Tips on Bonsai Tree Care
Bonsai trees are not necessarily trees. Bonsai (pronounced bone – sigh) is a gardening art form that originated in China more than a thousand years ago. Made popular worldwide by Japanese bonsai masters, this gentle art form is being taken up by more and more urban gardeners. Bonsai projects meet a yearning to grow things for people without yards. With bonsai, you can grow a tree on your coffee table. How cool is that?
Know Your Bonsai Plant
- While most bonsai are trees, some are actually plants. Knowing the species of your bonsai and its characteristics is the first step to caring for it properly. The variety of your plant will determine the kind of soil it needs, how much water and sun it requires and what sort of shapes you can achieve when you sculpt its branches and leaves. Collect all the information you can about your variety of bonsai before you head to the garden center for supplies.
- The type of tree will determine the soil required for healthy growing. A Chinese elm will require a different pH balance to the soil than, say, a juniper or cedar variety. Take your information to the gardening center folks and let them help you find the perfect potting soil for your particular tree. If you are going to spend a little more on anything to insure the health and longevity of your plant, here’s the place to spend it.
- You will need a good water-soluble fertilizer for your bonsai. Again, take all the information you can collect about your bonsai to the garden center with you. Let them help you find the fertilizer that has the proper nutritional balance for your specific bonsai. Apply the fertilizer twice a month according to directions. Make sure the soil is moist and loose when you apply it.
Light and Temperature
- Choose the placement of your bonsai well. Know the light requirements for your particular species and place it accordingly. Most like morning sun and afternoon shade. Some can handle full sun. Many cannot. The temperature in the room should never be lower than 55 degrees for tropical or subtropical species and never above 100 degrees for any of them. The brutally dry indoor heat can kill a bonsai in short order. Find a peaceful, comfortable and secure place that suits you and your tree.
- A couple of times a week, stick your finger into the soil of the pot up to your knuckle. If the soil feels almost totally dry, water the plant. Water until you see drops appear at the bottom of the pot, then stop. Wait until the plant is almost dry before you water again. This way, you will not over-water and drown your plants. Yes, I said drown! Too much water can fill up the fibers of the plant and shut down photosynthesis. Don’t let it wither either, but over-watering is usually what kills bonsai.
Pick a Good Pot
- You may re-pot your bonsai 3 to 5 times during its life. Choosing the appropriate pot is more than just color and design. The width of the pot should be about 2/3 the height of the tree from the soil. The depth of the pot should be at least half the height of the tree. The pot should drain well and be stable. A bonsai can easily be broken falling onto a hard surface and months of work would be lost.
- Read up extensively on pruning techniques. The idea with bonsai is to carefully train the plant to grow in the direction you have chosen for it by trimming stems, limbs and leaves to force it to grow into an attractive sculpted shape. This may require special tools and techniques developed by ancient bonsai masters. Get all the advice and information you can so your pruning efforts will succeed. Don’t forget, when the plant becomes root-bound and the roots adhere to the sides of the pot, you’ll need to trim the root ball as well. Learn how trimming your species