Guides & Advice

How to care for your bonsai

Written by Tom | 21st August 2020


For the botanical inclined among us, bonsai trees have an immediate draw. These weathered trees take their name from the art form of bonsai and when properly cared for, can live for hundreds of years. If you've recently invested in a bonsai tree, you're likely wondering how exactly you're going to nurture it. Luckily, we've asked bonsai seller Gerrit Lodder for his tips on caring for your bonsai. 


The very art of bonsai involves the careful dwarfing of trees, in order for them to take on the gnarled look they're known for while remaining compact and pot-bound. Caring for a bonsai and cultivating it into a chosen shape and form is part of the joy of having these time-weary specimens. But there are some basic ground rules to follow.


Indoor or outdoors


One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether the bonsai will be grown indoors or outdoors. Certain bonsai trees do better in different environments, so knowing your tree will help you decide where to place it. 



Knowing whether your bonsai is meant for indoors or outdoors will be the guiding principle of your care strategy


“Bonsai trees are distinguished between indoor and outdoor trees”, Gerrit explains. “Indoor trees originate from tropical countries while outdoor bonsai come from seasonal countries. For indoor bonsai, Ficus or Zelkova are good trees to start with, especially the Ficus which can handle low humidity, versus most bonsai which prefer high humidity. For outdoor bonsai, a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), a pine tree (Pinus) or Juniper (Juniperus Sinensis) are good ”.


Watering


Bonsai trees require a certain amount of love, attention and water. Watering depends on several environmental factors such as the light, season, the type of bonsai and the soil conditions. A rule of thumb is that the soil should always remain moist, but not overly so as this can cause root rot. “Water regularly. Remember that a bonsai pot is small so it can't hold a lot of water so frequent watering is necessary, ”says Gerrit. “This applies to both indoor and outdoor bonsai, but take care of the latter especially in the summertime when watering is an important part of the maintenance. Don't leave them and just expect them to be ok ”.


If you're unsure about what the ideal watering schedule is, general watering rules apply. Check if the soil is damp about one / one and a half inches deep in and if dry, then your bonsai needs water. It's best to water in the morning, so you give your tree the chance to absorb water and dry. 


Light and positioning


Generally speaking, bonsai trees prefer indirect sunlight, although, for many indoor bonsai, even direct sunlight can be appropriate. “For indoor bonsai, a spot with plenty of daylight is important. Artificial lighting should be avoided because it doesn't provide the light bonsai trees need, ”explains Gerrit. 


Keep your bonsai in well-lit spots, preferably indirect lighting

One thing to consider is moving your bonsai around. Outdoor bonsai like plenty of sunlight but afternoon shade in the summer is necessary depending on how hot your local climate is. But make sure you let it adjust to the changing weather and seasons as over sheltering bonsai, especially in the winter, can be harmful to its growth. 


Soil conditions


The right soil mix should be one that drains well. You'll want to introduce air and space into the soil so consider mixing in rock and stone which can break it up. Equally, the soil should be able to retain a certain amount of water. Pre-mixed soils specific to bonsai trees (often known as' conifer blend) are often the best way to go, so you have to think less about creating the ideal soil conditions. 



Include rocks and stones in your soil to create air pockets and provide drainage


Feeding and re-potting


Bonsai are grown in small pots and because of their specific growth regime, feeding and repotting are crucial aspects of your care strategy. For outdoor bonsai, feed in the growing season with fertilizer while for indoor bonsai, do so throughout the year. There are specific bonsai fertilizers that work best, containing equal parts of phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen. Make sure to feed them when the soil is moist as doing so when its dry can be harmful to the plant. 


Repotting is vital because it will provide your tree with new nutrients. Fast-growing trees can be re-potted every year but older trees need re-potting after three to five years. The best time to re-pot is after the winter time in early spring, when the tree has been dormant and is ready to grow. You'll know when to repot if the roots circle the root mass instead of being encased in soil, if the leaves turn a pale yellow and buds begin growing on the stem.  


Pruning


This is a more elaborate part of caring for bonsai but an essential one as it'll help you grow your tree in your desired style. “Trim new shoots and try to keep its original shape. And invest in a good set of trimming shears as these will ensure you don't damage the tree when cutting ”. 



Pruning is one of the joys of having a bonsai as you can shape your tree into the shape of your choosing

Prune the upper parts of the tree canopy more extensively as this is your way of distributing growth evenly and in a specific direction. Bonsai care is about countering the usual tree’s growth pattern, pushing it to the middle and lower parts of the tree so you can secure that leafy canopy on top.


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