Some Basics Bonsai Information #2

Some Basic Supplies

Along with tools, there are some basic supplies that you will need to produce your bonsai. These include pottery, soil, and training wire.


Bonsai pottery comes in many sizes and shapes. It is usually made of a clay material, although inexpensive plastic bonsai containers are available. Bonsai containers contain drainage holes in their bottoms so that excess water can drain from the container. Bonsai containers come in glazed and unglazed clay. Unglazed clay containers can be various shades of gray, dark green, or brown depending on the type of clay. Because bonsai pots contain drainage holes in the bottom, screens must be used to hold soil in the container.


The type of soil used to plant bonsai depends upon the type of tree planted. Evergreen trees typically enjoy more humus or pine bark in their soil than do tropical plants. Tropical plants commonly enjoy more sand in their soil. Our basic soil mixture is composed of the following:

1 part ProMix BX
1 part coarse sand
1 part Turface

Turface is a coarse clay material that is commonly used on baseball fields to manage water. Some other popular soil mixtures are as follows:

Mix A
50% River Gravel
35% Turface
15% Bark

Mix B
3 parts terragreen
2 parts peat
1 part soil

50% Sand
25% Leaf Mold
25% Earth

There are many types of soils and more and more additive options to choose from as you search around.  This can make soil and additive selection confusing. There are two very important key elements to keep in mind.  Make sure that your mix drains water well and make sure it contains organic material. 

Quick Note On Mass Produced Bonsai with Glued Stones on Top of the Soil

We receive quite a few questions regarding mass produced bonsai trees purchased at a good price from local superstores. While the trees themselves are ususally commonly used bonsai trees, the main concern pertains to the stones that are typically glued on the top of the soil. Here are a few of our thoughts and suggestions:

      • The stones on the top are used by the manufacturer to keep the soil in the pot during shipping and at the retailers location. We suggest that you remove them from the top of the soil. In our experience the stones make it difficult to water and it takes longer for the plant to dry down.
      • The soil used is typically a peat moss mix that is commonly used for house plants. It seems to hold water. We would suggest changing it out.
      • Typically the pots are plastic, although we have encountered a few ceramic pots. We would suggest buying a ceramic bonsai pot and a bag of bonsai soil. If you purchase a pot that is slightly larger than the current pot, it is very easy to transplant from the small pot to the larger pot with minimal effort.

Training Wire

Training wire is used to train the bonsai branches the way that you want them to grow. Wire is typically anodized aluminum or solid copper. The wire is placed on the tree wiring two branches together or a branch and the truck together, winding the wire in a 45 degree angle snug around the trunk and branches. Wire is removed within a few months before the trunk and branches begin to grow around the wire, creating undesirable wire marks. Snub nose wire cutters are available to cut wire close to the trunk and branches. The wire should be cut off in small sections and not unwound. Unwinding the wire can result in damage to the delicate branches.


Pruning and Design Guidelines

There have been more than quite a few books written on the pruning and design aspects of bonsai.  A handful of the many guidelines form the fundamental basics of bonsai.  Below we will outline a few of the most important guidelines.  For more in-depth explanations and to learn more we would suggest you further your readings in one of the many good books written on the art of bonsai, as this serves as only a brief overview.

Viewing Aspect

You may not realize at first glance, but bonsai is meant to be viewed in a certain position.  That is, a bonsai tree has a front, a back, a right side, and a left side.  How can you tell the difference?  The front shows an open truck line.  The front is typically free of branches sticking straight out from the trunk towards the viewer except for the very top, or apex, of the tree.  The back shows depth by extending branches from the back of the truck, the exact opposite approach as the front.  The sides show alternating branches.  The following is an example:

**Spruce Displayed at The National Arboretum in Washington DC

Pruning Basics

The following are some pruning basics to keep in mind while shaping and pruning your bonsai:

    1. Prune away branches and foliage around the base of the tree.   Usually about ¼ to 1/3 of the way up.
    2. Prune all branches and foliage from the inside of curves in the trunk of the tree.
    3. Prune foliage on the main branches that is located close to the truck.
    4. Prune branches and foliage that is pointing straight up, except for the top of the tree (apex).
    5. Prune all branches and foliage pointing straight down.
    6. Prune branches and foliage pointing straight forward from the truck and branches, except for the top of the tree.
    7. Branches should alternate from left to right to back or from right to left to back.  Branches should not be located straight across from one another.
    8. Pot in a porous well draining soil.

These are only a few of the many guidelines associated with the designing your bonsai.  They are important guidelines but it is important to also realize that beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder.  Have fun developing and training your bonsai and don’t get too wrapped up in the rules unless you plan to compete.  Unless you are planning on entering your bonsai in a competition, trim and design your bonsai so that it looks pleasing to you.
Have fun with your bonsai!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>