Perhaps, you’re one of those people who’s instantly smitten by the beauty of bonsai trees. Well, we cannot blame you because this living art is indeed spectacular. Everyone would love to own one and if you’ve reached that point where you’re ready to bring a bonsai tree home, then this article is for you.
A bonsai tree is too precious to lose so keep reading and we’ll give you valuable tips on how to properly care for bonsai trees. Here are some of the basic things you have to know as a new bonsai tree owner.
What is Bonsai Tree?
History and Origin
A bonsai is an art form that has been existing for centuries. Its origin can be traced back to China but it was the Japanese who redeveloped and pursued this art under their own style. The Chinese were then creating miniature landscapes and from there, the Japanese got the idea to create their own in the form of single trees. Thus, bonsai is more popularly known as Japanese art.
Bonsai is now popular internationally. The term itself literally means “planted in a container”. They make use of various shrub or tree species which they train using certain methods like pruning and tying. That way, the original shape of the tree is achieved but it comes as a smaller or dwarfed version.
Bonsai trees can live up for hundreds of years given proper care and maintenance. In fact, its lifespan is 25% longer than the same tree species planted in a natural way. If you can keep your tree in good shape, it will be a good tradition to pass it down from one generation to another.
Styles of Bonsai
Bonsai have different styles which are mainly based on the orientation of the plant. Following are the most common styles of bonsai you’re most likely to encounter.
Also known as the formal upright style, this bonsai is oriented straight upward. A bonsai tree with a chokkan style has a think trunk at the bottom and a thinner one at the top. This style is best achieved when there’s plenty of light provided.
Termed as an informal upright style, this one follows an upright orientation just like chokkan. However, the trunk below is not entirely straight. Rather, it has some curves that the tree resembles the letter “S” shape.
This style gives the bonsai tree a slanted appearance. The tree would look like it’s leaning towards a particular side as if blown by the wind. This style requires that you grow the tree at an angle of 60 to 80 degrees with respect to the ground.
Types of Bonsai
Not all bonsai are meant for indoor care. There’s a type of bonsai that is more suited to an outdoor setting. Whether yours is an outdoor bonsai or an indoor bonsai depends on the kind of species it is and the growing requirement it needs to thrive.
Most tropical species are suited for indoor care. These plants don’t need to be exposed in cold periods which makes them more suitable to the climate inside your home. Examples of trees you can care for indoors are Ficus, Crassula, Carmona, Schefflera arboricola, and Sageretia.
Some species of trees are acclimated to experiencing the four seasons. That makes them more suited to an outdoor environment. Olive, Pomegranate, Fuschia, Chinese elm, Mulberry (Morus), Corkbark oak, and Chinese privet are those suited for outdoor care.
Quick Care Summary
Generally, a bonsai tree will need the same growing conditions as the normal trees require. It means that you need to know what species you are using for bonsai. Plus, you need to learn the kind of environment where it naturally lives to be able to mimic that condition.
To give you a quick glance at the basic things about bonsai care, here’s a summary of the things you have to keep in mind:
Lighting – Bonsai trees need an ample amount of light. Place it in a location where it receives full-day sunlight or artificial light.
Watering – Water is much needed in caring for bonsai trees maintained in small pots. Make sure to water regularly so the trees will not end up getting dehydrated and wilted.
Pruning – Prune regularly to maintain the tree’s miniature size. Cut down new growths, long shoots, and undesirable branches according to the desired shape and style.
Fertilizer – Regularly feed the bonsai to supply essential nutrients that will promote growth. Use either granular or liquid fertilizers.
Repotting – Pot bound bonsai trees need repotting from time to time. Repot to a larger container once you notice that the bonsai is outgrowing its pot.
Humidity – Maintain a condition with high humidity for bonsai trees to thrive. Do regular misting especially when the air gets too dry.
Bonsai Tree Care Tips
It’s important that you supply your bonsai tree with sufficient light. This will encourage the growth of your miniature tree. Lack of light will cause the tree to grow leggy in an attempt to look for any light source.
For indoor bonsai, place it near a south-facing window. If the light intensity is still too low, you may opt to supplement using artificial light sources such as a fluorescent lamp.
For outdoor bonsai, exposure to full sun is preferred. They will look best when they receive ample light. day by day. During summer when light intensities are too strong, you can use shades to protect your bonsai from scorching.
There’s no exact rule when to water your bonsai. Instead, you need to consider several factors such as light, humidity, temperature, and soil mixture. The best way to know when to water is to observe the bonsai soil.
Dip your finger a few centimeters into the soil. If you still feel its moisture, then watering isn’t needed. If the condition is otherwise, then you go water the bonsai. Keep in mind that the soil must not remain wet nor too dry.
To avoid having problems with water retention, use the right soil mixture at the beginning. Bonsai soil mixes are available commercially. You can also mix your own but you have to be familiar with the proper ratio to ensure a good mix.
Pruning and Trimming
Pruning is one of the most tedious works in maintaining bonsai trees. The achievement of the proper style and shape of your bonsai will depend largely on your pruning and trimming. There are two types of pruning: one is maintenance and the other is structural.
Maintenance pruning is basically trimming down branches, leaves, and shoots so that the tree will adhere to its existing shape. You can do this all year round whenever you see some growths that seem out of proportion. In some trees, you’ll need to use pruning shears to cut down unwanted growths while in some species, pinching is enough.
Structural pruning is more dedicated to establishing the shape and style of the bonsai trees. In this type of pruning, you’ll be cutting down the main branches or trunks to redirect the bonsai to its intended shape. This is where your artistry and skills are most needed.
