Bonsai trees are incredible plants and highly aspirational for gardeners that want to bring a touch of Japan into their homes. These trees have been a massive part of Japanese culture for centuries, and growers across the world still cherish them in all their forms.
However, caring for bonsai trees is far from easy. It takes a lot of skill and dedication to create the perfect regime for each individual tree and then stick with it for years to come.
In this guide, you will find lots of helpful tips on how to care for a bonsai tree, both indoors and outdoors. We will go through some of the most important considerations for their health and growth, such as their watering and feeding needs, pruning, and the act of re-potting. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of how to look after your bonsai specimens and whether this hobby is for you.
Table of Content
- Is It An Indoor Or An Outdoor Bonsai Tree?
- Indoor Bonsai Tree Care
- Creating The Best Conditions For Your Bonsai Tree
- Bonsai Tree Watering
- Adding Drainage To The Soil
- Feeding Your Bonsai Tree
- Pruning Your Bonsai Tree
- Repotting Your Bonsai Tree
- Outdoor Bonsai Tree Care
- Juniper Bonsai Care
- Considerations For Deciduous Bonsai Trees
- Other Things To Consider When Caring For A Bonsai Tree
Is It An Indoor Or An Outdoor Bonsai Tree?
Before we start looking at the important bonsai plant care information, you need to be sure if you have an indoor or an outdoor species. Some stunning tropical species can thrive indoors but won't be hardy enough outdoors.
Then there are the forest conifers and pretty deciduous trees that need to be outdoors. Get to know the origin and needs of a species before committing to owning one.
Indoor Bonsai Tree Care
Let's start with the indoor bonsai tree care tips, as these plants are some of the more popular. We aspire to grow and prune stunning little indoor trees that look beautiful in the home. But, it does take a lot of work to keep these plants healthy and looking great.
There are lots of great indoor bonsai tree species that you can bring into your home. Many will thrive with the right care and the ideal conditions. The Bonsai Ficus Ginsing is seen as a great place to start with indoor bonsai because it doesn't require too much work.
It is not a traditional shape when you think of manicured bonsai trees, but it is a fun plant to nurture with bulbous trunks and cute little leaves. Other bonsai growers like to work with Jade Plants and Hawaiian Umbrella Trees.
Creating The Best Conditions For Your Bonsai Tree
At the core of bonsai tree care, there are the same principles as with any other house plant. You need to make sure they are in the best possible place with the right conditions for healthy growth. This means the right amount of sunlight and humidity.
Bonsais like the sun, as long as it isn't blazing hot enough to dry them out and cause damage. They also like a good humid environment where they can get moisture from the air.
Both of these factors mean that it is a good idea to position your tree on a windowsill with just enough regular sunlight. The tree can pick up moisture with the window open, and you can also turn the tree into a beautiful feature on that ledge. Just make sure that the breeze from the window doesn't become a cold draught.
Bonsai Tree Watering
Watering bonsais is essential for their health and growth. But, there is a fine line between giving them too much and too little. Sadly, many bonsai die due to under-watering. This happens easily because of the shallow layer of soil in the bonsai container.
If the top layer feels dry, add water. However, they can't stay too wet either. Overwatering drowns roots and stops growth. Watch out for signs of yellowing leaves and shriveling branches.
Because there is such a fine line, it is a good idea to try one of these proven methods for testing soil dryness. Some people simply put their finger 2 inches or so into the soil and feel it. If it is completely dry at this depth then the tree needs a good drink.
Others prefer to do this with a chopstick. They leave it in the soil for 10 minutes and then see if there is any damp soil on it. It is a bit like sticking a skewer in a cake to see if it is done. Alternatively, you might want to invest in a moisture meter near the root ball for a more accurate reading.
Adding Drainage To The Soil
Drainage is important to stop the pot from becoming waterlogged and plants getting sick. That drainage comes from the particles in the soil, such as stones. Larger pieces allow water to drain through more easily than a compact soul.
Small stones are perfect for this, and while some people recommend specific lava rocks, you can use other bits of gravel and shingle. Of course, you need holes for the water to drain from the pot, as well as a dish to catch it all beneath.
Feeding Your Bonsai Tree
That soil also needs to be nutrient-rich with enough potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to feed the roots, and in turn encourage healthy growth. Therefore, you need a good feeding program with bonsai tree fertilizer.
You can add fertilizer as needed to wet soil - never to dry soil - but be careful not to overdo it. Get a quality bonsai tree fertilizer and use it as directed.
Some people prefer to use liquid fertilizer because it is so fast-acting and easy to use, while others like solid fertilizer for the way it slowly diffuses into the soil over time.
Figure out what works for you and stick to the right regime. Remember that these tropical and subtropical indoor bonsai probably need food weekly during the peak growing season and then monthly from fall to spring.
