How to Take Care of a Bonsai Tree

Updated on December 2, 2017
Wolfy profile image

Kate graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biology. She currently resides in Sonoma, California.

Bonsai's are a beautiful plant that look amazing in modern homes.
Bonsai's are a beautiful plant that look amazing in modern homes.

Bonsai is a special tree species loved by many due to its unique natural character. This tree has been used for centuries as part of the décor in many traditional Japanese homes. In recent years, Bonsai trees have gained mainstream notoriety as a great touch to a modern home.

If you are a first time Bonsai owner, then you will definitely need some tips on how to care for this special plant. This is because the Bonsai tree is a unique plant which requires equally care. Here are some basic guidelines for growing and maintaining your Bonsai tree.

Aspect of Care:
Ideal Conditions:
Lighting
5 to 6 hours of direct sunlight. This requirement can change based on the variety of Bonsai and if the light received is direct or indirect.
Watering
Water when the top 1-1.5 inches of soil is dry. Water enough to soak to the bottom of the pot. Never allow the soil to dry out completely.
Soil Conditions
Use a "Conifer Blend" or other Bonsai specific potting soil.
Repotting
Every 1 to 5 years depending on the Bonsai. Pale yellow leaves = time to repot.
Fertilizer
You must use fertilizers with Bonsai's. Use a fertilizer specifically formulated for Bonsai trees. Fertilize year round for an indoor tree.
General Care Tips
Regular light pruning is recommended.

Lighting

Bonsai's need approximately 5 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. If your tree is in a location where sunlight is not very intense, you can increase the number of hours your tree receives sunlight to compensate (up to 16 hours of daily sunlight). If you move your tree from an area with low light to more intense, direct light, do so gradually to avoid damage to your Bonsai. Avoid artificial (incandescent) lighting as this will not provide the spectrum of light needed for your Bonsai to develop.

Since environmental factors continuously change based on the season and time of the day, regularly changing the location of your bonsai tree would be the most appropriate approach in balancing lighting, humidity and temperature.

Watering

One of the most challenging aspects when it comes to care and maintenance of the Bonsai tree is to establish when and how you should water the tree. It’s important to note that, generally, water requirements will depend on a number of factors including: if it is summer or winter, number of hours of sunlight exposure, the specific variety of Bonsai, soil conditions, and the size of the Bonsai.

Since there isn’t a general formula that can be used to dictate watering frequency, you should always monitor the condition of the top soil. If the top 1 to 1.5 inches of top soil feels dry, it is probably time to water your plant. This can be once every day or once every few days depending on the above mentioned factors. Over time you will get to where you will know what your Bonsai requires.

Here are some general guidelines for watering of your Bonsai tree:

  • Regularly monitor the dampness of the plant's soil by pressing your finger into the dirt, taking care not to damage any roots.
  • It’s recommended to water the plant during the morning hours.
  • During the summer or during warmer days, your Bonsai will require more water.
  • Water no more than once a week during winter season: too much water isn’t good for the Bonsai during this dormant season.
  • If sunlight exposure decreases, watering requirements will also decrease. If sunlight exposure increases, watering requirements will increase.
  • Water the tree at regular intervals during the growing season so your Bonsai can adapt to the watering schedule.

A Foemina Juniper Bonsai Tree. Bonsai's come in many different varieties, each with their own beautiful style.
A Foemina Juniper Bonsai Tree. Bonsai's come in many different varieties, each with their own beautiful style.

Soil Conditions

It is very important to choose Bonsai specific soil for your tree. Consider a Bonsai soil mixture such as a "Conifer Blend" that has the correct texture as well as uniform distribution of ingredients.

A good potting soil is one that encourages maximum aeration and water drainage. It will allow standing water in the soil to drain out while still retaining some moisture for the plant. Remember to use soil that has an appropriate pH value, preferably 6.5 to 7.5.

Repotting

In order to provide an environment that triggers the tree’s growth and development, it is necessary to regularly repot your Bonsai tree. The most ideal time to transfer your bonsai to another pot is immediately after winter. This is because the Bonsai stores a lot of energy in the roots during the dormant season and use it for growth as soon as summer begins.

Generally, repotting a Bonsai tree is necessary every 1 to 5 years. Fast growing or younger Bonsai trees will need repotting more often (about once a year) whereas older trees will require it less often (closer to 5 years).

There are a few other indicators that will help you establish that it’s time to repot your bonsai tree.

  • The plant’s leaves begin to turn pale-yellow and young ones emerge.
  • Bud formation on the stem is observed. If this occurs, prune the plant’s roots prior to repotting.

Use of Fertilizer

These decorative plants are normally grown in small pots and therefore rely on fertilizer more heavily than many other house plants.

Generally, Potassium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorous fertilizers are good for the Bonsai plant as they are responsible for the green color of leaves, root development, and flowering. It’s advisable to buy a bonsai specific fertilizer from a reputable distributor. Keep to the following guidelines in order to give your tree the best care:

  • For outdoor bonsai trees, fertilize during growing periods.
  • Indoor trees, require regular application of fertilizer throughout the year.
  • Regulate nitrogen usage during summer and dormant seasons.

General Care

While some people prefer to call experienced gardeners for the pruning, shaping and wiring of the bonsai trees, it is something you can easily do yourself. Even though maintenance pruning can be done at anytime of the year, structural pruning is best when the plant begins to grow after the dormant period. Remember to use sharp pruning tools in order to avoid inflicting damage to your tree.

In order to get the best shape for your plant, only cut off branches and shoots which seem to have gone beyond the desired canopy. For better results, structural pruning should always be followed by accurate wiring.

There is nothing more beautiful than a well cared for Bonsai tree. Take the time to care for your tree properly and it can last you decades.

What aspect of caring for your Bonsai tree do you struggle with?

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Questions & Answers

  • Can a Japanese Holly Tree be grown indoors?

    A Japanese Holly Tree is a popular type of bonsai that is often sold as an indoor plant. Yes, it is possible to be successful growing a Japanese Holly indoors, although these plants very much prefer to be grown outdoors.

    Although they do seem to do surprisingly well in low light conditions, they have a strong need to be outside and experience the seasonal changes. Specifically, the Japanese Holly needs to experience the cold of winter to really flourish during the remainder of the year.

    So yes, it is possible to grow a Japanese Holly Tree indoors, although it is fairly difficult. If you do attempt this, consider placing the plant outdoors during the winter so it gets that exposure it needs. This plant is fairly hardy and will handle cold winters well, although severe frost can still cause damage so it should be taken indoors if frost is expected.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Ashlee 

      2 months ago

      I’m not really sure how to take care of this bonsai tree I just bought

    • Wolfy profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate Daily 

      7 months ago from California

      Thanks Linda! They can be tricky at times. If he ever wants to try again, you should make sure he knows that keeping it alive really is possible! Lots of good information out there now a days.

    • profile image

      Gail Kowal 

      7 months ago

      I appreciate the work that went into this article. I love Bonsai Trees and have been thinking about buying one. I sense there is much more to learn on the topic. Thank You.

    • Wolfy profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate Daily 

      7 months ago from California

      Thank you Linda!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think Bonsai trees are fascinating. I gave one to my father as a gift once, but he wasn't able to keep it alive for long. I think this article would have been very helpful for him.

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