-thirds of the flowers and buds were glued," he said, " We can't claim damages from the vendor because no one knows where he is."
His wife added that she was not the only one tricked because she saw at least five customers buying the same bonsai trees.
Mai Tien Thi, owner of a bonsai shop on Hoang Hoa Tham street, where one can find one of the biggest bonsai trading areas in Ha Noi, said farmers have to spend a lot of time growing fruitful bonsai trees. The trees require well-sized flowerpots, special soil, fertilisers and attentive watering.
The price of a beautiful bonsai can be several millions of dong, he said. A fake or artificially enhanced bonsai vendor can create tens of fake bonsai pots a day, so it can be sold at any price. — VNS