Caring for a Bonsai

Have you recently received a Bonsai tree as a gift, or are thinking about getting one to add a little green to your home? If so, you've come to the right place!

Bonsai Outlet is your source for healthy Bonsai trees online - and we want to help you keep your Bonsai healthy and thriving for years to come.

If properly cared for, a Bonsai tree can typically live for decades, or even longer. While care does vary from species to species and the kind of tree you have, there are many aspects of care which are similar across all species. So, in this guide, we'll be teaching you everything you need to get started in this ancient style that combines art and nature.

What is a Bonsai tree, exactly?

A Bonsai tree is simply a stunted or dwarf tree kept in a small decorative container, which prevents it from growing too big. In fact, the word "Bonsai" literally means "planted in a container" in Japanese.

While there are certain tree species which are closely associated with traditional Bonsai cultivation - such as the Japanese maple, Chinese elm, or Ficus retusa - there's no single hard definition of what types of tree are or are not "Bonsai trees." Basically, if you can fit it in a small pot and it still thrives, it can be a Bonsai. The explosion of interest in Bonsai around the world has resulted in many new trees being made into Bonsai, creating a thriving and innovative culture around their cultivation!

Typically - although not always - the owner of a Bonsai tree also trims it to fit a certain look, as well as using wires to bend the tree into desired shapes, which is called "training."

However, you don't need to start by trying to create a complicated masterpiece. Beginners should focus on the basics. Keep your first tree alive and happy, and then you'll be set to start experimenting with more complicated raising and training methods.

bonsai care supplies

How To Care For Bonsai Trees - So You Can Them Alive

A Bonsai plant can be like the easiest pet you've ever had. Most Bonsai tree species are hardy, especially if you get them from reputable Bonsai nurseries who properly care for them during their first few years. Typically, a Bonsai tree does not need much daily care - but always remember it is a living thing that still needs attention!

The most important aspects of care for bonsai trees are:

1. Water Your Bonsai

Probably the most common reason a certain type of bonsai tree dies is because it's been either under-watered or over-watered. Remember, your tree needs to be watered but with the appropriate amounts.

It's extremely easy for the soil your Bonsai lives in to become dried out, because it's a very shallow layer of soil. As a result, first-time owners are sometimes surprised at how quickly it can dry out, compared to plants kept in deeper pots.

However, over-watering can also be a problem. If the roots are saturated for too long, they can start to rot, or develop harmful molds or fungal infections. That said, some species of Bonsai trees actually form symbiotic relationships with Micorrhiza fungus. In those cases, fungus among the roots is good and necessary!

Every Bonsai tree species has different watering requirements, so it's important to pay attention to the care guide you get with your tree - or look on for our own care guides for the species we sell. For this reason, it's also a good idea to water each tree you own individually, according to its own needs, rather than trying to water all of them at once on some kind of schedule.

2. Bonsai Soil Quality

Like all rooted plants, Bonsai trees take most of their nutrients from the soil they're kept in. In most cases, you will need to periodically add fertilizer to the soil according to their nutritional needs.

Good Bonsai soil needs to have proper drainage. Rather than hard-packed soil, it should be a mixture of soil and larger particles - such as small volcanic stones - which allow water and nutrients to distribute through the soil.

Bonsai fertilizer typically revolves around adding nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil. However, the exact amounts will depend on the species.

One important note: never fertilize your Bonsai without watering it at the same time! The water is necessary to spread the nutrients around the soil. Otherwise, the Bonsai could take in too many of the fertilizing chemicals, too quickly, and become sick as a result.

3. Positioning and Placement of your Bonsai Tree

Like most plants, Bonsai trees require some level of sunlight to thrive. However, sunlight requirements vary greatly between species. Some Bonsai must be kept outdoors and given direct sunlight all day; others thrive in darker spaces and only need indirect sunlight, such as what they'd get indoors.

In addition, Bonsai trees will have specific temperature and humidity requirements, based on their area of origin. This can make ownership a challenge if you're raising a tree that comes from a significantly different biome than where you currently live. For example, if you have an outdoor Bonsai tree which cannot tolerate cold winters in your area, you may need to bring it indoors when the weather turns cold. The same could also be true for trees accustomed to colder temperatures, which would be scorched by hot southern summers.

For this reason, it's typically better for Bonsai newcomers to start with an indoor tree that has minimal sunlight requirements. This is one of the reasons that ficus trees are so popular. They're extremely hardy and can thrive in almost any indoor environment.

