Bonsai is the reproduction of natural tree forms in miniature. This art form has its origin in Japan and China where it has been practiced for centuries. Bonsai are grown in pots and are totally dependent on you for their care.
With proper care, your bonsai will remain healthy, beautiful and miniature for many years to come. Since your bonsai is a living miniature tree, it will increase in beauty as it matures through the years. The instructions below are just the basics and, therefore, I recommend that you purchase one of the many fine books available on the subject.
A bonsai is a living miniature tree and not a house plant; therefore, your bonsai must be maintained in a cool/cold environment during the winter season. As a guide, around Thanksgiving Day it is time to prepare your bonsai for its winter dormancy period which should last approximately three (3) months. This can be accomplished in several ways. One method is to bury your tree in the ground (preferably without the pot) up to the rim of the container and then mulch up to the first branch. It is best to choose a location that is protected from wind and sun, but not rain or snow. A second method which is also common is to place your bonsai tree(s) in an unheated garage or shed. During this time, your tree does not require light because it is in a dormant state; however, it will require watering approximately every two weeks. Throughout the spring, summer and fall your bonsai should be placed outside, such as on a patio, balcony, terrace, or in a garden. Once outside, your bonsai should be positioned where it will receive sufficient sun – morning sun and afternoon shade is best. A bonsai can be viewed best when it is placed approximately three to four feet high (eye level), such as on a table, wall or bench. A bonsai can and should be brought into the house on special occasions and displayed in a prominent place. Your bonsai should not remain inside for more than a few days at a time, as the atmosphere is detrimental to the health of your tree.
The watering of your bonsai must never be neglected. Apply water when the soil appears dry -- never allow the soil to become completely dry. If your bonsai is receiving full sun, it may be necessary to water once a day. This schedule may vary with the size pot, type of soil and type of bonsai tree you own. Evaluate each tree's water requirements and adjust your watering schedule to accommodate it. It is a good idea to use a moisture meter until you get to know the requirements of your bonsai tree. Watering should be done with a watering can or hose attachment which should dispense the water in a soft enough manner as not to disturb the soil. Water should be applied until it begins running out of the holes in the bottom of your pot. A good rain is usually a sufficient watering.
Fertilizing is also necessary if your bonsai is to remain healthy and beautiful. Since your bonsai is growing in such a small amount of soil it is necessary to replenish the soil's supply of nutrients periodically. Any general-purpose liquid fertilizer will do fine and is available at most garden centers. We suggest that fertilizers be used at half their recommended strength. Fertilizer should be applied at least once a month except during the winter. Your bonsai will also respond well to foliar feeding, with a water-soluble fertilizer applied every other month as a spray.
This brief explanation of basic care does not cover training. Training deals with the art of bonsai and should be thoroughly understood before undertaking -- or left to a professional. However, most of the true bonsai trees you find have already been through their training period, thus requiring only periodic trimming and pinching to remain miniature.
Trimming and Pinching
Trimming and pinching keep your tree miniature. Pinch and trim back the new growth to the farthest safe point. Never should all of the new growth be removed. A little should be left to sustain the health of the tree. Tropical and sub-tropical trees used for bonsai will require periodic pinching and trimming throughout the year. Since different trees grow at different rates, it is necessary to evaluate each tree’s rate of growth and adjust your trimming and pinching to accommodate it.
Repotting must be performed periodically on all bonsai when their root system has filled the pot. The reasons for repotting are to supply your tree with fresh soil, and to encourage a more compact root system. As a rule, most deciduous trees require repotting every two or three years, while evergreens only need to be repotted every four or five years. Since trees grow at different rates, this schedule will not always hold true, therefore, you should examine your tree's root system each year to determine if it has become pot-bound. In most cases, the potting process is easy and safe if performed properly and at the right time of the year. Repotting should be done in mid-summer. The tree, along with all of its soil, should be removed from the pot. The outer and bottom most fourth of the tree's root mass should be removed. This is done by raking the soil away then pruning back the roots. In most cases it is not good to prune back more than one fourth of the tree's root mass. After this, the tree can be placed back in its original pot or into another. The pot should have screen placed over the drainage holes. Then, a thin layer of small gravel is placed in the bottom of the pot for drainage purposes. On top of this gravel is placed the new fresh soil. Place a layer of well-draining soil which is sufficient enough to elevate the tree to its previous height in the pot. After placing the tree back in the pot, the area left vacant by the pruned root mass should be filled in with fresh soil. This fresh soil should be worked in around and under the root mass in such a manner as to avoid leaving any air pockets. After repotting, your bonsai should be thoroughly water. This can be achieved by submerging the entire pot in a tub of water. Moss or other ground covers can be used to cover the surface of the pot to help prevent soil erosion when watering.
Insects and Disease
Since your bonsai is a normal tree, only miniature, it can be treated for insects and diseases the same as any other tree. If you discover any insects or diseases, go to your local Walmart of Home Depot to buy a spray that kills insects but does not harm your plant.
