How to care for bonsai – the 6 expert tips you need
Of all the current houseplant trends, bonsai care is the one that surprised us. Of course, technically they’re not plants, they’re trees – and once you understand their rich history, the bonsai boom makes perfect sense. However you cut it, horticulture is in!
“Although often considered a Japanese tradition, the art of bonsai originated in China around 700 AD,” explains plant expert Jo Lambell, founder of Beards and Daisies.
“This art form gained popularity and prominence in Japan, where meditative practice aligned with Zen Buddhism. Bonsai trees symbolize harmony, balance and patience and Zen Buddhists use bonsai trees for meditation and contemplation.
Potted trees have become a big trend lately for both indoors and outdoors, so it’s no surprise that bonsai trees are seeing a resurgence. “As houseplants continue to grow in popularity, bonsai and its more mystical aspects have attracted a more contemporary audience. As an art form, a place of meditation, something to nurture and for those that have no outdoor space, the appeal of bonsai trees endures.‘
These little trees are not for the faint hearted. They take a certain amount of dedication to maintain.
“As the owner of a bonsai tree, you are responsible for its upkeep and you should be prepared to spend time caring for it,” says Corin Tomlinson, bonsai artist at Greenwood Bonsai Studio.
HOW TO CARE FOR BONSAI – 6 EXPERT TIPS
1. START WITH EASY-CARE STRAINS
There are many different types of bonsai trees, so we asked the experts which are best for budding beginners.
“There are many varieties of bonsai that require different levels and types of care,” says Maddie Porritt, plant expert at The Stem. (opens in a new tab). While some have a tricky reputation, others are really easy to care for like a Bonsai Money Tree or a Bonsai Ficus Ginseng, so they’re great for beginners.
“The Bonsai Money Tree or Pachira aquatica houseplant is very popular and according to feng shui it is said to bring prosperity and good fortune.”
“We recommend buying an established bonsai and a great starting point is Ficus Ginseng,” adds Jo Lambell of Beards and Daisies. (opens in a new tab). ‘Other good varieties for beginners are Crassula Bonsai, Schefflera Bonsai and Chinese Elm.‘
2. RECREATE YOUR NATURAL HABITAT
“Bonsai trees have a reputation for being difficult, but like plants, you just have to understand your needs and understand the basics,” says Jo Lambell of Beards and Daisies.
“They need lots of bright, indirect light, so make sure they’re located in a spot that gets full sun in the colder months.” Keep your bonsai away from direct heat sources or drafts. They like humid conditions, so kitchens and bathrooms are fine for bonsai trees, but only if they get enough light.
“As with houseplants, trying to recreate their natural habitat in your care routine will lead to healthy, happy trees,” adds Maddie from The Stem. “Most indoor bonsai have tropical origins and appreciate warmth, humidity and direct sunlight.”
3. DON’T LET THE SOIL DRY OUT
Knowing how often to water houseplants is key to successful indoor gardening. And the amount of water your bonsai needs will depend on the type of tree, but it’s important to water them frequently.
“Water your bonsai regularly with an occasional mist for moisture and don’t let the soil dry out,” says Corin Tomlinson, Greenwood Bonsai Studio. “Remember that bonsai are trees, not houseplants. And without water, they will die.
4. FEED IT FERTILIZERS
The art with Bonsais is to keep them small, but our experts argue that these small trees need to be fed to encourage growth.
“Bonsai will benefit from being fed houseplant food during the growing season, which is spring and summer,” says Maddie of The Stem.
“Choose a bonsai-specific fertilizer to promote healthy growth,” says Jo Lambell of Beards and Daises. “Try a liquid food for smaller specimens and a granular food for larger plants.”
5. CUT AND TRIM THE LEAVES
This is where the meditative aspect comes in. According to The Daily Om (opens in a new tab)careful pruning of branches and roots, pinching of new growth and periodic repotting of bonsai require concentration and patience, “The gardener becomes an artist, tuning in to the rhythm of nature”.
“Pruning is an essential part of keeping your plant neatly trimmed and compact,” says Jo Lambell. “The goal is to try to replicate what a full-fledged tree would look like in nature. Don’t let your tree become overgrown, keep it happy with regular trimmings.
“Bonsai shears are worth buying as they will easily cut through thicker branches for detailed pruning.”
“Most shaping can be done with pruning alone,” says Corin Tomlinson, Bonsai artist of Greenwood Bonsai Studio. (opens in a new tab). ‘For general maintenance pruning, prune to 1-3 leaves on each new shoot. The woody branches and trunks are reasonably flexible and can be wired into position if needed. Rotate your bonsai regularly to avoid uneven growth.
6. REPOT YOUNG TREES EVERY 1-2 YEARS
Young bonsai trees will require repotting every two years. The timing will depend on the species and the particular tree, but there are ways to tell when it’s time.
“You can tell when a bonsai tree needs repotting when the root system looks very dense and the roots have started to grow in a circle around the inside of the pot,” says Corin Tomlinson, bonsai artist at Greenwood Bonsai Studio. . “You can see this by gently lifting the tree out of its pot. This should only be done during repotting season.
“A tree like the Chinese elm should ideally be repotted in early spring before it comes out for outdoor trees, and anytime during the winter for indoor trees.
“Other things to watch for during the growing season are if your tree is drying out faster than usual or growing less vigorously than usual.”
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT A BONSAI?
A combination of horticulture and art, the act of creating these tiny ornamental trees is a Zen practice that dates back over a millennium. The literal translation of Bonsai is ‘tree in tray’. According to The Daily Om, their cultivation and care is a contemplative and meditative exercise “that brings us closer to nature and, ultimately, to ourselves”.
HOW LONG DO BONSAI LIVE?
With proper care, bonsai can last for hundreds of years, just as mature trees would. Traditionally, they are passed down from generation to generation and revered as a reminder of those who cared for them before.
‘Ficus Ginseng can last for years. Just make sure they’re not overwatered and they get enough light,” says Morag Hill, co-founder of The Little Botanical. (opens in a new tab). ‘These guys are quite old by the time they get to you, usually around 15 years old in fact since they started living in China or Malaysia.