If you can take care of these three key aspects of Bonsai care: watering, soil maintenance, and proper placement, you should have no trouble keeping your Bonsai alive!

Pruning and Training Your Bonsai Tree Species

For many Bonsai tree species, pruning and training are largely optional, simply based on your own skill and aesthetic preferences. That said, some species do grow so quickly - or in areas where their leaves are constantly eaten by grazing herbivores - that they need periodic trimming to stay healthy.

There are two basic types of pruning: maintenance and structural.

Maintenance pruning means simply trimming away excess foliage or small budding branches to maintain the tree's overall health. This can also be a way of encouraging growth, since the pruning process stimulates growth of new buds, branches, and\or leaves.

Most Bonsai trees are hardy enough to tolerate periodic pruning whenever needed. However, as always, check a care guide first to make sure they don't have specific needs.

Structural pruning is more significant, involving cutting away large parts of the tree - either due to neglectful overgrowth, or to make a major change to its look. This should only be done when the tree is dormant, such as deciduous trees during the winter. However, we do not recommend beginners attempt structural pruning without plenty of preparation, because it can kill a tree if handled badly. Even if done well, it may take a tree a full year to entirely recover from the process.

The other way to affect your tree's shape is through training. This means using special wires to bend the trunk and branches into certain shapes. For example, windswept looks where the branches are all pulled to one side - as though they grew in windy mountains - are eternally popular. Or some variations, such as Bunjin designs, are even more extreme and creative.

You should probably keep your first Bonsai for at least a year before attempting training. Do plenty of research on how to properly train your species. Done incorrectly, it can damage or even kill the tree.

Bonsai Care Tips

Repotting your Bonsai Plant

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that your Bonsai tree will continue to grow in its pot, although very slowly. For this reason, you Bonsai will occasionally need to be repotted in a larger container. Growth rates, of course, vary by species, but you typically shouldn't need to do this more often than once every 3-5 years.

The basics of repotting are fairly simple:

1. Run a knife or similar tool along the sides of the bowl, to separate the soil from the bowl.

2. Carefully remove the entire root ball intact. Knock away loose dirt, but don't remove all of it.

3. Use shears to trim away the longest / oldest bits of root, as well as any that appear dead or rotted. These areas probably didn't get enough drainage in the previous pot.

4. Thoroughly clean out the new pot to ensure there are no contaminants.

5. Put down mesh squares over the drain holes in the new pot, so soil doesn't fall through.

6. Put down an initial layer of soil in the new pot.

7. Carefully place the tree in its new pot.

8. Fill in the rest of the space with new soil, and fertilizer if needed.

9. Water the new soil.

Bonsai Tree Care - FAQ

1. What is a bonsai tree?

A bonsai tree is a miniature tree that is grown in a small container or pot. It requires special care and maintenance to keep it healthy and aesthetically pleasing.

2. How do I take care of a bonsai tree?

To take care of a bonsai tree, you need to ensure it receives proper light, regular watering, pruning, and repotting when necessary. Each bonsai tree species has specific care requirements, so it's important to research the needs of your particular tree.

3. Can I grow a bonsai tree indoors?

Yes, you can grow indoor bonsai trees. However, it's important to choose tree species that are suitable for indoor conditions and provide them with the necessary light and humidity levels.

4. How often should I water my bonsai tree?

The frequency of watering your bonsai tree depends on various factors such as the type of tree, the climate, and the soil it is planted in. Generally, water your bonsai tree when the topsoil feels slightly dry, but avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot.

5. How should I prune my bonsai tree?

Pruning is an essential part of bonsai tree care. It helps maintain the desired shape and size of the tree. Use sharp and clean tools to trim back new growth, remove excessive branches, and shape the tree according to the desired style.

6. Can I keep my bonsai tree indoors and outdoors?

Some bonsai tree species can be kept both indoors and outdoors, while others are better suited to specific environments. It's important to know the specific care requirements of your tree to provide it with the best possible growing conditions.

7. How often should I repot my bonsai tree?

The frequency of repotting depends on the growth rate of your bonsai tree and the condition of its roots. In general, most bonsai trees benefit from repotting every 2-5 years, during the spring season.

8. What type of soil should I use

However, as always, check your tree's care guide to make sure it doesn't have special requirements. In particular, as mentioned above, be aware if your tree should or should not have fungal growth. Removing micorrhiza fungus if it's needed will kill the tree.

And those are the basics! Bonsai tree ownership, cultivation, and training are deep topics that people can spend a lifetime perfecting - but if you simply want a happy and healthy Bonsai tree, this is all you need to know.