How to care for bonsai trees beginners

Bonsai Tree Care for Beginners

What is a Bonsai Tree?

A bonsai tree is a miniature tree that is planted within a container. In fact, the term “bonsai” literally means “planted in a container” in Japanese.

Bonsai refers to the art of cultivating these small trees and is an integral part of Japanese culture dating back to the early 14th century. Once enjoyed by only the wealthiest aristocrats and high-ranking members of Japanese society, bonsai is now an art form that is enjoyed by people from all around the world.

Bonsai Tree Care

Caring for a bonsai tree might seem intimidating at first. Here are a few tips to show you how to take care of a bonsai tree with ease. We also created a handy guide featuring quick tips for easy reference.


How to Position Your Bonsai Tree

To determine the best location to display your bonsai, you’ll need to know what type of tree it is and whether or not it’s an indoor or outdoor plant.

Most common types of bonsai such as juniper, pine and spruce trees are outdoor plants and should be exposed to the seasons like their larger counterparts. Outdoor bonsai also include deciduous trees, meaning that their leaves change with the seasons. These include maple, elms and gingko.

Indoor bonsai trees are typically subtropical species which thrive off of stable temperatures throughout the year. These include jade plants, Hawaiian umbrella trees, and ficus trees.

Once you’ve figured out what type of bonsai tree you have, the rest is fairly simple. Here are some general tips on bonsai tree positioning that typically apply to all types of bonsai trees.

  • Positioning: Your bonsai should be kept away from direct heat or draft.
  • Lighting: Keep your bonsai in area with plenty of sunlight.
  • Humidity: Bonsais need humidity in order to keep their soil moist.


Watering Your Bonsai Tree

The number one cause of most bonsai tree deaths is under-watering. Because the soil layer is so shallow, it is prone to drying out very quickly. Bonsai trees should be watered right when the top layer of soil appears dry. Depending on the type and size of your tree, as well as the type of soil you use, the frequency of watering can differ and can even be once a day. Therefore, it’s best to water each of your bonsai plants individually, instead of sticking to a routine.

When watering your bonsai tree, the main goal is to fully saturate the root system with water. To ensure proper saturation, keep watering until water escapes through the draining holes. To allow for proper draining, many bonsai trees come with a tray to collect excess water.

Overwatering can also be detrimental for your bonsai tree. Symptoms of an overwatered bonsai include: yellowing of leaves and the shriveling of smaller branches. If a bonsai is overwatered, its roots are drowning in water and are deprived of oxygen which prevents further growth to support the tree. Overwatering can also result from poor-draining soil.

To ensure that you are watering your bonsai properly, you’ll need to assess your bonsai tree daily. The rule of thumb is to water as soon as the soil appears dry.


Pruning and Shaping Your Bonsai Tree

Pruning is essential for keeping bonsai trees small and for maintaining their compact shape. There are two main types of pruning: maintenance pruning and structural pruning.

Maintenance pruning strengthens the tree by encouraging new growth. By cutting away young shoots and leaves it exposes the leaves underneath to air and sunlight which further strengthens the tree and benefits its overall health.

Areas that require maintenance pruning include the branches, buds, and leaves. Pruning away branches encourages the growth of smaller branches and allows you to control the shape of your tree. Pruning buds away from branches produces a more compact leaf growth which encourages the growth of smaller leaves.

Typically, you should prune your bonsai tree when you see new growth that’s starting to morph the shape of your tree in an undesirable manner. For flowering bonsais, pruning should take place during the spring to encourage more flowers to grow the following year.

Structural pruning is a more advanced technique that should only be done when the tree is dormant. It involves the removal of the tree’s primary structural branches and requires the skills of a professional to ensure that the tree can recover.

Another way to properly shape your bonsai tree is to wire its branches. You can control the shape and growth pattern of certain branches by wrapping a thin wire around them. Wiring is best done during winter when the leaves of the bonsai tree have fallen off. Be sure to keep an eye on the branch’s growth and remove the wire when necessary. If the branch grows too fast, it can grow into the wire and cause scarring.


Choosing the Right Soil For Your Bonsai

The key to choosing the right soil for your bonsai is to choose one that offers proper drainage.  Add large particles to your soil mixture, such as volcanic rock or stones, to improve drainage and to introduce air into the soil. The ideal soil mixture should also be able to hold water which can be improved by adding clay.

