Bonsai Tree Care Basics

Bonsai tree care basicsBonsai tree care basicsFollowing this short guide will ensure good health of your bonsai tree. These are the basics of bonsai tree care:

How to find a plant for a bonsai

Your own budget will play a part in where you get your tree. Inexpensive trees - less that $100 - can be found right online. A simple search of "discount bonsai trees" will raise many hits for companies offering less expensive plants. Some of these places offer even better savings if you buy more than one or if you purchase a mix of several! You're going to need to determine for yourself which website "feels right" - I suggest using a combination of intellect and intuition. And don't forget that you're probably going to have to pay for shipping!

Another possibility is to go to your local growers. With these people, you can actually examine the plant before you buy it - and talk to the person who cared for bonsai. You won't have to pay for shipping, either! I don't really recommend that you go to stores like Walmart, etc., because they don't have the plant expertise that you'll see at other nurseries.

Finally, some folks use their own small outdoor trees, allowing containers to determine and control the plant's growth. Remember, you CAN grow the plants outdoors if you want, especially if your environment is conducive to that.

Getting bonsai tools

In addition to the actual plant, you're going to need the supplies to enable you to take a proper bonsai care - pots, pruners, soil, stones, trays, etc. Keep that in mind as you do your search, whether online or locally!

Just like the plants themselves, you can purchase most of these items online or directly through a local nursery that specializes in bonsai trees and plants.

Finally, choose tools that fit the size of your plant. You want to be able to work easily and not harm the tree. Also, tools that are too large can be frustrating and take away your sense of serenity!

I'll have a lot more information in upcoming articles specifically outlining more information on tools.

Pruning/Trimming Your Bonsai

If growing a bonsai is a kind of spiritual or meditative practice, then trimming it is the creative process that contributes to its design and beauty. Like painting or writing, you - the artist - bring your own sense of self and style and combine it with the potential beauty of the plant. What you may not know is that pruning or trimming is necessary to keep the plant small and contributes to its overall health.

Pruning is when you pinch away leaves to encourage the plant's growth and snip away branches to give it a unique shape and otherwise clutter the plant.

I trim my trees two or three times a year - using an "as needed" approach. Other people I know are more rigid in their trimmings, always doing it once at the beginning of the spring, once at the end of the summer, and finally at the end of autumn or beginning of winter.

However and whenever you decide to do the pruning, plan on being consistent every year and take it slow. Once you snip a branch away or pluck leaves off, there's no turning back! And if you're in doubt as to when to trim, ask someone who has experience: folks at your nursery or online. You'll learn more as you get more familiar with the process and as you get to know the needs of your plant or plants.

I can say that in general, you do not want to remove branches and leaves randomly in an effort to simply make your plant look like a miniaturized tree. Work slowly! Think of your plant as a piece of artwork in progress, and leave enough leaves so the plant can collect sunlight and breathe. Removing too much will simply kill your plant. Unlike regular, large-size plants, you'll want to discourage its growth, occasionally pinching off new growth. (Use a pinch and twist motion when removing new growth in this way.)

Bonsai repotting basics

Generally, repotting occurs only every two or three years. The reason for repotting is to avoid the plant becoming "pot-bound" (when the roots become over-crowded.). Repotting permits new baby roots (feeders) to grow and the new soil provides for greater nutrition to the plant.

This process, simply put, involves:

  1. Choosing a larger pot.
  2. Carefully removing the plant from the small pot.
  3. Gently untangling the root system - avoiding tearing any of the roots.
  4. Shaking off old soil.
  5. Spraying roots with water so they don't dry out.
  6. Trimming the root by about half to two-thirds with bonsai clippers or shears to give more space to the feeder roots.
  7. Covering drainage hole with mesh and adding gravel or small stones.
  8. Placing new soil in larger pot.
  9. Putting the plant into the new pot and positioning it where you would like it.
  10. Spreading roots out as you're adding soil.
  11. Patting soil firmly around the root and base of the plant.
  12. Adding decorative items around tree.
  13. Watering the plant thoroughly.
  14. Pruning the leaves and branches to expedite its growth.
  15. Situating in a protected place away from too much sun, wind, cold, etc.
  16. Fertilizing about one month later.

Sunlight requirements

Various species require different amount of light. Please see bonsai trees section of our website.

Fertilizing your bonsai tree

During growing season, your bonsai needs to be fertilized at least once a month. Be consistent and do it at the same time. (I always do mine on the 1st and 15th, because this helps me to remember!) Always use a water-soluble fertilizer and ask your local nursery for assistance if you have questions about a particular variety of plant. Always fertilize your plant after you've watered the plant!

Bonsai Wiring

The process and art of wiring could really be the subject of an entire article or even a small book! Wiring with aluminum or copper wiring allows you to gain better control over your plant and helps enable you to manipulate the tree's branches and trunk.By placing wires in specially chosen places around the branches of your plant, you can "encourage" them to bend in certain directions. After you've wired a tree in this fashion, it will eventually "take hold" and actually grow that way - even without the wires holding it.

There are other reasons for wiring - such as creating special appearances, filling out dead spaces in the tree, or making tree appear to me older than they really are.

Proper bonsai watering is critical

Over-watering is probably one of the best ways to kill your plant. You can eventually learn how to sense your own plant's needs or spot signs - such as leaves dropping - of too much water.

A friend of mine has a system where he weighs his plants when he initially gets them. He does it first when they are dry; then again after dousing the soil with water. He uses the difference to determine how much water to give the plant each day.

Of course you can also overwater your bonsai - which can result in the roots rotting. The best thing to do is check your plant's soil daily and then water them if needed. Routine watering doesn't work well because temperatures and humidity in the air change and the water needs change with them.

The two golden rules of bonsai watering are:


  1. Never let your bonsai dry out completely!
  2. Never let your bonsai sit in a pool of water!


I hope these basics of bonsai tree care were presented clearly and will help you enjoy the comprehensively interesting bonsai art.