The perfect time to do structural pruning is early spring or late autumn. You can cut back up to 1/3 of the foliage. Make sure to seal the wound with a paste that’s intended for that purpose.
Fertilizer and Soil Conditions
Another important aspect of bonsai tree care is fertilizing and maintaining a good soil condition. Imagine planting a whole tree in a pot where the roots have limited space to access nutrients and water. It’s important that you make these nutrients available by supplementing them with fertilizers.
Indoor bonsai needs consistent fertilization using a balanced, liquid fertilizer. Bonsai trees kept outside need different feeding ratios depending on the season. Much nitrogen is needed during the growing season, a more balanced ratio of NPK during summer and lower nitrogen during autumn. No fertilizer should be added in winter.
Overfertilization is a common mistake in plants planted in small pots. This problem leads to brown tips in leaves and in worse cases, the death of the plant. To avoid such, always follow the exact recommendation in the label of your bonsai fertilizer and exactly follow the instructions of the application.
The condition of the soil also affects the mobility and availability of nutrients. The type of soil to use differs depending on the tree species. But generally, the bonsai soil should have good water retention, good aeration, and good drainage.
To achieve such, combine 1/2 akadama, 1/4 pumice, and 1/4 lava rock for the deciduous trees. For conifers, these three components should be mixed in equal parts to achieve a suitable bonsai soil mix.
Bonsai trees also need repotting from time to time. As your bonsai grows, it will extend its root system filling in the entire pot. The soil gets depleted and the supply of nutrients and water will be limited by this condition. If your bonsai tree has stopped growing and you observe that it is already pot bound, then it’s time to repot the tree to another container.
Bonsai trees that are smaller in size and have a slow growth habit will need less frequent repotting, around three to five years. Those tree species that grow fast and are larger in size will need repotting more often, say every two years or less.
The best time to repot your bonsai is during spring. To do so, carefully take the tree out from its existing container. Remove the remaining soil from the mass of the roots, careful not to damage the root system. Cut the dead portions of the roots as well as those extensions that are quite long.
Prepare the soil mixture in the new pot. Place the tree in the container and secure using wires. Fill in the spaces with the remaining soil ensuring that the bonsai is tightly secured.
Water the newly repotted bonsai. Saturate the soil of the bonsai tree so all the roots have access to it. Drain the pot until no excess water remains stagnant.
High humidity is needed by the bonsai trees especially the tropical and subtropical species. The generous level of moisture in the air helps prevent the tree from drying out. However, this can be a struggle if you keep your tree inside your home.
To augment the lack of humid air, daily misting may be necessary. If you want to save time and you have an available humidifier, then it would be beneficial to turn it on. The downside though is that it will require an additional cost on your end.
Another effortless solution is to install a pebble tray at the bottom of your bonsai plant. What you can do is put pebbles on a tray. Then, fill it with water in such a way that half of the pebbles are submerged.
Place the pot of your miniature tree on top of the pebbles. The water that evaporates adds moisture around the bonsai tree. Clean the tray and refill water from time to time and ensure that the water does not touch the bottom of the pot.
How do you take care of a bonsai tree for beginners?
If you’re a first-timer and you’re quite lost on how to take care of your bonsai tree, that’s fine. We all have our first times and we learn in the process. The first step though is to do your own research.
Know the species of your bonsai tree. Tropical and temperate species would need different care and maintenance practices. Determine the ideal growing conditions for that particular tree species including light requirement, watering needs, humidity levels, and temperature preferences.
Choose the best location where the growing conditions are ideal and place your plant there. Conduct regular pruning and fertilizing. When needed, conduct repotting to keep the bonsai plant healthy.
How much sun does a bonsai tree need?
Bonsai trees need a lot of light. Their capacity to create their own food is determined by the amount of light they receive daily. Lack of light will cause the plant to starve and die in the long run.
Whether inside or outside, your bonsai needs at least five to six hours a day. Full-day sunlight would be best. If lacking, you can always supplement an artificial light for at least 10 hours.
Can a bonsai tree survive inside?
There are bonsai trees that are suitable indoors. It depends on the tree species used for bonsai art. Tropical and subtropical species are best for indoor settings. Temperate species will best work when placed outside.
The environmental condition inside your home is good for tropical species because they don’t need exposure to the four seasons. For temperate species, it is needed. In choosing what type of bonsai plant to buy, consider first the species of the tree.
How long do bonsai trees last?
Bonsai trees can last for centuries given that they are well-taken care of and maintained. The five oldest bonsai in the world have been living for 1000, 800, and 400 years already. One of them which is known as the Japanese White Pine even survived the Hiroshima bombing way back in 1945.
Of course, for these trees to last this long there has to be patience and hard work. It’s important that the owners of every generation give extra dedication to keeping the plant healthy and beautiful.
What are some good bonsai trees for beginners?
If you’re just starting in your bonsai care journey, it would be better to start with the tree that is easiest to tend to. That is the ficus bonsai tree. Ficus retusa and Ficus Ginseng are the two of the most popular in the genus.
This type of bonsai is suitable indoors. It requires regular watering, bright light, and twice a week fertilizing. Pruning and training this plant is also easy because it is flexible.
Can Bonsai be created from any plant?
Woody trees and shrubs can be created as bonsai. There are desirable characteristics that render a plant suitable for bonsai art. One is that it must produce true branches.
The plant must also bear small leaves so that it would look aesthetic when grown in a small pot.