Thank you to everyone who purchased a bonsai for the holidays. We want nothing more than for you to be successful with your new plants! If you have ANY questions about your bonsai at any time, please call, email, or stop by the nursery. We love to help!
Here are some tips to get you started on the right foot:
Bonsai Are Plants
Bonsai are plants. Plants need light, air, water, and nutrients.
Light requirements vary depending on the species, but the light from a window is generally less strong than in the shade outdoors. If your bonsai is kept indoors, please provide as much light as you can. Some plants, such as ficus, will react to changes in light levels by dropping their leaves. If that is the case, the leaves will grow back adjusted to their new environment. All bonsai will grow best outdoors in the summer. In the summer, our tropical greenhouse is completely emptied, and all plants are outside on the benches.
That being said, when you do bring bonsai outdoors after they have acclimated to low indoor light levels, adjust them to the additional light GRADUALLY. Plants get sunburned just like we do (honestly) and need to acclimated to the brightness of the outdoors gradually, just like we do. Ten additional minutes each day for a week or two should harden them off.
You’ve probably noticed how bonsai soil looks more similar to rocks than soil. This is to provide the plant with air. Plants take in air through their roots, along with water and nutrients. The roots absorb CO2 from the air, and release H2O through their leaves. The C (carbon), and nutrients, are what the bonsai use to grow.
By using a granular potting medium, bonsai soil does not break down into finer particles the way that regular (peat-based) potting soils do, and air can continue to reach the roots. This medium works just as well for (almost) any plant, even though it’s called “bonsai soil”.
Air without water will dehydrate the plant.
Improper watering is the quickest way to kill any plant. Again, bonsai are plants. Bonsai soil is fast-draining by design in order to get air down to the roots. The more access a plant has to BOTH air and water, the better it will grow.
To see the extremes, look at aeroponics and aquaponics. Although completely opposite extremes, they both provide plants with plenty of water and air. Aeroponics starts with the maximum amount of air possible and adds the water through extremely frequent misting. Hydroponics starts with the maximum amount of water possible and adds the air through oxygenating the water via a pump. Plants grow very well with both of these methods.
In order to provide both air and water to your bonsai, you have to water when the bonsai needs to be watered. There are several methods to determine when that is:
- Look at the soil. Dry soil is lighter in color than wet.
- Lift the pot. Wet soil is noticeably heavier than dry.
- Insert a toothpick into the soil, pull it out, and look at it. If the toothpick is wet, so is the soil.
Unfortunately, there’s no rule-of-thumb as to how frequently you should water. The frequency will change along with the temperature, light, and humidity levels, throughout the year. Find one of the three methods above that works for you and use it EVERY DAY. It’ll only take a few seconds.
When you do water, water well. Be afraid to give too little water at a time, don’t be afraid to give too much. The excess will drain through the soil. Focus on frequency rather than quantity.
DO NOT leave your bonsai sitting in a tub of water all the time. Hours are fine if that is how you choose to water (especially if your bonsai starts to wilt). All the time is not okay. Don’t even keep the pot sitting in a tray filled with water. The soil needs to allow air to reach your bonsai’s roots, and that will not happen unless the water is allowed to leave.
Water without air will drown the plant.
Plants need nutrients to grow. They get these nutrients through fertilizer. ANY relatively balanced fertilizer will do. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for quantity.
DO NOT use organic fertilizer indoors! This is for your sake, not the bonsai’s.
Let Your Bonsai Grow
Plants can easily handle the stresses of bonsai training, if you let them have time to recover and do not stress them further. Provide plenty of light, air, water, and nutrients.
Styling A Bonsai Stresses The Plant
By pruning you are reducing the number of leaves capable of creating energy for the plant. By cutting the roots you are reducing the plant’s ability to take up water and air. By wiring the branches you are shifting the cells that transport water and nutrients.
Plants Can Handle Infrequent Stresses
Let your bonsai look bushy for a few months, then prune it back. Then repeat. Letting your bonsai grow will allow it to create more leaves, creating more energy. It will also allow it to create more woody growth and look like an older tree in less time. When you do style your bonsai, it will have more-than-enough energy ready to deal with the stress.
You probably will not need to repot your bonsai for about two years, assuming it’s healthy. If you have any reason to believe it’s not healthy, please ask for help!
Although there’s a lot written here, the time needed to care for a single bonsai will be about 5 minutes per week. Set reminders on your phone/calendar if you have to. All of us have bonsai at our homes that we love to look at every day. It’s really a relaxing hobby!
PLEASE, Ask For Help
If you have any questions or concerns, please ask ASAP. We love to hear success stories too!