Bonsai Tree Care – 8 Tips for Beginners (with infographics)

Are you confused about how to care and maintain your bonsai tree? Well, here in this article I  have covered the basic steps of bonsai tree care. If you are a beginner, then I am sure you will have tonnes of questions about how to maintain and care your beloved bonsai. I can tell you from my personal experience, you will be overwhelmed by the contents available in internet.

So here I  have tried to cover 8 basic questions that every bonsai gardener will have. This infographics will be a good reference for beginners. It gives you step by step instructions for beginners on how to grow and maintain bonsai trees.

Bonsai Tree Care Infographics

1. How and when to water my bonsai?

Understanding how and when to water a bonsai is the most toughest part of bonsai tree care. Each plant is unique and water demand is different. It also varies based on type of plant, location, climate in which it is grown and type of soil used. So as a good bonsai enthusiast, first step you should do is to try to understand and read the demands of your tree.

bonsai watering tips

There is no strict schedule or formula for how often to water bonsai. You need to decide the timing based on the rate at which the top soil is getting dry. It depends on season, temperature, type of soil used and plant species. Plants need more water during growing season, demand will be less during dormant season. During warm and sunny summer season water will get dry fast, so plan to replenish more often. Choose a plant which can be grown in your existing climate. So don’t choose a wrong plant and you might end up killing them.

Techniques used to determine when to water:

  • Insert a finger to the top soil and check out the dampness of soil.
  • Second method is a scientific one. Get a soil moisture sensor from a garden store and use this to determine the moisture level.

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Tips:

  1. Best time to water the bonsai tree is early in the morning when the sun is just coming up.
  2. During winter season, which is the dormant season for most of the trees, it is a good practice to water once in a week as the demand during this time is less. Overwatering during this time will lead to destruction of plant roots.
  3. During summer season, when temperature rises for a prolonged period, plants will shut off its respiratory mechanism to minimize the water loss. This period is known as summer dormancy, when plants stops growing to conserve water. So watch out for temperature outside before you water your tree during summer.
  4. If you are growing a bonsai indoor, humidity will be a noticeable factor. Humidity which is best for humans will not be suitable for bonsai. Its good to have mister or sprayer filled with water at room temperature. Apply them on the bonsai leaves at regular intervals.

References:

2: Do I need to use fertilisers for my bonsai?

bonsai fertilisers tips

Yes of course. Since the bonsai plant is growing in a small pot, it cannot spread its roots to gather all nutrients required. Its required to provide the essential nutrients for proper growth and health of plant. This is one of the fundamental steps in bonsai tree care.

Nitrogen(N), Phosphorous(P) and Potassium(K) are major nutrients required for any plants. Nitrogen is essential for proper growth and green colour of leaves. Phosphorous helps in root growth and potassium helps in cell regeneration, fruit and flower production. The ratio of N:P:K is usually decided by type of plant and season of growth.

Tips:

  • Fertilise during the growth season of plant for outdoor bonsai. Its good to fertilise indoor bonsai through out the year, but vary the ratio based on demand.
  • Buy fertiliser specific for bonsai plant from bonsai stores, instead of preparing by yourself.
  • To stimulate more growth use high nitrogen ratio, 12:6:6 is an ideal ratio for spring season for outdoor bonsai.
  • During summer the growth rate of plant reduces due to summer dormancy, a ratio of 10:10:10 is good.
  • During dormant season, reduce the nitrogen content; so a best ratio will be 3:10:10 for outdoor bonsai.
  • For indoor bonsai, a ratio of 10:10:10 is recommended throughout the year.
  • Never over feed the plant because it will have reverse effect and kill your bonsai.
  • Its a good practice to water the bonsai before fertilisation for uniform distribution of solid fertilisers.

Reference:

3: What’s the best temperature for my bonsai?

Temperature becomes a prominent factor for your indoor bonsai. Select a tree suitable for your climate and get rid of the implications due to temperature change. For example, attempting to grow a Japanese maple bonsai tree in tropical climate will be a disastrous. Here you will get a complete species guide from bonsai empire, so choose a right tree for your location.

Tips:

  • Check temperature and humidity at regular intervals. Change the location of indoor bonsai pot based on temperature. Move your indoor bonsai closer to window during day time so that it gets sunlight for at least 5hrs a day.
  • Outdoor bonsais also need optimal temperature. Based on the season, adjust the bonsai pot location so that it gets enough sunlight for its growth.
  • Avoid keeping in direct sunlight for prolonged periods during summer season. It will quickly lead to leaves turning yellow.

Find a list of species which can be grown indoors : Bonsai tree species guide for indoor and here is a list of bonsai tree for beginners from BonsaiMary .

4: Can I choose any soil for my bonsai?

Bonsai soil tips

Choosing the right recipe of potting soil for bonsai plant is a vital step in bonsai tree care and it is a much debated topic. The components for making bonsai potting soil mixture depend on various factors. You should consider the availability of soil components locally. Growing conditions i.e: climatic condition and  pH of the soil mixture is another factor.

An ideal soil mixture would be one in which all the ingredients will be of uniform size, so that it will help in quick drainage of water and proper aeration.

We need to understand the fact that there is no soil in bonsai soil mixture.  The components used to create a good potting mixture are, in fact, soilless. They are designed to provide an ideal environment for root growth. In fact the mixture used for bonsai potting doesn’t contain any nutrients. It can neither hold moisture for long time. This makes regular watering and fertilisation unavoidable steps in bonsai tree care.

