Bonsai Tree FAQ
1. What is a bonsai?
Bonsai are small potted plants or trees which are styled carefully to achieve a beautiful effect. Bonsai were first introduced to Japan from China (known as Penzai) over a thousand years ago, and then into the Western world a bit over 100 year ago.
Simply placing a tree in a small pot does not make it bonsai.
The bonsai enthusiast will use their imagination and skill to train the tree’s foliage into the shape they see in their mind. This shaping is done by:
- Pruning the roots to keep the tree small
- Wiring the trees branches
- Other techniques to give the tree the look of a mature tree in nature.
2. What does bonsai mean?
Bonsai (pronounced Bon-Sigh) is a Japanese term commonly used meaning a “tree in a pot”.
3. Is it difficult to grow bonsai trees?
No, it is not difficult! Taking care of bonsai is an easy and rewarding experience for enthusiasts from beginners to masters. It does however require patience and a commitment to providing the proper care and environment for your bonsai. Some species are “hardier” than others and are appropriate for those new to bonsai gardening. Species such as Jade, Ficus and the Fukien Tea Tree are great for new enthusiasts. Read about these species and others here.
4. Why are bonsai so small?
Bonsai trees are so small by two key methods
- By placing a tree/plant in a small pot (“bon”) which limits the available space for the trees roots to grow limit, hence the overall size of the tree. The roots are periodically trimmed back as well; and
- By pruning and shaping the bonsai trees branches and leaves, keeping the owners desired shaped and size
Did you know there are traditional bonsai size classifications? (though you do not need to abide by them) The smallest, Keshitsubo is only 1 to 3 inches in height!
5. Why did my bonsai die?
There are numerous reasons that may cause you’re bonsai tree to die. The most common mistakes include:
- Keeping outdoor tree’s indoors
- Over and under watering
- Bonsai are vulnerable to various diseases and pests that affect trees in the wild.
With the appropriate care and maintenance, maintaining a healthy bonsai is not too difficult.
6. When and how much do I water my bonsai tree?
Bonsai trees should only be watered when they need it… The basic guideline on when to water your bonsai tree is to water whenever the soil is slightly dry. Depending upon the time of year and the temperature this could result in multiple watering requirements. Because the needs of the individual tree must be evaluated based on species, soil and potting, there is no hard and fast rule about when to water every bonsai. There are a few methods to help guide you along including:
- Stick your finger into the soil about a quarter of an inch or so to see how dry it is under the soils surface. This will vary slightly depending on the soil mix and amount of soil, however it is a good guide.
- Some will stick a chopstick or similar implement into the soil to test the dryness
- Another method is to check the weight of the plant by picking it up. If it is dry it will weigh less than a fully watered plant.
More information on watering can be found here on our “how to water bonsai tree’s post”
7. How much light does bonsai need?
Your bonsai will have varying requirements for direct sunlight. This could be a couple of hours of morning sunlight up to full sun for the whole day. All trees require a period of direct sunlight every day and ambient light for the rest of the day to thrive. The size of your bonsai will also affect the amount of sunlight it requires. Smaller trees will dry out more quickly than larger trees, and as such should not be direct sunlight for extended periods. This means, the Location of your bonsai is extremely important to its long term health.
A couple of points to remember:
- If your bonsai is next to a wall, be mindful of radiated heat
- Avoid windy spots
- The best place for bonsai kept indoors will be near a window or on a balcony.
- That said, bonsai which do not get adequate light will become pale, possibly even lose leaves and wither.
- Where you are unable to provide adequate natural light, artificial light via a grow lamp is an alternative.
8. What kind of trees can be bonsai?
There are many species of tree that can be used for bonsai. Search the Web and see the wide variety used. The species you choose will often depend on your level of experience and your local climate. The top 10 list for those new ( or otherwise) to bonsai can be found here
9. Where can I buy bonsai?
Bonsai can be bought from:
- Local bonsai nursery
- Online bonsai store
- Regular nursery
- You can also grow from cuttings, or even seed, if you are willing to wait for the tree to grow
To learn more about what you need to look out for when buying a bonsai, read here
10. How to train bonsai trees?
There are a number of techniques developed that are used to create and maintain, i.e. “train” a bonsais tree’s unique shape and size. The two most widely used being pruning and wiring.
Pruning, a technique repeated periodically on your bonsai using small sharp scissors or pruners that are able to remove unwanted leaves, buds and branches with the aim to control the development of the bonsai’s style and shape. Two key types of pruning are:
- Branch pruning – used to establish the basic shape of the tree
- Leaf and shoot pruning – refine and improve the shape of your tree
Wiring, like pruning is an essential technique used to shape and style a bonsai tree. Wire can be used when you want to change, bend or reposition the angle of a branch. Copper or aluminum wire should be used as other metals are not suitable. It usually takes a period of 6 to 18 months before the wired branches are set to their new shape, after which the wire can be removed.