Translated by Nick R
Have you ever felt like bonding with nature? to exchange energies? or the interest in establishing a spiritual relationship with your plants? Bonsai is one of the many vegetative species that will allow you to establish this relationship with nature.
In this blog I’ll talk about its origin, characteristics, the types of bonsai you can have, their care, and how to plant them. I know this information will help you decide, in a heartbeat, to get a bonsai for your home.
Table of Contents
The bonsai are trees and shrubs that have been manipulated with a technique, also called bonsai, to reduce their size allowing them to grow in pots. Woody plants with a small leaf type are preferred, for example, the Ficus Retusa, with rough, evergreen, or deciduous trunks.
The latter traits will depend on the type of tree you choose for bonsai. Also, the conditions of the tree vary whether they are tropical or not. So if you want to have your bonsai indoors, you should choose those of tropical or subtropical nature. This way it’ll be easier to provide an environment similar to its native habitat.
Yet, if you want to have your plant outdoors, it’s best to choose a non-tropical tree and protect it from strong frosts or very high temperatures. It can be a native specimen from your region since it’s already accustomed to the local conditions.
However, keep in mind that not all tree species are suitable to be bonsai. For example, those with large leaves would not be proportional to the reduced bonsai size.
Another type not suitable for this technique is that that grows too fast. You’d have to prune it constantly and still not be able to achieve a specific shape, as it can grow sideways or upwards.
Trees with a very short life expectancy are also not advisable for bonsai. That’s because the design and attention you give them will fade as soon as they die and you might not enjoy enough of their beauty.
The meaning of bonsai
This plant has an oriental origin, and as I have already mentioned, is also a cultivation technique. The meaning of this word is ¨Planted in a container¨ tree. This means that you can also have, in small pots inside your home, some of those big trees you see in parks or in front of your house.
Clearly, before planting a bonsai you must consider several aspects so that it can develop properly. However, later on, we’re going to approach this subject deeply.
Going on with the meaning of this plant, bonsai is considered by the Orientals as art and connection and must be taken as such. Bonsai is also a source of positive energy to whoever is dealing with it.
This is because you, as the bonsai’s caretaker, must devote time to it, and be aware of its evolution and growth. You’re in charge of pruning, watering and fertilizing the plant, and even take care of removing withered leaves and dry stems, and so on.
As a result, through these tasks that you perform with your bonsai, you can alleviate anxiety, negative burdens and other aspects that affect your life. In this way, you acquire the positive charge and relaxation you may need.
On the other hand, there are also several characteristics of bonsai that make it a very interesting plant and motivate us to have one.
- It may take on a very striking shape and visibility when you take the necessary care to keep it in the best possible condition. This represents a natural and beautiful home decoration.
- Under the right conditions, this plant can have a very long life. And if, for example, you give a bonsai to a loved one, then you’re wishing them a long life. It can also symbolize the love and respect you have for that person.
- They stand for prosperity, fortune and abundance. People associate them with progress and the desire to move forward.
- It’s a plant that demands commitment from the person who’s taking care of it; it requires time and dedication. It will also help you improve this aspect of your life since sometimes putting aside our responsibilities affects our life negatively.
As you can see, the bonsai is a plant that provides a very positive connection, which you surely need or will need at some point. Remember that just as you should take care of your body health, you should also take care of your mental health.
Not only can you benefit from this plant, but also from many other edible and medicinal plants.
Specific care for your indoor and outdoor bonsai
Now that you already know a little about what a bonsai represents and what type of plant it is, let’s talk about the care you should have so your plant can develop both indoors and outdoors.
For the interior of your home, you can have several types of bonsai, for example, the Ficus. One of its features is that it tolerates low humidity. It’s also easy to care for and it’s considered the most common plant for bonsai.
Since they can be grown in small pots, their care must be a little more rigorous compared to any other type of plant. This is because they have a limited capacity to store nutrients and water. And as tropical trees, they need a lot of light and humidity, it’s important to recreate this environment inside your home.
Here is the specific care you should take with your indoor bonsai:
Light needs of bonsai
If the light that the bonsai receives inside your house is too scarce, it could be affected in its growth and weaken. Therefore, you should place your plant near a window where it can get as much sunlight as possible. And in case you don’t have enough light, you can use artificial lighting. This should be a fluorescent light placed about 15 cm above the plant and for 10 hours a day.
Humidity needs of bonsai
This is an essential aspect of your indoor bonsai because it requires high humidity to grow healthy. To provide this moisture, water it when you see that the soil surface has dried out, and then place it near a window with good lighting or a balcony so it can be aerated. You can also use the immersion irrigation technique to prevent your plant from drying out too much and not getting enough moisture.