Fertilizing your bonsai ensures that it receives the proper amount of nutrients it needs to stay healthy. A balanced bonsai fertilizer contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Before you fertilize, make sure that you’ve watered your tree thoroughly as it is harmful to fertilize the plant while the soil is dry. Be sure to read the instructions on the fertilizer to avoid overfertilizing.


Repotting Your Bonsai

Repotting is a key factor in maintaining the health of your bonsai tree. The purpose of repotting is to remove excess roots which can cause the tree to starve, or not receive enough nutrients for its mass. Repotting also ensures that your tree can continue to thrive within a small pot. Bonsai trees should be repotted once every two to five years, depending on how quickly your bonsai tree grows.

Here are the basic steps to repotting your bonsai tree:

  1. Carefully remove the tree from its pot.
  2. Using sharp shears, trim away the outer layer of roots.
  3. Inspect the root mass for areas of rot trim away as needed. These areas can indicate where the bonsai is not getting enough drainage.
  4. Clean the pot itself and remove any brown or green spots.
  5. Place mesh squares over the drainage holes to prevent soil from falling out.
  6. Layer the bottom of the pot with soil and place the tree on top.
  7. Fill the remaining holes and gaps where the root used to exist with soil.


Bonsai Tree Care: A Quick Guide

They say that bonsai isn’t just a plant, it’s a way of life. Bonsai trees require regular care and maintenance. Just follow our tips on how to care for a bonsai tree and soon you’ll be on your way to becoming a true bonsai pro!

For beginners, Juniper bonsai trees are the easiest to care for so they’re perfect for novice bonsai enthusiasts. Flowering bonsai like the gardenia bonsai are great for adding variety (and fragrance) to your bonsai collection.

To help you remember bonsai care essentials, we created a handy reference guide below with quick tips for each stage.


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Watering Bonsai; how to water your trees

The most important part of taking care of your Bonsai trees is watering. How often a tree needs to be watered depends on several factors such as; species of the tree, size of the tree, size of the pot, time of year, soil-mixture, and climate.


How often should I water my Bonsai?

As mentioned previously, how often a Bonsai needs to be watered depends on many factors, and providing an exact guide is not possible. Instead, you need to observe your trees individually. The following guidelines will teach you what to look out for and how to identify when to water your Bonsai:

Water your trees when the soil gets slightly dry
Be sure not to water your tree if the soil is still wet, but don't let the tree dry out either. As a beginner, use your fingers at about one centimeter deep, (0.4") to check the soil moisture. If it's slightly dry, go ahead and water your tree. This will become more obvious as you gain experience. You'll be able to see, rather than feel when your tree needs watering.

Never water on a routine
Keep a close eye on your trees individually to determine when each one needs watering. Avoid watering all of your trees on a daily routine, until you know exactly what you are doing.

Use the right soil-mixture
The soil-mixture greatly influences how often trees need to be watered. Most Bonsai trees thrive on a mixture of akadama, pumice, and lava rock in a ratio of ½ to ¼ to ¼. However, if you are not able to water regularly, you can use a mixture that retains more water by using more akadama or even using compost in your potting. Read the Bonsai soil mixtures article for more information

Most of the water will flow right out of the pot when watering this tree. The roots are too compacted so the soil-mass won't be able to absorb much water. This tree needs to be repotted!


It doesn't matter what time you water a Bonsai. Some experts do advise not to use cold water when the soil is warm from being in the sun because it cools the tree too. Although this is something that you could keep in mind, you should water your tree as soon as the soil gets slightly dry, no matter what time it is.

How to water Bonsai trees?

When you've determined that the soil is slightly dry and the tree needs water, make sure to thoroughly soak the entire root system. Keep watering until water runs out of the bottom drainage holes, and possibly repeat the process a few minutes later.

Pour water from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle to prevent the soil from being washed away. If you keep your Bonsai indoors, you can place your tree in your kitchen sink and water the tree thoroughly, before placing it back. The best water you can use is rainwater because it doesn't contain any added chemicals, but when this is not readily available there is no problem in using normal tap water. There are some good Automated Bonsai Watering systems out there, but they are quite costly.

Watering Bonsai trees is one of the topics in our online Bonsai course, made specifically for beginners. For more information and a free lesson, see the Bonsai Beginners Course.

When watering, do so very thoroughly, make sure the entire root mass is wetted!

