Bonsai is a personal experience and anyone who tells you differently has not had the “bonsai experience.” However, through our decades of intense interest in and tremendous love of bonsai, we have discovered that there is a remarkable amount of personal satisfaction to be gained from sharing our interest with others. The way we see it is that the more people who become interested in bonsai, the more opportunities that will arise for us to share our beloved interest. That is what this section of our website is all about: sharing our interest. So, if you are interested in bonsai, or know someone who is, we invite you, through the following articles and items, to share in the bonsai experience.
How Often Should You Water? – When people walk into our nursery, this is, without exception, the most asked question. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. How often you should water a bonsai tree depends on several different variables: what type of tree is it, what time of year is it, where is your tree kept, where do you live, and more than a few others. Watering bonsai is a constant balance between too much and too little.
How Should You Water? – The “best” way to water is to first wet the soil a little, this will improve the soil’s ability to absorb a larger volume of water, and then you should water thoroughly until the soil is saturated. Make certain that the entire soil mass gets wet – every time – you water and wait for the excess to run out of the drainage holes to be sure.
When Should You Water? – The “best” time to water is arguably early in the morning, before your bonsai begins its day of photosynthetic activities. However, it is important to be vigilant about its watering needs throughout the day, especially during the summer. Bear in mind that bonsai trees do not grow when the soil is wet and they do not grow when the soil is dry: it is only during the in between periods that your bonsai tree takes in water and nutrients. You also need to be aware of the amount of light your new bonsai is getting, the temperature of the room your bonsai is located in and the humidity levels of that immediate area. You also need to be realistic about your other life responsibilities, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of your bonsai. Work out a watering schedule that is realistically feasible. It makes no sense to schedule watering late in the morning, if you know that five days a week you’re going to be out the door by 7 AM. Be practical or you and your bonsai will be sorry.
What Kind Of Water Should You Use? – Water your new bonsai with room temperature tap water, because cold water has the potential to shock its roots. If you have the ability and the time to collect rain to water, that is great, but it is unnecessary unless the water in your neighborhood is unfit to drink – and, if it is, you might consider moving yourself and your bonsai somewhere safer.
How Much Light Does A Bonsai Require? Providing the correct amount of light for your bonsai is crucial to keeping it healthy. However, there are no simple answers as to how much light bonsai trees in general “require”. Light requirements are specific to the type of tree and are further dependent upon specific variations in the location they are kept – namely your home. It is a good idea to speak to your local bonsai supplier or a fellow bonsai enthusiast that has experience growing bonsai in a setting very similar to your own.
What Kind Of Light Is Best? – Sunlight is by far the best type of light for bonsai trees and most other living creatures on earth. As such, the brightest window in your home is arguably the best spot for your indoor bonsai trees. However, the brightest window in your home may be located next to the fireplace. So, in a case like this you need to find an alternative and more practical location and use some type of artificial lighting system.
What Kind Of Artificial Light Should You Provide? – A grow light and timer are a simple solution for providing additional light. Set your timer for 12 to 16 hours of supplemental lighting and position your bonsai within 1 to 4 inches of your light source.
Again, speaking to a local bonsai supplier or enthusiast is invaluable. If possible, visit their homes to actually look at their set up and ask questions.
Why Is Humidity Important For Bonsai? – Although indoor bonsai slow their growth in winter and do not need as much water, they still do require sufficient humidity. Humidity helps to reduce water loss through the processes of transpiration. Transpiration will have a negative effect on your bonsai’s ability to retain water and remain healthy.
How Can Humidity Be Improved? – The sometimes dry climate of a home or apartment can be altered to benefit your bonsai tree. Placing your bonsai on a “humidity tray” filled with decorative pebbles, that should be kept wet at all times, will help increase humidity levels. Another solution is regular misting. Misting is the most common humidifying method. It has the additional benefit of removing dust from your bonsai, which blocks sunlight and interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Be sure to mist using room temperature water to avoid shock.
What Else Is Helpful To Prevent Dry Conditions? – Keep your indoor bonsai trees away from breezy doors, windows and heating sources, such as vents, radiators, and fireplaces; to
avoid quickly drying them out. While more sunlight is desirable, it may dry out your bonsai. So, maintaining a watering schedule during winter is just as important as during summer.