Pruning Your Bonsai Tree
There are two types of pruning - one for maintenance and one for structure. Structural comes into play when you have dormant trees that are more for aesthetic purposes than living plants to nourish and support.
Structural pruning is difficult to master and requires some invasive methods with wiring and pruning to get the look you want. Some people spend years mastering this and work on the trees tirelessly to create impressive creations.
As a beginner, you need to look at maintenance pruning instead. This is all about pruning the tree in the right place to encourage new growth elsewhere. This will create a better structure and healthier specimen.
Look at buds, leaves, and whole branches as needed. Flowering bonsai trees do better with a spring prune to encourage more flowers.
Repotting Your Bonsai Tree
With other plants, like house plants and container plants, you re-pot into a bigger container when it outgrows its space. Here, re-potting means maintaining the tree and improving the conditions to it can continue to thrive in a small container.
The main goal is to deal with the root system. This means removing excess mass and any areas with signs of rot or disease. Too many roots are problematic for a small bonsai. So, trim them down so your tree gets a more efficient water and food delivery system. From there, you can set up the pot with fresh soil and drainage, making sure to add more to fill those new gaps, and re-pot the tree.
The best time to do this is spring, so you can take advantage of the growing cycle. The tree stores less energy in the roots at this point so you aren't putting it in as much danger when cutting those roots away.
Young trees will require re-potting every 1-2 years depending on the variety. A good starting point is to look for any roots coming through the drainage holes, as this is a clear indication that the root mass is far too big.
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Outdoor Bonsai Tree Care
So far, we have looked at some of the important bonsai plant care tips for your indoor trees. But, many collectors prefer outdoor species. Some outdoor bonsai trees can offer a miniature version of stunning native trees while still allowing for that careful pruning and aesthetic appeal. Here are some more bonsai care tips for some of these beautiful outdoor trees.
Juniper Bonsai Care
The Juniper Bonsai Tree is a great choice for those starting out with bonsai because they don't require so much careful attention. You still need to be careful to get the conditions just right for optimal growth and health, and to keep an eye on their needs when it comes to water, feeding, and pruning. But, this tree is a lot more forgiving than some of the others.
Alternative options for evergreen outdoor bonsai include the Pine Bonsai Tree and Spruce Bonsai Tree. These beautiful conifers require year-round attention because there is no dormancy phase. But, this does mean ongoing deep greenery from a tree that resembles those in a wild forest.
Considerations For Deciduous Bonsai Trees
If you aren't sure about having an evergreen bonsai, you might prefer a deciduous bonsai tree, such as maple, elm, or the popular ginkgo tee. Maples may be a little harder to grow but will offer stunning color-changing leaves with the right care.
Because these trees are dependent on the seasons, they have to be outside to get the benefits of the changes in temperature and sunlight. This will trigger the color changes and the loss of leaves. Without this, the tree can't enjoy a healthy life cycle.
You can take them in during bad weather, but not for too long. Also, be careful not to fertilize too much. They won't need it in winter once the tree is dormant and all the leaves are gone.
Whichever outdoor bonsai tree you get, you need to be considerate of the weather conditions and the potential for harm. These trees are tougher and more resilient to temperate climates than the tropical indoor ones. Yet, they still have their limits. So, it is a good idea to bring the tree into a warmer and sheltered spot if there is a forecast for a cold snap or a storm.
Other Things To Consider When Caring For A Bonsai Tree
As you can see, there are different strategies and needs depending on the type of tree and its current condition. Therefore, it is a good idea to start dealing with each tree you have as an individual living being rather than part of a wider collection.
This means working on individual watering, fertilization, and re-potting systems based on tree type and condition. Don't simply put an indoor bonsai tree on the same schedule as other house plants.
On top of this, make sure to apply the same practices to individuals of the same species. Don't assume that both ficus bonsai trees need the same amount of water at the exact same time.
Finally, there is the factor of their lifespan. A well-loved mature bonsai tree can live for hundreds of years when continuously provided with proper care. They are trees after all and some of the longest-living examples in the wild are centuries old.
However, many home-grown indoor bonsai trees and even outdoor specimens won't make it anywhere close to this. Their owners will either pass them on, hand them to relatives that can't care for them, or just neglect them early on.
Learning How To Take Care Of A Bonsai Tree Isn't Easy, But It Is Rewarding.
The most important thing to take away from all of this is that the act of caring for bonsai trees requires dedication and patience. It will take time to learn how to create the best possible regimen for watering and feeding the trees. Then there are the skilled practices in pruning, maintaining, and re-potting the trees.
There is a good chance that you will make mistakes early on. But, you can easily learn from these and improve your methods. When you do, you will find that the act of watering the trees, pruning the leaves, and cultivating the flowers is both relaxing and rewarding. Treat them right, and these trees can provide a lot of joy for a very long time.
Looking for your first Bonsai tree? Check our Bonsai trees for beginners