Indoor Bonsai Care Instructions

Indoor Bonsai Care Recommendations

It is a common misconception that bonsai are kept indoors. In fact, most types of bonsai trees need to stand outside to be exposed to natural phenomena throughout the four seasons, just like ordinary trees. Only tropical and subtropical plants can be permanently indoors, where a high and stable temperature is maintained throughout the year.

Choice of tropical tree species for indoor bonsai

There are several types of trees that can be grown indoors. Today, the most common (and easiest to care for) is ficus bonsai. Ficus, which tolerates low humidity and is resistant to various adverse conditions, is a good choice for beginners.

Other common indoor tree species are the money tree (Crassula), privet (Ligustrum), eretia (Carmona), sheflera (Schefflera arboricola) and sageretia (Sageretia).

Indoor bonsai trees; ficus, carmona and Chinese elm.

Why can't temperate (non-tropical) trees be kept indoors year-round?

As noted above, the most important reason is that these trees require a dormant period in winter. At this time, the annual growth cycle ends and the tree prepares for the next cycle, which will begin in early spring. It gradually sinks into a dormant state as temperature and light intensity decrease over several weeks. This does not happen if the tree is kept indoors.

An example of an "indoor" ficus bonsai

In terms of care, an "indoor" bonsai is different from ordinary "home" potted plants. The main difference is that bonsai are kept in small containers and therefore have a limited supply of nutrients and moisture. Even more importantly, tropical trees require an abundance of light and high humidity, i. conditions that are quite difficult to recreate indoors.

Specific recommendations for indoor bonsai care:

1. Lighting

The main problem with tropical bonsai indoors is the significantly lower light intensity indoors compared to outdoors. At low light intensity, trees, of course, do not die immediately, but their growth slows down, which ultimately leads to their weakening. Therefore, put your bonsai in the brightest place, best of all - on the south window.

However, even if you have a south-facing window, the light intensity may still be too low. Then additional lighting with lamps, for example, fluorescent (with a spectrum that stimulates plant growth) or LED, for at least 10 hours a day, can help.

2. Air Humidity

Another problem with keeping tropical bonsai indoors is that they need relatively high humidity, much higher than what is usually found indoors (especially when the heating or air conditioning is running). You can increase the humidity around your bonsai by placing it on a tray filled with water, or by misting it several times a day. It also helps to ensure the flow of air from the street through the window.

3. Watering and feeding

The most important rule is never water on a schedule. Ignore the tag attached to your bonsai, which may say that the tree needs to be watered every so many days. Instead, watch your tree and only water it when needed. Please see the section on watering and fertilizing for more information.

4. Temperature

Tropical tree species need a relatively warm temperature throughout the year, which is the normal room temperature of your living room.

Subtropical trees can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures in winter and usually do well when wintered at temperatures well below standard room temperature.

In a nutshell, choose the right kind of wood and follow the appropriate care instructions and you'll be fine!

home tree care features

Bonsai is an ancient Japanese art. Literally translated from Japanese - "a tree grown in a dish." In fact, this is the cultivation of an exact copy of a tree, but at a much reduced size. However, the art of bonsai is more than just growing bonsai trees. This is a whole philosophy: peeping in wildlife and drawing inspiration from there, a person creates a harmonious living plant with his own labor, and, thanks to this unity with nature, in the process he learns to feel more subtle and realize the reasons for everything that would not happen in his life.

Over the thousands of years of existence, the art of bonsai has been transformed many times, moved from the privilege of the samurai to the category of a widespread hobby, but this fundamental principle remains unchanged for centuries. Many bonsai owners note that these trees really teach to look at the world differently: they are calmer and wiser about what is happening.

That is, bonsai is a technique. And there are a lot of plants grown in bonsai techniques. At home, at the amateur level, in the form of bonsai, as a rule, coniferous or deciduous trees are grown. The most popular type of bonsai is ficus ginseng bonsai.

Also in the art of bonsai, "miniature trees" are divided by size:

  • miniature (5-15 cm) - a rare, but very valuable type of bonsai, it is very difficult to grow, but looks as impressive as possible;
  • small (15-39 cm) and medium (about 54 cm) - the most common types of bonsai, which have received the greatest distribution;
  • large (66-100 cm) - not often grown indoors due to size.

Grower's guide: how to care for bonsai at home?

Of course, depending on the type of plant grown using the bonsai technique, the care rules will differ slightly. But bonsai are good because there are general principles for caring for them.

Where to place bonsai?