Why Do Bonsai Need Fertilizer? – Bonsai containers are a man-made environment. As such, they require you, in order to maintain the health and development of your bonsai, to provide, in addition to frequent watering, a regular dose of fertilizer to the soil or growing medium.
What Type Of Fertilizer Should You Use? – Feed your bonsai with a balanced fertilizer, 20-20-20, at quarter strength, every other week. The numbers 20-20-20 are the percentage, by weight, of the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) contained in that fertilizer. These elements, in addition to minor or trace elements, are necessary for cell division and enzyme processes that allow photosynthesis and the resulting growth to take place.
What Does N-P-K Stand For & What Does It Do? – N – Nitrogen is responsible for the size and amount of new growth and, to some extent, the green color of the leaves. Nitrogen is required for cell division and, also, protein manufacturing. P – Phosphorus is also necessary for cell division and is associated with good root growth and flowering. K – Potassium activates cell enzymes and is related with overall healthy cell activity.
Bonsai Fertilizer Notes – Always water your bonsai thoroughly before fertilizing and never use fertilizer on a dry tree.
Never fertilize a sick tree, as fertilizer is not medicine.
When you have finished a bottle of fertilizer, it is a good idea to purchase a different brand, as they all contain different amounts of trace elements and minerals. Exposing your bonsai to different amounts of these important trace elements and minerals is very beneficial.
If you are not sure how much fertilizer to use, follow the directions on the label and never use more than recommended.
Fertilizer is a good thing, but too much is a bad thing.
DID YOU KNOW?
That the origin of Bonsai, while often attributed to the Japanese, is actually Chinese in derivation. Many experts agree that bonsai, know as Pensai in China, was practiced by scholars, monks and the noble classes of China as far back as 600 A.D. A few centuries later, bonsai, along with Zen Buddhism, and much of the best of Chinese culture was brought to Japan.
That the word “Bonsai”, which is pronounced “Bone- Sigh”, is made up of the two Japanese characters: “Bon” meaning tray and “sai” meaning plant, which when literally translated means: tray plant. Of course, the cultivation of bonsai trees has advanced much since its humble start as plants in trays.
That an earthquake is responsible for shifting the “epicenter” of bonsai cultivation in Japan. In 1923 an 8.3 magnitude earthquake devastated the entire Kanto region of Japan. Destroying vast portions of the two largest cities: Tokyo and Yokohama; along with a majority of the commercial bonsai businesses. As a result, the bonsai business community, in an effort to save their livelihoods, collectively purchased a tract of land outside of Tokyo, in the Omiya region, where their businesses once again flourished. Hence, a new epicenter of bonsai cultivation in Japan was created (which exists and thrives to this day).
That in 1976 the people of Japan, in honor of the USA Bicentennial Celebration, presented to America 53 priceless bonsai trees and 6 remarkable viewing stones. These gifts were to become the foundation of our national collection. This magnificent group is housed at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, located within the U.S. National Arboretum, in Washington, D.C. It has since become the largest collection of its kind – housing bonsai from around the world!
Why Is Temperature Important For Bonsai? – During winter months it is vital that you keep your new indoor bonsai warm — Not Hot — but warm, somewhere between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Where your bonsai falls on this guideline depends on where your bonsai is from “originally” and by this I mean where in the world your bonsai is indigenous… the warmer the native climate, the warmer the area in your home it should be located.
How Can Temperature Be Monitored? – The thermostat on the wall is a good place to start. However, a small thermometer can better monitor the actual temperature of the microenvironment that your bonsai tree is located in. Most garden centers will have small thermometers available for a reasonable price and purchasing a couple is a worthwhile investment, especially if your indoor bonsai are located in a couple different areas of your home.
What Is Helpful To Avoid Temperature Fluctuation? – Doors, windows, fans, heating systems and breezy hallways will all affect the actual temperature of a particular area. It is important for the health of your bonsai to be maintained at stable temperature. A sudden drop in temperature, as well as, a sudden spike in temperature can injure your indoor bonsai trees. Indoor bonsai should not be kept near a door that is frequently opened during winter months to avoid harmful cold drafts. It is important that you read the care guide that comes with your bonsai to help establish the best environment to maintain a healthy and thriving bonsai.
