Bonsai tree care is easier than you might think. Bonsai, which literally means “tree in a tray”, is the art of growing artificially small trees or shrubs. While this art originated in China, it is mostly associated with its colorful Japanese history. Bonsais were popularized by Japanese Buddhist monks who wanted to bring a piece of the outdoors into their temples.
The tradition of bonsai tree care has been around for thousands of years. And the aim has always been the same. The goal is to create miniature versions of trees by controlling their environment. And maintaining the same genetic properties as their full-sized counterparts is a big part of the goal.
Bonsai tree experts pride themselves with decades of experience, but they started somewhere too. Caring for a bonsai takes time, dedication, patience, and lots of learning. Here are some basic tips to start you on your fulfilling bonsai journey.
Tip # 1: Choose how you want to get your bonsai tree.
There are two ways to procure a bonsai tree — either grow it from seed or buy one.
Growing your own bonsai from bonsai tree seeds takes about 3-5 years. If you don’t have the time or patience for it, then it’s best to purchase one. You may buy a pre-shaped plant or one that you’ll need to shape.
However you choose to get your bonsai tree, read on for tips to guide you. We’ll get you growing your plant to be the abundant little tree that it is meant to be.
Tip # 2: Choose a Bonsai tree that’s suitable for beginners.
Bonsai trees are different from one another. They have their own whims and preferences. Some types are more high maintenance than others and are not suitable for new bonsai owners. Here’s a list of bonsai trees that new owners should consider:
- The Chinese Elm bonsai is a great option for new bonsai owners. It’s one of the most popular types of bonsai, because it’s easy to care for and sight to behold. It’s a resilient, slow-growing plant that allows you ample time to learn about its preferences without getting sick too quickly.
- The Ficus bonsai grows well indoors, thus making it a top choice for many new bonsai tree owners. Like the Chinese elm bonsai, it is rather tough against underwatering, which could be dangerous for other types on bonsai.
- The Juniper bonsai is the most popular type of bonsai. As such, you will easily find it in nurseries, gardens, and online plant sellers, like Amazon. It’s perfect for new bonsai owners because it’s affordable, sturdy, and easily available.
Tip # 3: Determine whether your bonsai tree is an indoor or outdoor plant.
This might seem simple, but not knowing your plant’s sunlight, humidity, and water needs is a common cause of damage. In fact, improper bonsai tree care often leads to their untimely demise. Before making any other decisions about your bonsai plant, determine first whether it is an indoor or outdoor plant.
For reference, the Chinese Elm bonsai, Ficus bonsai, and Juniper bonsai can thrive either as indoor or outdoor plants.
Tip # 4: Water it right.
Just like with other plants, the right amount of water is essential in caring for a bonsai. Because of their forced small height, we plant bonsai trees in shallow soil. This makes it easier for them to dry out.
Different types of bonsai plants require different amounts of water, so it’s best to water them individually. As a rule, water a bonsai plant as soon as the topsoil is dry. However, some varieties require daily watering. When the top surface is dry, wet the whole pot of soil until water spills over from the drainage holes. Repeat this process as needed.
Underwatering your bonsai tree will leave it parched. Overwatering, on the other hand, will cause its branches to wither and leaves to turn yellow.
Tip # 5: Choose the right soil for your Bonsai tree.
Caring for a bonsai tree properly includes specific soil that drains water but retains moisture well. Use organic bonsai soil with components that are large enough for oxygen to pass through.
The ideal combination for your bonsai’s soil is one with Akadama — a baked Japanese clay — pumice, and lava rock. These components can be combined with organic compost like peat moss. Add dollops of sand into the mix to improve the soil’s drainage. Overwatering can cause damage to your bonsai tree, and the type of soil you have can help prevent that.
Tip # 6: Use fertilizer when necessary.
Bonsai trees have shallow soil which allows for little space for nutrients and oxygen. So, most types need quality bonsai fertilizer to survive.
The three main components for good bonsai fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). These ingredients contribute to a plant’s overall health and aid in photosynthesis. So, they need to be present for your plant’s optimal growth. Fertilize your plants weekly during growing season and monthly during the winter. High quality liquid fertilizers are easy to find and easy to use.
Tip # 7: Know when to repot your Bonsai tree.
When you see that your bonsai plant’s roots are growing out of the container, check them. If they have completely taken the shape of the container, it’s time to repot your plant. Excess roots can cause your bonsai plant to starve, taking necessary nutrients away from the rest of the plant.
The time to repot differs with each variety, but it’s usually about 2-5 years when repotting is necessary.
Here’s a guide for repotting your bonsai tree:
- Remove roots that have grown too long, but make sure not to cut more than a quarter of the roots.
- In a clean pot with proper drainage, place mesh over the holes. Place your Akadama, pumice, lava rock, peat moss, and sand mixture into it.
- Fill air holes and gaps with the soil mixture.
- Water as usual.
Tip # 8: Prune it!
Caring for a bonsai plant involves a lot of pruning — it is essential in maintaining the plant’s health and compact size.
For health purposes, take out branches that are too thick, along with unhealthy shoots and leaves. This is especially important for anything that keep other parts of the plant from getting enough sunlight.
In keeping your plant small and maintaining its shape, let your artistic side go wild. Many people prefer mimicking the growth and shape of the plant’s full-sized counterparts. But there’s no rule in creating your own beautiful bonsai plant. Later, you can also learn about using bonsai wire to bend stems into the shape you want.
Bonsai Tree Care – A Final Word
Bonsai trees are said to symbolize peace, strength, and life itself. If properly cared for, they can be passed on from generation to generation, lasting for decades or even centuries. It takes a lot of time and effort to grow your own bonsai tree. But having such a thing of beauty and resilience in your home is truly worth it.