Buying Bonsai Containers

Having the right container is mandatory for the proper presentation of Bonsai. After all the word Bonsai means, “tree in a container.” 

Think of the container as the frame.  If you had a masterpiece you would want to frame it with a quality frame, but you wouldn’t want the frame to draw attention away from the masterpiece. It is the same with a Bonsai container, you want quality but the container should not draw attention from the tree.

Glazed vs. Unglazed?

In the Japanese tradition glazed containers were only used with flowering plants and the color of the glaze complimented the color of the flowers. However, now glazed containers are being used in other ways.

When buying glazed containers look at the quality of the glaze. Is the color even? Is the glaze free of drips, runs and small voids? Normally glaze is not applied to the inside or bottom of the container, but, as long as the container has good drainage, this really doesn’t matter.

The matching of a container to the tree is also an artistic choice. However, there are some general rules.

The health of the tree should always come first. No matter what the rules say, do not try to put a tree in a container that is too small for the good health of the tree. (It is possible to use a container that is too large for the health of a tree also. When this happens the soil stays too wet and root rot will frequently result.)

The depth of a container should be the same as the diameter of the trunk of the tree.

The length of an oval or rectangular container should be 1/3 greater than the longest dimension of the tree.

The best way to learn to match containers and trees is to study what others have done. Look at books and attends shows.  The various bonsai conventions usually have a display and sometime during the convention a visiting master will critique the trees on display. Sometimes these are free but there might be a charge. If there is a charge it might include a box lunch. The master will comment on the trees but also on the container. If you can, always ask about containers. When I attend a demonstration or workshop, I always ask how the master would pot the tree.

Lightweight plastic pots are sometimes used as training pots and bonsai stock purchased from a vendor might be planted in these. They usually have adequate drainage and are very inexpensive. However, because of the lightweight they are limited in the size of the plant they can accommodate. They are not as durable as a ceramic container.

Mica pots are heavy weight plastic and can be a viable choice as training pots for larger trees. They are also not as durable as a ceramic container.

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