Why Is Air Circulation Important? – A location with adequate air circulation is very important for the long-term health of your new bonsai. The life sustaining process of photosynthesis requires an unrestricted exchange of fresh air and stagnate environmental conditions could compromise your bonsai’s ability to continue its photosynthetic processes, by clogging the pores or stomata, located on the bottom of leaves, which bonsai trees use for this vital air exchange, through dust and debris accumulation.
What Else Is Air Circulation Responsible For? – A closed or confined space is the perfect environment for pests and disease, two of the most terrible enemies of bonsai trees. The regular movement of fresh air helps prevent pests, like spider mites, from establishing their webs and infesting and damaging your bonsai trees. Air circulation also assists your trees in the transportation of essential fluids from the roots to the leaves, by osmosis, which is a vital process. Air also prevents possible root rot conditions, from soil saturation, by assisting in water evaporation.
How Can Air Circulation Be Improved? – If your bonsai is kept indoors or inside a greenhouse, you might consider leaving a door open, or cracked, and a fan, or fans, running. Spraying and misting your bonsai off regularly will help to remove all dust and debris from the bottoms and tops of leaves, allowing your bonsai to “breathe” freely and to continue its photosynthetic processes.
BE CONSCIENTIOUS – If you are having trouble breathing in a confined area, so is your bonsai.
PESTS & DISEASE
How Can I Prevent Pests & Disease? – When working to prevent the possible injury or death of your beloved bonsai, the best defense is a strong offense: be vigilant by keeping your bonsai clean, dust and debris free and cleared of fallen leaves and flowers; be sure sufficient lighting is supplied, as well as, good ventilation and lots of fresh air. A healthy bonsai is without a doubt the most important preventative of pests and disease.
How Can I Treat Pests & Disease? – Unfortunately, even the most observant bonsai enthusiast is likely to encounter some type of pests or disease during their endeavors. It is healthier for your bonsai to be treated for pests and diseases in incremental steps of increasing toxicity.
The first thing to try to change is your bonsai’s current environment. This technique is the simplest and safest. Quite often a change of location can help an ailing bonsai and if it does not, at the very least, you know that your bonsai’s problem is probably not environmental.
The second incremental step would be to try, if possible, to introduce biological controls such as ladybugs. Ladybugs are of no danger to your bonsai and they will eat nearly all pests that are. Of course, this technique is limited to outdoor locations.
The third incremental step would be to use chemicals, also in levels of increasing toxicity. To start, you can try spraying a very mild solution of warm water and liquid dish soap on your trees. This technique is an excellent way to prevent a wide variety of diseases and helps in discouraging many types of pests. Multiple applications may be required to achieve and maintain a healthy bonsai, but the rewards will far out-weigh the efforts.
The fourth incremental step would be to try using a mild insecticidal soap such as the brand name: Safer. This multi-purpose soap derivative offers effective control over most pests. This type of insecticide is one of the mildest and safest, for humans, animals and bonsai – something of a vital importance, especially if you have children and pets.
The incremental step of “last resort” would be to use an actual “chemical” spray, such as: Schultz’s insecticide. It should be handled carefully and used as per manufacturer’s recommendations.
What Kind Of Container Should You Use? – The answer to this question depends upon the function of the container itself. Fundamentally, there are two kinds of bonsai pots: training pots and display pots. If your bonsai is in the training stage, then the pot you need to use is a functional training pot. Training pots are available made of plastic, mica, and even wood. Mica training pots are my personal favorite, as they are available in very large sizes at very reasonable prices. At this critical stage in the development of your bonsai, the most important thing is that you use a pot that is practical. It must reasonably and safely hold all of the soil or growing media that is required to provide the space for a healthy and stable root system to develop, good branching and the desired trunk thickness.
It is essential that any bonsai pot have large drainage holes to insure no water gets trapped at the bottom of the pot, because waterlogged roots will rot and be fatal for your bonsai.
Your bonsai will never really be ready for a display pot without all of these vital development stages having already taken place in a training pot.
What Types Of Containers Are Most Appropriate? – If your bonsai is fully developed to your complete satisfaction and you are preparing to show it, then it is definitely time to choose a display pot. Display pots are usually ceramic, because they must be frost proof, and are available with either a glaze or an unglazed finish. The most suitable display pot is one that enhances and not overshadows the beauty of your prized bonsai.
