Have you ever wondered how they get those little trees to grow in unusual shapes in small containers? It is definitely an art form and labor of love to produce some of the stunning tree forms that we stock at the Family Tree Garden Center. It takes years to prune and bend a tree to achieve the desired shape. Lucky for us, someone else does this part and we get to enjoy the end result! It can be relatively easy to care for a bonsai plant, but you need to give a little thought when choosing the right plant to take home. Here are some tips.
Indoor or Outdoor
Bonsai plants are usually trees, shrubs, or tropical plants. Therefore, bonsai trees or shrubs would prefer to live outside just like a normal tree or shrub. Tropical plants such as Ficus, Jade Plant or Schefflera can be grown indoors. So start off with the right choice of plant as it will save the plant being unhappy in the wrong environment.
Bonsai containers are usually very small so regular watering is essential. Just how much water depends on whether your bonsai is outside or inside, type of plant, and your outdoor/indoor climate. Bonsai plants are usually watered more often than normal houseplants or trees and shrubs that live outdoors. A good rule of thumb is to poke your finger into the soil medium to see if it is moist. If it is, then the plant doesn’t need water. If your bonsai plant is outdoors, you may be watering it every day. If it is indoors, it may be every other day or every few days. You will get to know your plant’s requirements. Be careful not to wash any soil away when you are watering and also try not to dislodge any granular fertilizer.
A balanced fertilizer (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium numbers all similar e.g. 10-10-10) can be used. The fertilizer can be a granular, slow release fertilizer, or it can be a liquid fertilizer. How often will depend on whether the plant is indoors or outdoors and type of fertilizer used. Follow the directions on the fertilizer package. Liquid fertilizers may be easier to use as then you don’t have to worry about knocking off your granular fertilizer pellets every time you water. Look for fertilizers that also include some micronutrients.
Again, if you know what plant you have, you will be able to give it the right light. If it is a tree or shrub, then give it the same conditions you would give a normal tree or shrub. For example, if you have a Red Maple (Acer) this prefers full sun and the bonsai version would also prefer full sun. For the tropical bonsai plants that are used indoors, most would prefer bright light, so place the plant by a window, but without direct sunlight hitting it.
To keep your bonsai plant in shape it will need some pruning, otherwise it will try to grow into a regular sized tree or shrub. Pruning will probably need to be carried out a couple of times during the growing season. Every few years it is also advisable to do some root pruning. Over time, the roots will slowly fill up the container. A good clue that this is occurring is when you water your plant. If the water runs straight out the bottom of the container and no water seems to be retained by the plant, then there is not much soil volume left in the container. Time to snip off some of the roots and add some more potting soil.
Have fun and enjoy these wonderful works of art!