Ideal bonsai mixture is composed of 75% inert aggregate and 25% organic material. Main criteria is that all materials has to be of uniform size. Clay is a good choice for organic material; some examples are Akadama, Kanuma and Turface.  River rock and fragmented granite form ideal non-porous aggregates; Haydite, Lava Rock, Permatil form ideal porous aggregates.

Tips:

  • All components need to pass through different sieves to filter out fine dust particles.
  • A neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is ideal for bonsai potting soil.

References:

5: How often should I repot my bonsai tree?

Identifying the right time for repotting is important for providing a good growth environment. Most of the trees come out of dormant season (winter, for most trees) starts growing by using the energy stored in roots during dormant season. This is the right time for repotting.

Bonsai repotting tips

How can I identify whether my tree is ready for repotting?

  1. Existing leaves will start becoming pale yellow and new leaves start to grow. This shows dormant season has ended and now the tree is going into growing season.
  2. Another prominent change we can notice is formation of buds on the stem. This is a sign of growth of new branches. There are four stages of buds in a typical deciduous bonsai tree. Winter bud, which is a tiny protrusion in stem. Then the bud starts to swell towards end of dormant season. Bud extension happens just by the onset of growing season. The last stage is bud opening which is clear sign of tree moving to growing phase.

Tips:

  • You need to take your bonsai plant outside with the help of a hook and start analysing the damaged roots. Cut down all damaged roots; which is known as root pruning.
  • Remove the old soil from the roots and move the plant to a new pot. As the plant grows, its recommended to use deeper and larger pots for bonsai.
  • You should provide higher nitrogen ratio fertiliser just after repotting. Plants start to grow extensively after repotting; which is the main purpose of repotting.

Reference:

6:  How to choose right pots for bonsai ?

Choosing a suitable pot for the bonsai plant is not an easy task for beginners. A pot with good reliability, effective drainage and suitable aeration is the ideal choice. A good harmony between pot and tree is a must for giving an aesthetic appeal to your bonsai art.

Pots made out of Bonsai-friendly clay mixture should be used, which available in markets. Pots made of ceramic, porcelain, concrete, metallic and plastics are available.  Here are some of basic guidelines given by Bjorn Bjorholm of Bonsai Empire.

  • Gender of the plant is important, firstly, you must decide whether your plant is masculine or feminine. In case of trees having both characteristics, then you need to identify which one is dominant. Feminine attributes are curves, grace, smooth bark and  few branches. Masculine traits are strength, old bark, deadwood, thick trunk and dense branches.
  • Size of pot is directly proportional to tree height and spread. If your pot is oval or rectangular in shape, then pot size should be 2/3rd of the tree’s height. Round or square pots should be  1/3rd  of tree’s height. A good height to size ratio is a must to maintain proper growth and stability of bonsai.
  • Design of pot is important to add extra beauty to your bonsai art. Choose a design which shows masculinity, if your tree is masculine dominant and vice versa.

7: How to save my bonsai from diseases and pests?

Prevention is better than cure. So lets practice some of the prevention steps so that bonsai wont be prone to diseases. Most important step is to provide enough sunlight, proper aeration and drainage of water. Fallen leaves must be removed periodically. Repotting and changing soil once in a year are some other precautionary measures.

Infected leaves are the first sign of attack by pests. Its a good practice to remove those leaves and affected branches using sterilised tools. Move the plant away from others if you have more than one bonsais in your garden. Always use sterilised tools while pruning and styling.

How can I treat my bonsai if I see it infected? 

  • Changing the growing environment is the first thing to try. This involves changing the location of bonsai so that it gets more air and  sunlight. Changing the composition of bonsai soil mixture is another way to change the environment.
  • If the bonsais are infected by pest, use biological alternatives to kill those pests. Using ladybugs will kill those pests; without affecting your bonsai.
  • Third solution is to use chemicals to wash away the pests by using a warm solution of liquid dish soap and water.
  • The last and final resort will be using pesticides to kill those pests. Avoid using high dose of pesticides.

Reference:

 8: Can I style bonsai by myself?

Styling bonsai tips

Yes,  you can style your bonsai by yourself. Styling involves pruning and wiring.

Pruning is the technique to get desired shape for the bonsai by cutting off the branches. There are two types of pruning. Maintenance pruning, which is to maintain and refine the existing shape of bonsai. Structural pruning is a more rigorous pruning technique to give bonsai its basic shape and style. Here is a detailed guide from Bonsai empire which explains how to prune the bonsai.

Tips:

  • Pruning should not be done during dormant season of plant. Maintenance pruning can be done throughout the year. Best time for structural pruning is during the onset of growth season.
  • Using the right tools for pruning is most important to get the desired shape and appeal to your tree.

How to prune a bonsai tree?

Prune the branches and shoots that have outgrown the desired canopy size and shape. Use twig sears or normal cutters to do maintenance pruning. To develop a dense foliage and to force an even distributed growth, prune the outer and top area regularly.  To get the desired style, structural pruning has to be done. Place the tree on a table at eye level and start removing the dead woods first. Take a look at your bonsai from a distance to check which branches and shoots doesn’t suit the style of your bonsai.

Wiring is the next step in styling the bonsai tree. This  technique involves wrapping copper wire around branches to bend and repositioning the branches.  This will help to get the desired style for your bonsai. Its a time consuming process and it takes months for the branches to grow in desired direction. After that, the copper wire should be removed.

Wiring can be done through out the year for most of the trees. During growth season,  the branches will grow thicker and faster and as a result, the wire will cut into the bark. When this happens, old wires and use new ones, if desired style is not yet achieved.

Reference:

Bonsai tree care is an easy, delightful and informative experience that requires no formal education. It is the first step in learning and growing the art of bonsai.

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