Temperature needs of bonsai
The ideal temperature for this plant is 10 to 23 °C indoors. In addition, it likes a slightly cooler environment at night with a temperature of 16 °C. Avoid abrupt fluctuations in temperature or your bonsai may suffer, so if you use air conditioning or heating, don’t place the plant near them.
These plants are ideal for your home garden because, like trees in nature, they can withstand the local climate even if there are seasons.
As I said at the beginning, the species you can have in outdoor environments are those native to the place or non-tropical. For example, the olive tree, the Chinese elm or the Japanese maple.
Something important to keep in mind is that certain non-tropical trees, such as the trident, require a period of hibernation in winter. So they are perfect to grow in climates cold enough to get the rest they need.
You can also have your outdoor bonsai in temperate climates. Many species adapt well to this climate and can thrive with no problems. However, if it gets too hot you can place them in a semi-shade, as well as shelter them from heavy snowfall.
Here is the specific care you should take with your outdoor bonsai:
Light needs of bonsai
You should place your plant in a spot where they receive a lot of sunlight. This will help them to grow healthy. Otherwise, the internode of the plant can become too long, the leaves will overgrow and they can become prone to pests and diseases.
Humidity needs of bonsai
When outdoors, humidity is a factor they may have naturally. However, sometimes they may lack moisture because, if they are placed on a paved floor with walls around them, the humidity needed won’t be available. So you can also use the technique of immersion irrigation or lightly spraying the tree with water several times a day. Another option that can also work is to wet the floor, walls or shelves where your bonsai are kept.
Temperature needs of bonsai
They can withstand high and low temperatures as they are already adapted to them. Yet, you must be attentive and protect them from strong frosts so that their branches don’t freeze. Also, it’s vital to protect them from direct sunlight if it gets too strong by placing them in a semi-shade. And, if the temperatures are too high and the climate too dry, water them more often, at least twice a day.
General care for your indoor and outdoor bonsai
Now that you’re familiar with the specific care you need to maintain your indoor and outdoor bonsai, I’ll tell you about the care required for both types.
Choosing the right substrate to plant your bonsai is very important. This way, you’ll be able to provide the nutrients and drainage it needs, which are vital for these plants.
The substrate that you use for the bonsai must fulfill these qualities:
- Water retention: as you already know that bonsais require good humidity, and the substrate you use must have the capacity to retain good amounts of water.
- Enough drainage: the substrate must be able to drain any unnecessary water from the plant; otherwise, the bonsai won’t have proper oxygenation. They’ll become susceptible to the accumulation of salts and their roots could rot, causing the trees’ death.
- Oxygenation: the substrate must have an adequate particle size so that there are small voids or air pockets. This way the roots of your tree will receive the air they need to breathe.
I’ll explain the components that are used to elaborate the adequate substrate mixture for bonsai.
- Akadama: it’s a type of baked granular clay produced especially for these plants. Before using it, it’s necessary to separate the dust from the granules by using a sieve, a perforated tool. After two years this clay begins to degrade and reduces the aeration of the substrate, so transplanting the tree is important to prevent it from being damaged.
- Pumice: also called pumicite, is a volcanic stone that can absorb nutrients and water. When used in the substrate mix it allows good water retention, is beneficial for the roots, and helps the tree to branch nicely.
- Gravel or volcanic rock: allows water drainage and good aeration of the substrate. It can be used for the first layer of soil when transplanting the bonsai to improve drainage.
- Peat: you can use blonde peat as it is composed of moss remains and has a higher content of organic matter. Besides, it’s appropriate for good aeration and water retention. Especially for indoor bonsai.
The proportions of each component to have an adequate mixture will depend on the type of bonsai you wish. However, these are generally used for any species.
Composting should be done during the growing season of your bonsai. This way, you can renew the nutritional content of the substrate. Remember that they are in small pots and not in their natural environment where they receive everything they need from the soil.
Use fertilizer during the spring until late autumn as this is the season when the trees grow. However, avoid fertilizing your bonsai if it has been recently transplanted (you can do it after one month), dry or sick. For the latter conditions, you should treat them first and then use fertilizer.
You should use the proper proportions of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Each has a specific function that will help your plant. N helps with leaf and stem growth. P is responsible for healthy root growth. And finally, K promotes the growth of flowers and fruits.
In spring, you can use a fertilizer with a higher N ratio than the others to help the bonsai grow, it can be NPK 12:6:6. In summer, the fertilizer can be more balanced (NPK 10:10:10) and in autumn you should use fertilizer to strengthen the plant to prepare it for winter (NPK 3:10:10:10).