How Often Should You Water? - When people walk into our nursery, this is, without exception, the most asked question. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. How often you should water a bonsai tree depends on several different variables: what type of tree is it, what time of year is it, where is your tree kept, where do you live, and more than a few others. Watering bonsai is a constant balance between too much and too little.
How Should You Water? - The "best" way to water is to first wet the soil a little, this will improve the soil's ability to absorb a larger volume of water, and then you should water thoroughly until the soil is saturated. Make certain that the entire soil mass gets wet - every time - you water and wait for the excess to run out of the drainage holes to be sure.
When Should You Water? - The "best" time to water is arguably early in the morning, before your bonsai begins its day of photosynthetic activities. However, it is important to be vigilant about its watering needs throughout the day, especially during the summer. Bear in mind that bonsai trees do not grow when the soil is wet and they do not grow when the soil is dry: it is only during the in between periods that your bonsai tree takes in water and nutrients. You also need to be aware of the amount of light your new bonsai is getting, the temperature of the room your bonsai is located in and the humidity levels of that immediate area. You also need to be realistic about your other life responsibilities, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of your bonsai. Work out a watering schedule that is realistically feasible. It makes no sense to schedule watering late in the morning, if you know that five days a week you're going to be out the door by 7 AM. Be practical or you and your bonsai will be sorry.
What Kind Of Water Should You Use? - Water your new bonsai with room temperature tap water, because cold water has the potential to shock its roots. If you have the ability and the time to collect rain to water, that is great, but it is unnecessary unless the water in your neighborhood is unfit to drink - and, if it is, you might consider moving yourself and your bonsai somewhere safer.
How Much Light Does A Bonsai Require? Providing the correct amount of light for your bonsai is crucial to keeping it healthy. However, there are no simple answers as to how much light bonsai trees in general "require". Light requirements are specific to the type of tree and are further dependent upon specific variations in the location they are kept - namely your home. It is a good idea to speak to your local bonsai supplier or a fellow bonsai enthusiast that has experience growing bonsai in a setting very similar to your own.
What Kind Of Light Is Best? - Sunlight is by far the best type of light for bonsai trees and most other living creatures on earth. As such, the brightest window in your home is arguably the best spot for your indoor bonsai trees. However, the brightest window in your home may be located next to the fireplace. So, in a case like this you need to find an alternative and more practical location and use some type of artificial lighting system.
What Kind Of Artificial Light Should You Provide? - A grow light and timer are a simple solution for providing additional light. Set your timer for 12 to 16 hours of supplemental lighting and position your bonsai within 1 to 4 inches of your light source.
Again, speaking to a local bonsai supplier or enthusiast is invaluable. If possible, visit their homes to actually look at their set up and ask questions.
Why Is Humidity Important For Bonsai? - Although indoor bonsai slow their growth in winter and do not need as much water, they still do require sufficient humidity. Humidity helps to reduce water loss through the processes of transpiration. Transpiration will have a negative effect on your bonsai's ability to retain water and remain healthy.
How Can Humidity Be Improved? - The sometimes dry climate of a home or apartment can be altered to benefit your bonsai tree. Placing your bonsai on a "humidity tray" filled with decorative pebbles, that should be kept wet at all times, will help increase humidity levels. Another solution is regular misting. Misting is the most common humidifying method. It has the additional benefit of removing dust from your bonsai, which blocks sunlight and interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Be sure to mist using room temperature water to avoid shock.
What Else Is Helpful To Prevent Dry Conditions? - Keep your indoor bonsai trees away from breezy doors, windows and heating sources, such as vents, radiators, and fireplaces; to
avoid quickly drying them out. While more sunlight is desirable, it may dry out your bonsai. So, maintaining a watering schedule during winter is just as important as during summer.
Why Do Bonsai Need Fertilizer? - Bonsai containers are a man-made environment. As such, they require you, in order to maintain the health and development of your bonsai, to provide, in addition to frequent watering, a regular dose of fertilizer to the soil or growing medium.
What Type Of Fertilizer Should You Use? - Feed your bonsai with a balanced fertilizer, 20-20-20, at quarter strength, every other week. The numbers 20-20-20 are the percentage, by weight, of the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) contained in that fertilizer. These elements, in addition to minor or trace elements, are necessary for cell division and enzyme processes that allow photosynthesis and the resulting growth to take place.
What Does N-P-K Stand For & What Does It Do? - N - Nitrogen is responsible for the size and amount of new growth and, to some extent, the green color of the leaves. Nitrogen is required for cell division and, also, protein manufacturing. P - Phosphorus is also necessary for cell division and is associated with good root growth and flowering. K - Potassium activates cell enzymes and is related with overall healthy cell activity.
Bonsai Fertilizer Notes - Always water your bonsai thoroughly before fertilizing and never use fertilizer on a dry tree.
Never fertilize a sick tree, as fertilizer is not medicine.
When you have finished a bottle of fertilizer, it is a good idea to purchase a different brand, as they all contain different amounts of trace elements and minerals. Exposing your bonsai to different amounts of these important trace elements and minerals is very beneficial.
If you are not sure how much fertilizer to use, follow the directions on the label and never use more than recommended.
Fertilizer is a good thing, but too much is a bad thing.