Bonsai: how to grow and maintain them

How to start

Specialty bonsai nurseries are a great place to start. They have a lot of useful information and many courses also offer. But the basic ingredients for a simple bonsai setup are also readily available from your local nursery.

There is a wide range of trees and shrubs that can be used as subjects for bonsai including evergreens, evergreens, hardwoods, flowers, fruits and even Australian native plants. When you have just learned this craft, the easiest bonsai plants are evergreens, Japanese maples, Australian fig trees such as Moreton Bay fig, Camellia sasanqua and Bambino bougainvillea.

The trick is to look for a small plant that has an interesting shape to begin with – a twisted trunk, curved branches, fascinating bark, or even a naturally dwarf shape. You might find that a potted plant is a good place to start. Small leaves and fine textured foliage also work particularly well for beautiful bonsai trees.

Potting plan

Step 1 Drainage is important for your plant and the holes in bonsai pots are large enough to allow for this. First, cut several mesh squares to blow holes to prevent soil from falling through, then place a small mound of bonsai soil at the base of the container.

2nd step Remove your plant from its nursery pot and shake, or tease the roots with a fork, to remove some excess soil. Cut off about a third of the roots – just enough to fit in its new container. Carefully place the plant in the pot as desired. If you are looking for a more natural look, you can position it a little to the side.

Step 3 Bonsai plants are heavy and therefore need a little help to stay upright. The trick is to secure the plant to the pot using bonsai wire. To do this, take a long length of yarn and wrap it around the root ball of the plant, then go down through the drainage holes in the pot, tying it tightly underneath.

Step 4 Fill the container with bonsai soil almost to the top, compacting it with your fingers or a chopstick. Spray the potting soil with water until it is nice and moist. Then cover it with gravel or small pebbles, filling in the edges to hold the soil in place. Alternatively, for a natural look, you can use mousse – just make sure you press it down well.

Point! The moss helps keep the soil moist and looks natural around the base of a bonsai tree. To harvest yours, seek it out in moist, shady places and simply lift it up with a spatula.

a bonsai

How can I grow them?


Bonsai like sheltered places away from hot, drying winds, so a semi-shaded terrace is ideal. You can bring them indoors for temporary display, but only for a day or two as they are naturally outdoor plants.


At or before planting time, you can use wire to shape the trunk of your bonsai tree to create a windswept look or an S-bend. To do this, push one end of the wire into the ground and wrap it the around the trunk and the side branches. Cut the excess wire at the top and gently bend the bonsai into shape.


Pinch off any new long shoots that will appear in the spring. You can also trim the branches to expose the trunk and cut back any thinner branches or excess leaves.


Bonsai should be kept moist, so use a mist daily in the summer and every two to three days in the cooler months. Add a small pinch of slow-release fertilizer to the soil in the spring and water in gently.

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