The bonsai tradition is one that anyone can participate in. Bonsai growing is not hard, but there are some aspects to it that are unlike those of growing any other houseplant. The way we care for our bonsai is different because of one important aspect: the small, shallow container. Because they are housed in these containers, the trees’ nutrient and water intake is restricted. Soil is another special part of bonsai growing, because they are not planted in regular potting soil. Keep reading to learn how to look after your bonsai.

Bonsai Placement: Indoor or Outdoor?

Generally, bonsai are placed into two categories: indoor and outdoor. It is very important to your tree’s survival that you know what kind of tree you have. The care requirements are nearly identical for these trees, but they each grow best in their own climates. 

Indoor bonsai trees are tropical or subtropical species. This means they like high temperatures, high humidity, and lots of sun. Growing constantly all year, they do not have dormancy periods in the winter. Common indoor bonsai include the Ficus, Carmona, and Jade species. These trees should be placed in front of a window where they can receive as much light as possible, usually a south-facing window. 

Outdoor bonsai, on the other hand, are temperate, continental, Mediterranean, or maritime trees. Unlike indoor species, the outdoor variety goes dormant once a year to survive the winter and prepare for growth in the spring. Exposure to the four seasons is crucial to the tree’s survival. Winters must be cold enough for them to go dormant, but not so cold that frost damages the tree. They must be protected from frost in a greenhouse.

The Importance of Watering

There are some very important factors to consider when watering your bonsai. First, you should never water your bonsai on a schedule or routine. Always check the tree’s soil moisture before watering. Watering on a routine can cause serious issues like under- and over-watering. Both of these will prove fatal if done often enough. 

When your tree needs to be watered, do so with a fine-nozzle watering can to prevent the soil from being disturbed. Using rain water is preferred, but tap water can be used as well. Water generously until the water begins to drain out of the holes at the bottom or sides of the pot. Wait around 10 minutes, then repeat.

Providing Nutrients With Fertilizer

bonsai care

Since bonsai are planted in nutrient restricting pots, they require fertilizer in order to survive. Bonsai fertilizer is composed of three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Each serves a different purpose but is equally important. 

Because indoor bonsai grow consistently all year, they should also be fertilized all year. Feed with liquid, balanced fertilizer. The rate at which you should fertilize depends on the brand, so follow the directions on the packaging. 

Outdoor bonsai should be fed during their growth season, from spring to autumn. Fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content should be used in the spring, balanced fertilizer in the summer, and lower nitrogen content fertilizer in the autumn. Do not feed in the winter.

Bonsai Soil and Repotting

The right soil is key in the health of your bonsai. Bonsai need a special inorganic fertilizer, rather than organic potting soil. Inorganic soil consists of Akadama, pumice, and lava rock. Good bonsai soil provides drainage, aeration, and water retention. Organic soil provides none of these crucial qualities and will cause your tree to die. 

Deciduous bonsai need a mix of Akadama, Pumice, and lava rock at a ½, ¼, ¼ ratio. Coniferous like the same mix at a ⅓, ⅓, ⅓ ratio. 

Every few years, your bonsai will need to be repotted. This is because new roots will grow, which takes up the room that the soil used to. Once the roots have circled around the root ball, it is time to repot. Old roots should be pruned off. Without repotting, your bonsai will become pot bound, meaning the tree will not soak up nutrients, and it will die. 

Caring for a bonsai tree may seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry! Participating in this beautiful tradition is very rewarding, because you aren’t just looking after a tree, you are embarking on a journey. When you first get your tree, you will either place it indoors or outdoors, depending on the species. Make sure you know what kind of tree you have! Watering should be done as necessary, not on a routine. Fertilizing needs varies from indoor to outdoor species. Repot your tree every few years as needed with inorganic soil. We know you will love caring for your bonsai tree!