The most appropriate type of pot is an aesthetic, as well as, an able consideration and depends largely on the type of bonsai you are displaying and its horticultural requirements. The beauty of a deciduous or flowering bonsai is greatly enhanced when matched with a glazed pot of a soft, attractive color, such as: light blue, cream, or green. Conifer and evergreen bonsai when paired with an unglazed pot of an austere color, such as: brown, gray or reddish clay, are perceived in a way that reflects the severe environment of their natural habitat.
The length of your bonsai pot should be in direct relation to the height of your bonsai. A tall bonsai, in general, requires a long pot. In conjunction, the depth of your pot should be relative to the thickness of your bonsai’s trunk. A thick trunk usually commands a deeper pot.
Of course, size guidelines are just that – guidelines. The needs of your specific variety of bonsai will dictate, for the most part, the size of the display pot you can safely utilize.
How Are Pots Pertinent? – The most pertinent feature of pots is that their form must follow their function. If a pot cannot sustain your bonsai, then it really doesn’t matter how good it looks, because it will soon be empty.
DID YOU KNOW?
That the bark of a tree has three very important and practical functions: It is waterproof, so it prevents leaking from the phloem; It also houses small structures, called lenticels, that allow the tree to breathe; and the bark’s third function is to protect the phloem from all kinds of impacts, abrasions and attacks from pests; including: insects and fungi.
That wounds on bonsai trees do not heal in the same manner as the wounds of humans and/or animals. That is to say, trees are not able to repair damaged tissue; instead they continue to manufacture a new layer of cells with each years growth, until the wounds is entirely covered over. The length of time this ‘healing’ process takes depends upon the size of the wound and the overall size of each new annual growth ring.
That if you look at a cross-section of a tree trunk you will see rings and each of these rings indicates a full years worth of life and growth. Scientists can tell by the thickness or thinness of a ring in which year more rain and more subsequent growth took place. Accordingly, a thick ring indicates a year with more rain and more growth and thin ring indicates a year with less rain and less growth. This analysis is one method that curators of arboretums can use to tell when an injury occurred to an imported bonsai that is of an unknown age and approximately how many years it took for that injury to ‘heal’ or be completely calloused over. Scientific researchers and meteorologists can also use this method in their study of weather patterns from hundreds of years ago.
That mature trees, both bonsai and those on the front lawn, develop what is known as a ‘collar’ around the base of the largest branches. This swelling takes years to develop and is caused by the up and down, forward and backward, motion of the largest and heaviest branches as they are pushed to and fro by the whims of Mother Nature. These collars are important to those of us practicing bonsai cultivation, because they help to quicken the bonsai’s healing processes by enabling wounds – specifically those wounds that are left after the pruning of large branches – to heal more rapidly.
Tools for Bonsai
What Kind Of Bonsai Tools Work Best? – There is a specific bonsai tool for every specific bonsai activity and using the correct tool is the “best” tool and the best way to get the correct results. Tools for the practice of bonsai have been around for as long as bonsai itself – thousands of years. So, it is not necessary, nor practical, for a bonsai beginner to purchase a complete set of bonsai tools. As your interest in bonsai cultivation grows, so should your collection of bonsai tools. With each new bonsai endeavor you undertake, you will inevitably purchase the tool necessary to properly perform that endeavor – trust me.
What Kind Of Tool Should You Purchase First? – Consider a pair of shears as your first bonsai tool. They will enable you to keep your new bonsai neatly trimmed and styled. Bonsai shears are available in many quality grades and even a mid-level grade is relatively inexpensive and very easy to put to use.
What Kind Of Tool Should You Purchase Next? – As your interest in bonsai intensifies, and it undoubtedly will, you should seriously consider purchasing a concave branch cutter next. The concave branch cutter, much like shears – and the majority of all bonsai tools – is available here at Bonsai Boy- in a number of quality grades and a couple different sizes. The main function or use of a concave branch cutter is to remove branches. As its name suggests, the shape of the cut mark left on the trunk or branch is concave. When used properly, the concave branch cutter leaves a wound that is somewhat taller than it is wider and slightly concave; and this promotes the rapid and even healing of the wound, with very little scarring. The concave branch cutter is indispensable to bonsai and a great “next” tool.
Other Tools You Should & Will Consider? – A pair of bud scissors, soil sieves, knob cutters, wire cutters, a root hook, and trunk bender will all soon be tools you need and want. The Art of bonsai is one that grows with you, literally and figuratively. As your bonsai interest grows, so too, will your knowledge, skill level and tool collection.