Introduction to Bonsai Care

by Paprika Claesson

Basic bonsai care is not hard to learn even if you are just starting out as a complete beginner. The process of caring for your bonsai is both a rewarding and meditative process that will help you appreciate the art of bonsai

As a beginning bonsai gardener, you may have many questions about appropriate bonsai care. By understanding the fundamentals, you can build a firm foundation upon which you can confidently grow your skills and expertise, right along with your new bonsai garden!

Bonsai Care: The Basics

As with any garden, the basic elements that your bonsai plant will need to thrive are the right soil, the appropriate amount of light, and the right amount of water.

There are, however a few things that differentiates bonsai trees from other plants. Most people starting out with their first tree don’t know that most bonsai are bred to be outdoors. There are certain species that could survive indoors, so if that is your plan make sure to do some research on the species for your conditions and also but be prepared to give it around 12 hours a day of fluorescent light.

It is important to use the right soil for your bonsai tree. In the “wild” your tree’s roots will grow deeply into the earth resulting in your tree growing tall. Since your bonsai will grow in a shallow container, you are forcing it’s root system to grow shallow and wide. This is largely why the tree will stay small. Since the roots are very shallow, standard potting soil is to dense, trapping to much water which will slowly make the root system rot and your tree to die. This is why using a special bonsai soil mix is important.

Bonsai soil is usually a mix of sand, loam, and organic leaf mold or peat moss. The climate you live in determines what exact soil to use. I suggest to ask your nursery, bonsai shop or local bonsai enthusiast what soil is the right one for your tree.

Food and Water for your bonsai

The most common beginner bonsai question is “how much should I water my bonsai?” The answer depends on a lot of factors, what kind of bonsai you have, how humid is it where you live, what season it is etc.

Ideally, in bonsai care, you want a between too much and too little. Don’t over water-but don’t underwater either. Make sure your water is at temperature, as you don’t want to shock your plant with either cold or water. If you use tap water, let it sit out overnight so that the chlorine and other chemicals can oxidize out of the water.

Wet the soil first, which will increase the bonsai’s ability to take in more water. Afterwards, soak the soil until water runs out of the drainage holes in your tray. Make sure that the entire soil mass gets wet. Watering is best done daily in the early morning, before the plant begins its daily photosynthesis cycle. You can also mist your bonsai on a daily basis to help it retain its necessary humidity levels.

As for fertilizer in bonsai care, use a completely balanced fertilizer (i.e., 20-20-20, which is equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) every other week at quarter strength. A balanced fertilizer is in bonsai care because your tree is considerably smaller than the plants the fertilizer is typically used for. Never fertilize a dry tree (the shock could kill it – make sure to water first!) and don’t fertilize a sick tree; remember, fertilizer isn’t medication.

With the right amount of water and light, along with appropriate soil and fertilizer, you are well on your way to growing a beautiful bonsai collection. Bonsai care does not have to be difficult, as long as you remember to meet the fundamental needs your beautiful bonsai plant has.

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