This can be employed if you live in a seasonal area, but if not, you should guide yourself by the type of tree you are planting and its fertilizer specifications.
There are 2 types of organic fertilizer that you can use, liquid and solid. Liquid fertilizer can be applied to irrigation water and applied to the substrate according to the proportions required by the type of plant. And although its effect is fast, it doesn’t last long.
On the other hand, solid fertilizer has a slower but much longer-lasting action. This is because its pellet or ball form disintegrates little by a little while fertilizing the substrate. This type of fertilizer is the most recommended. Besides, you can use small special baskets to cover it and prevent it from being washed away when watered or being eaten by birds when the tree is outdoors.
It’s not possible to establish an exact watering schedule since this can vary according to many factors such as the type of plant, the climate, the pot, the size of the bonsai, and others. What you should do is to observe the plant and learn from it, it will show you whether it needs watering or not.
It’s more than clear that on hot days you should water more constantly, the bonsai could suffer if you don’t. However, the best way to know if the bonsai needs watering is to observe it. However, the best way to know if the plant needs water or not is to check if the substrate surface is dry.
You can use your finger to measure the humidity, just insert it at least 1 cm into the soil to check if it is dry or not, that will be enough. Avoid creating a watering routine, as I said before, it’s preferable to observe them so that you learn to know their needs.
Consider the substrate mix you use for your bonsai, the frequency of watering will also depend on this.
There are 2 watering methods that work for your bonsai. The first is using a watering can which should have narrower holes to give the feeling of gentle rain. You should start watering from the top, wetting the leaves and trunk a little until the water comes out of the pot drainage.
The other method is immersion watering, which consists of submerging the pot with the bonsai in a tray or container with water for about 5 minutes. The substrate will absorb the water and discard the excess. This method is recommended when your plant is very dry because you have forgotten to water it and it needs to be hydrated.
The best water for watering is rainwater, but you can also use tap water. The latter should be left to stand for 24 to 48 hours to eliminate substances that could affect the plant.
This element is vital for the bonsai and must be chosen adequately. You can opt for various materials such as terracotta, stoneware, porcelain, raku and plastic.
Apart from the materials, there are various shapes and sizes of bonsai pots. They can be rectangular, square, round, oval, deep, over 4 sides and floral shaped.
However, you should keep in mind what type of pot you should use for each stage of your plant. For example, during the growth phase, it’s preferable to use deep pots so that the tree can grow vigorously, its branches can become thicker and it can develop many roots. The material and shape can vary according to your taste.
When your bonsai is a bit bigger you should start with the training phase so that the plant adapts to the conditions of the new pots it will have in its final phase. At this point, you should use smaller plastic or terracotta (clay) pots.
With these reduced pots you’ll also lower the amount of water retained after watering, the substrate, the space, and increase evaporation. In addition, here is when you begin to give aesthetics to your bonsai by pruning and the potting arrangement.
Finally, the last stage of this plant is refinement or perfection and you’ll use the pot where the tree will stay for the rest of its life. You can use any material for your pot, the important thing is that it meets the condition of having a height, 2 times the thickness of the trunk at its base. And in width, the ⅔ of the tree’s height.
Transplanting helps your bonsai to acquire new nutrients so that it can have good growth and flowering. The frequency of transplanting will depend on the type of pot and tree
However, growing trees need to be repotted at least every 2 years. while mature ones can be transplanted every 3 or 5 years. Make sure you first check whether or not your tree requires transplanting because even though there are standards, it’s not something you can do as a routine.
To check the condition of your tree, you should carefully remove the plant from the pot in late winter and early spring to check the roots. If they coil abundantly around the pot, it requires repotting.
If, on the other hand, the roots are inside and not visible, you can wait another year to check again whether or not it needs repotting.
As you know, you must use the right substrate for both planting and transplanting. It must have adequate water drainage and the necessary water retention. This way you guarantee good plant development.
When transplanting you should do as follows:
- Have the right tools for this process. Rake, scissors, wire cutters and a toothpick.
- Sometimes bonsai gets anchored to the pots. If this is the case, cut the wire to free the plant.
- With the rake, very carefully remove the plant from the pot.
- Check whether or not your tree requires transplanting.
- If it does, take the toothpick and remove the old substrate from the sides to the bottom. Avoid harming the roots.
- With the scissors, cut the roots that are too long. You should not cut more than 30% of them.
- Either in a new pot or the same one, cover the drainage holes with a mesh that allows the passage of the water only. Then, adjust them with a bit of wire.