Bonsai love light. This is the main parameter that should be taken into account when choosing a habitat for the Japanese bonsai. So, bonsai must be placed as close to the window as possible. Ideally, if it is an eastern or western window sill with shading from the midday sun. In order for new shoots to form evenly, it is useful to turn the bonsai to the light in different directions once every two weeks throughout the growing season.

Soil and pot requirements

Bonsai thrive in neutral to slightly acidic soils. The main parameter of soil suitability: its friability. Ideally, the soil should be well saturated with air, that is, ventilated. You should also consider the type of tree that is grown using the bonsai technique. In case it belongs to conifers, it is worth choosing a special soil for coniferous trees.

Usually, dwarf trees are grown in special low bowls, or, as they are also called, bonsai trees. They are made from natural materials and follow the main rule of bonsai containers: be non-spongy and wide. Bonsai containers should be just such as to allow the roots to grow in different directions, and the water to be evenly distributed over the substrate. Another important condition is the presence of drainage holes. Bonsai love moisture, but do not like stagnation, and holes in the bottom of the bowl allow air to circulate and excess moisture to leave the soil.

Bonsai is not one of those plants that should be replanted every spring. On average, a transplant is required only once every two to three years. With age, the time spent in one container can increase up to 5 years. The bonsai should be transplanted when the roots begin to curl around the inside perimeter of the bottom of the pot.

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Bonsai Watering Rules

The ideal watering schedule for any bonsai is little and often. The thing is that it is necessary that the soil is constantly moist, but there is no stagnation of moisture. In addition, a feature of growing bonsai is a very small earthen clod. It cannot retain enough water for a long time, so poor watering will quickly harm the plant. The time when your bonsai needs to be watered can be determined empirically in several ways:

  • using the tactile method, i.e. by checking whether the soil is sufficiently moistened with your fingers.
  • by visual method. Dried soil has a lighter color compared to moist soil.
  • by plant weight. If you know approximately how much a bonsai in a bowl weighs after watering, you can determine that it is time to water the plant when it becomes much lighter.

It is also worth remembering: the smaller the bonsai bowl, the more often watering is required, because a small earthen ball dries up very quickly. And in winter, during the dormant period, watering should be reduced.

Bonsai will thank you for full development with daily spraying. They help to create optimal air humidity around the plant and allow the earthy coma not to become crusted, which prevents air circulation in the soil.

What to feed bonsai?

Since bonsaists are faced with the task of growing a tree in miniature, it is not worth getting carried away with top dressing. After all, too fast growth of bonsai is useless. At the same time, it will be difficult for a plant to develop without fertilizers due to a too small earthen clod in a pot. Such a small amount of soil contains very little nutrients. Therefore, during the spring-summer season, bonsai should be fed three to five times, any mineral fertilizers for indoor plants are suitable for this.

What problems can arise when growing bonsai: diseases and pests?

Bonsai, like other indoor plants, is susceptible to pest attack. Most often, bonsai are affected by aphids, including fleecy, powdery mildew, bark beetle and scale insect. Pest control methods are no different from ways to eliminate them on other houseplants. In most cases, you will have to use chemicals. To prevent damage to bonsai, try to maintain optimal plant conditions.

Bonsai can normally lose up to 30% of their foliage, especially when stressed and during winter. If the leaf fall does not exceed these values, there is nothing to worry about: you just have to watch the plant. If a larger amount of foliage suddenly turned yellow and began to fall off, this may indicate that the plant is affected by chlorosis. In this case, it is worth adjusting the humidity, giving the bonsai more light and making sure that the water does not stagnate at the roots. Plant nutrition may also be required.

How to properly form the crown of bonsai?

Crown shaping is one of the fundamental care procedures in the Japanese art of bonsai. By pruning the desired shoots, you can form bizarre shapes. In the art of bonsai, there are several of the most well-known forms. You can be guided by them, or you can, especially if you are a beginner bonsaist, form a crown at your own discretion.

The main "haircut" should be done in the spring, when the plant is most actively growing young shoots. The most important thing is to use a clean, sharp tool for this so as not to harm the tree. It is worth starting the formation of the crown from the top, since most of the shoots are removed there. No more than 6 pairs of leaves should be left on each shoot, and dry or damaged branches must be completely removed.

Bonsai root care

Due to the bizarre, curved shape of bonsai, the center of gravity of these plants often shifts. Therefore, not only the above-ground crown, but also the roots of bonsai are subject to formation. It is important that the soil is firm enough for the roots to firmly cling to it and create a fulcrum.

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