Practiced for centuries in China and Japan, bonsai is the reproduction of
natural tree forms in miniature. Bonsai trees are living miniature trees which
increase in beauty and value as they mature over the years.
How frequently must I water my bonsai tree?
Contrasting a houseplant, bonsai trees use a "free draining" type of soil
because their roots cannot endure "wet feet". In addition, they are developed in
significantly less soil and, therefore require more watering. Factors such as
tree location, temperature, lighting conditions, quantity of soil used, and the
changing seasons will determine the frequency of watering. You can get to know
when your tree needs to be watered by observing the foliage, testing the soil
with your index finger just below the surface, or just by the weight of the pot.
(The drier the tree, the lighter it will feel.) To take the guesswork out of
watering, we recommend an inexpensive moisture meter which works very much like
a thermometer. Insert it into the soil and the movement of the needle will tell
you if it is time to water.
How frequently must I fertilize my bonsai tree?
Because bonsai trees are cultivated in restricted amounts of soil, adequate feed
is very important. As a general rule, a small amount of feed is given in the
spring and a larger amount in the fall. Nourish for bonsai should have three
principle ingredients; nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash. It is also a good
idea to use a fertilizer containing "chelated" iron. Water before fertilizing
your tree and then apply at half the strength recommended by the brand's
manufacturer. We spin the use of brands since different manufacturers add
different amounts of trace elements and minerals. We also add a vitamin
supplement to our fertilizer mix. You may find it simpler and easier to use slow
release fertilizer granules (placed over the soil) whose nutrients are released
with each watering.
How over and over again should I mist my bonsai tree?
All trees grow in more humid conditions than our homes, offices and dormitories.
So what can we do to provide this essential humidity? Misting the tree is only
beneficial for a short time, so what we recommend is to place the tree on a
humidity tray and add water to the tray. As the water in the tray evaporates it
creates a humid environment around the tree 24 hours a day. When the water in
the tray is gone, add more water. It's a good idea to separate the pot from the
water in the tray by adding some pebbles to the bottom of the tray. This will
prevent any roots from sitting in the water.
How much sunlight is required for my bonsai tree?
Sunlight, especially the ultra-violet ray, affects the growth of trees.
Therefore, except in special cases such as immediately after repotting,
extensive trimming, etc, bonsai should be placed in a sunny location. Bright
light will also work well but the tree should not be placed far away from the
direct light source. An east, west or southern exposure works best. A northern
exposure will require the use of "grow lights" which should remain on up to 16
hours each day and the lamp should not be more than 2 inches from the top of the
tree. Incandescent light is too hot and will not provide the various spectrum of
light that is required to maintain your bonsai tree. If you do not have a window
or light source that provides an east, west or southern exposure, be sure to
select a bonsai tree that does well in lower lighting conditions.
How is miniaturizing a tree possible?
No one single technique is adequate to make a tree small. The fact that the tree
is grown in a container, the trimming, pruning, repotting and other care given
the tree -- all contribute to the final result of limited growth. Dwarf trees
are often found in a natural environment, but in bonsai this environment is
provided artificially. Bonsai are grown in shallow containers the size of which
determines the amount of soil the roots are able to grow in. This environment
definitely restricts the growth of the roots and its functions.
How do I trim and prune my bonsai?
The main objective of trimming and pruning is to shape the bonsai into the
desired form and to reduce growth above ground in order to maintain a balance
with root growth. The process of shaping begins when the tree is very young and
is on-going as it continues its growth. Trimming is accomplished by using a
sharp scissors or shears. This traditional tool is called butterfly shears or
bonsai shears and is used for removing foliage and light branches. When heavier
branches are removed, we call it pruning and the tool to use is the concave
cutter, for which there is no substitute. The concave cutter allows you to
remove small, medium and even large branches without leaving any visible scars.
Some trees such as the Juniper should be trimmed by using the thumb and index
finger to remove new growth and to prevent browning and a "sheared" appearance.
How do I prevent diseases and insects from infecting my bonsai?
As living trees, bonsai are susceptible to insect attacks and disease.
Preventive and corrective measures include (a) keeping your bonsai in good
health, since insects and bacteria tend to attack weak trees, (b) giving your
tree ample light, fresh air and ventilation, (c) keeping the soil free of spent
blooms and fallen leaves etc. You may also use an insecticidal soap spray which
is not harmful to humans or animals. This soap derivative, however, may require
more than one application to control the insect population. It's also a good
idea to use this spray weekly to prevent any attacks.
How do I sculpt my bonsai?
Wiring, a relatively modern method of instructing bonsai trunks and branches
into the desired forms, has become commonly accepted. It is often used in place
of, or in conjunction with the traditional methods of long-term pruning and
hemp-rope binding. Copper wire that has first been annealed in a low-temperature
fire is preferred. After it has cooled, it is wrapped around the branches in the
direction the branch is to be bent. The branch should be bent once into its
final position so as not to harm the cambium layer under the bark. The wire
should be wrapped taut, but not too tight, and should be removed just before it
bites into the branch -- between 6 and 12 months. The wire is removed with a
bonsai wire cutter by snipping the wire at each turn, thereby allowing the cut
pieces to fall to the ground. Never unwind the wire or use pliers to cut the
wire, since this will damage the branches.
What is bonsai soil and why is it used for bonsai?
As noted previously, potted trees do not do well in soil that is always wet.
Potting soil and top soil are heavy soils that can remain wet for weeks. Bonsai
soil is a mixture of ingredients which allows the water to drain freely and at
the same time, retain moisture. In addition, the ingredients allow the roots to
breathe air and prevent compaction. Before adding any soil mixture, be sure to
cover the drainage hole(s) with screening to prevent the soil from washing out
of the pot. When re-potting, it is always best to use the soil mixture in its
How often should I re-pot my bonsai tree?
All potted plants will eventually outgrow their containers. While houseplants
need to be "up-potted", that is, placed in larger and larger containers, we
maintain the miniaturization of a bonsai tree by keeping the roots confined to
the small container. On average, repotting will be necessary every 3-5 years,
but the tree should be removed from its container and its root system inspected
once a year. If the roots form a circular ball around the perimeter of the pot,
it is time to trim the roots and repot. When repotting remember to (a) use only
bonsai soil (b) remove air pockets by working the soil down through the roots
(c) do not remove more that 20% of the root system (d) repot during the
appropriate repotting season (e) water well and keep out of the sun for a week
How old is my tree?
The ONLY way of accurately aging a tree is by counting the tree-rings at the
base of the trunk, obviously this is not possible! Normally the age of a tree
can be reasonably estimated when a tree has been owned by the same person who
propagated it from seed or a cutting; nursery stock can often be estimated
reliably at being 2 or 3 years old when bought from a garden centre.
Old branches that are removed can also have their rings counted which can also
give an indication of the age of the rest of the tree.
However, with increased age in bonsai comes increased financial value and this
does not always result in complete honesty. There are many bonsai techniques
available to the experienced collector that help give the impression of great
age; that is after all one of the principal aims when styling and developing
trees. Field-grown trees for instance will always display far thicker trunks
than trees that have always been grown as bonsai. It is very feasible to create
a bonsai from a cutting that after 10 years looks older than a 30 year old
When valuing a tree, it is not its actual age that is most important; it is the
impression of age that gives it beauty.
It is hoped that armed with these basics you can keep your bonsai healthy and
provide a platform from which to learn a whole new artform. Good luck!