- If you wish, you can anchor the tree again with an additional wire. This will also help stabilize it. Insert it through the drainage holes into the pot. The tips should be left free so that after adding the substrate you can tie the bonsai.
- To add the substrate, you have the option of pouring a layer of a coarse substrate such as volcanic rock first to help with drainage. Then add the substrate mixture of your choice.
- Place your tree in the pot with the substrate and adjust it with the wires. And add one more layer of the substrate to finish planting the bonsai.
- With the toothpick distribute the substrate among the roots so that it’s well distributed.
- Finally, water with abundant water to moisten the substrate and that’s it, you can continue with the care you had.
It’s the most important technique to employ on your bonsai to shape it. It can be maintenance pruning which serves to maintain and perfect the current shape of the plant. And shaping pruning, which works to provide a specific style and shape to the tree.
Trees tend to grow mostly on the surface and outer areas, damaging the branches and parts of the interior. For this reason, maintenance pruning should be done to control the outer growth and stimulate the inner growth.
This technique also called pinching should be done throughout the growing season. It’s advisable to use scissors to cut the overgrown branches. Avoid cutting the leaves; otherwise, they may turn brown.
The defoliation technique can also help you balance the growth of the tree, and obtain good branching and thicker foliage. This should be done in summer so that the bonsai is forced to sprout again. Do not apply this technique if your plant is weak.
Formative pruning is done with the purpose of giving the bonsai a specific shape. Since it’s irreversible and could affect the appearance of the plant in the future, it should be done with the utmost care.
It’s recommended to do this type of pruning before and after the growing season, that is, in early spring and late fall. You can prune your bonsai according to the style you wish it to have but remember to do it carefully in order to prevent damaging the branches or the style of the plant.
Just like any other type of plant, bonsai may be affected by annoying pests. However, they are less likely to contract pests or diseases when receive well care.
Nevertheless, you should keep an eye on your plant to make sure it’s free of pests and diseases, and be able to act on time. If, for example, you see the leaves turn yellow and fall, they could be lacking water. And if that gradually leads them to die, it could be due to overwatering or lack of fertilizer.
The pests that could affect your bonsai are:
- Scale insects
Once you have identified these pests, you can eliminate them with homemade insecticides. And if the tree suffers from fungi or viruses, you should separate it from healthy ones to avoid infection; then treat the diseased plant with fungicides.
How to plant a bonsai?
Although you can go to a nursery and buy your bonsai and then give it the care I mentioned before, you also have the option to plant your own trees and witness the whole process. This way you can establish a much closer bond with these wonderful plants.
Next, I’ll tell you about the two types of bonsai planting.
Reproduction of bonsai by Cuttings
This is a very popular technique to propagate any type of plant because of its quickness and cheapness in obtaining new specimens. Regarding the bonsai, it’s a technique that will allow you to know in advance the features that the new tree will have since you already have a reference tree.
You must select a healthy branch of the tree you want to reproduce and cut it. The cuttings should be 2 to 5 mm thick and 5 to 10 cm high. You can cut them in spring and summer; these are the best times to do it.
After this, you must prepare the pot and the substrate, remember that the pot can be deeper to allow good root growth. The substrate should always be added with a draining layer and the rest with the mixture of your choice.
You can trim the base of the cutting diagonally, at about 45°, this way it will receive the nutrients from the substrate more easily. Plant them 2 centimeters deep and water. The substrate should be slightly moist so that the cuttings can start to grow in a few weeks.
Reproduction of bonsai by seeds
This technique allows you, from the beginning, to have more control over your bonsai and it’s the only way to start from scratch with this type of plant. However, it can be a very fulfilling experience.
The first thing you must do is to obtain the seeds, which you can buy at shops or acquire from the same trees around. For the latter, you can collect chestnut, acorn, or pine cone seeds.
Once you have them, the best time to plant them is in autumn as this is the naturally established season. This way it can develop throughout the summer and germinate in the spring.
As for potting, substrate and watering, the planting process is the same as cuttings. What you must bear in mind is that when sowing the seeds, you must leave a little space between them and then pour over them a layer of the substrate of about 2 cm to cover them.
Types of indoor and outdoor bonsai trees
Now that you know everything you need to take care of a bonsai, I’ll tell you about some of the types of trees you can plant with this technique, either indoors or outdoors.
There are several ficus species, and they can be found in tropical regions. It’s a perennial species of small shrubs and even climbing plants. Some ficus has beautiful flowers while others have hidden them to allow the fruit to grow.
This fruit can be yellow, red, green or blue in color, and its size can vary from a few millimeters to centimeters. For example, the Ficus Carica fruit measures from 3 to 10 cm. Besides this, like climbers, they can produce aerial roots, which are great to give an eye-catching look to your bonsai.
These branches grow downward to the ground and then grow into strong trunks that act as pillars. With only 1 tree whose branches had developed into pillars, you can have the impression of a tropical forest. The size of the leaves can vary from 2 to 50 cm long. So you must use the technique of leaf pruning or defoliation to control this growth.
They can be located inside or outside your house, the important thing is that they receive a good amount of sunlight and are protected from hard frosts. If the surface of the substrate is dry and you can check it with your finger, watering will be necessary.
You should fertilize your ficus weekly or every 2 weeks in summer and every 2 to 4 weeks during winter. Regular pruning is necessary to maintain the shape of this tree. You can guide yourself by the leaves, for every 6 to 8 leaves that grow on each centimeter branch you’ll prune up to 2 leaves from the tip of the branch.
A great characteristic of this species is that it can fuse its branches, roots and trunks to form beautiful structures. Moreover, transplanting will be done every year in the spring.
You can plant it by cuttings or seeds, but don’t forget that cuttings will grow faster and with seeds, you’ll have a great experience from the beginning.
It can suffer in the winter from a lack of dry air and light. It can be affected by pests such as mealybugs and spider mites. Paying attention to your plant will help prevent it from weakening.
This tree is native to Africa and can reach up to 3 meters in height in the wild. It has a thick trunk, and its branches are finely structured with thick, succulent, green oval leaves.
It’s considered an indoor bonsai for temperate climates but can also be outdoors if it receives good sunlight. It can store large amounts of water in its leaves, so you should not water it constantly. Let the substrate dry out a little between watering.
You can fertilize the Jade once a month during the growing season and repot the tree every 2 years in spring. Finally, water at least 1 week after the process so that the roots don’t rot.
This is an perenne-leaved tree that can be dark or light blue-green. In addition, its shape can be needle-like scales, especially when it’s a young tree. The foliage may eventually take the form of scales or needles when mature enough.
This is a bonsai that should be outdoors in a place with good natural light. If in winter the temperature drops below -10 °C, protect your tree. Do not water if the bonsai doesn’t require it, you can only do so if the substrate is slightly dry on the surface.
During the growing season, you can fertilize your Juniper tree every month with solid fertilizer or once a week with liquid fertilizer. Also, you can prune your tree to maintain its natural shape. As explained in the general care.
It can be transplanted once every year or 2, always ensuring that it is necessary by checking the branches; use the special substrate for bonsai. On the other hand, you can reproduce this plant by cuttings or seeds.
It could be affected by pests such as spider mites, scale insects, aphids, or worms. You should always be attentive and use insecticides, preferably homemade, to remove pests.
It belongs to a family with a wide variety of species that have diverse leaves, shapes, and colors. In addition, it’s a highly recommended bonsai for beginners because it’s very resistant.
It’s a tree that likes direct sunlight for at least part of the day, so it’s preferable to place it outdoors and protected from strong frosts. Although it can also be inside as long as it receives enough light.
Watering will be done when the substrate surface has slightly dried out. During the growing season, you can fertilize the Privet once every 3 weeks.
You’ll need to do the pruning for shaping before it starts growing in spring. Maintenance pruning should be done at any time during the growing season.
As usual, transplant it every 1 or 2 years and with the corresponding substrate, as long as it requires it; check beforehand. And finally, you can reproduce it by seed or cuttings in the summer.
This is a Mediterranean tree, well known for its symbolism as it is recognized together with the white dove as the symbol of peace. It has been given the meaning of wisdom, longevity, and old age.
Its life expectancy is of many years, besides being able to withstand adverse conditions in its natural habitat. Its leaves are very thin and have an intense green color. It’s one of the most popular trees to use as bonsai.
You can place the Olive tree outside the house so that it can receive the amount of sunlight it needs. Be sure to protect it in the winter if there are heavy frosts. It should be watered when the substrate is slightly dry on the surface.
For pruning, it’s recommended to do it at the end of winter and by modeling. You should transplant it every 3 or 4 years in spring and use a suitable substrate. Fertilize your bonsai monthly from spring to mid-autumn.
For the reproduction of this tree, you can use seeds or cuttings. The latter is the most recommended.
I appreciate that you have reached the end of this blog since it gives you all the information you need to get that bonsai you have always wanted. You only have to follow the advice and recommendations that I give you here, you'll have a spectacular plant. Besides, you'll create a very particular connection with your bonsai. I'm sure this will help you in many aspects. Do not miss the chance to have your little tree!