How to Grow and Care for Bonsai Trees

Planning on making an addition to your family? A tiny addition, which needs a lot of care , attention and feeding? No, not a baby – a bonsai!

Bonsai is the horticultural art form of training plants to look like large, aged trees that appear in nature, but in miniature. They can be developed from seeds or cuttings, takien from the forest or elsewhere and transplanted into containers. You probably can find them for sale in your area, but you can also make them on your own. Schefflera arboricola or ficas can be made into indoor bonsai and junipers and azaleas make good outdoor trees and plants. To keep them small you need to root prune and top prune constantly, say experts.

There are three basic classifications of bonsai: Evergreens and deciduous trees like junipers, cypress, maples and wisteria; sub tropicals, which can’t go below freezing, like the Chinese elm tree, azaleas and Japanese larches; and tropicals, like the Brazilian rain tree, which can stay indoors year round.

Bonsai are not planted in the ground. They are grown in shallow pots and require a lot of attention. According to one greenhouse manager, bonsai need to be watered frequently. “They are watered by soaking,” she said. The plants are grown in very small pots, with a very small root system, in a very small amount of soil. Therefore, they have little water reserves and need to be replenished often.

Any kind of plant can be a bonsai, even herbs like parsley and oregano. But whatever the variety, to have a true bonsai, you might want to follow the tradition of planting your tree a little off center in its container. Not only is asymmetry vital to the visual effect, according to, “but the center point is symbolically where heaven and earth meet, and nothing should occupy this place.”

When can the bonsai be kept outside? Junipers, for example, prefer to be outdoors from mid-May to mid-November and will do best in a location that receives a lot of direct sun. They can stay out in the fall until termperatures start to go below 25 degrees. That’s when you should bring them inside to a protected area like a garage, enclosed porch or a basement window. If kept at 40 degrees or above, your tree will still need to be in the sun. In locations colder than this, light is not needed. But remember not to go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also important, is a regualr feeding schedule. There are many different types of fertilizer. The most common is pellet-form. This is a slow release fertilizer, which will take care of feeding requirements for several weeks at a time. Also available are soluble powder and liquid feeds. They are applied to the soil with a watering can and are used up relatively quickly.

Repotting and periodic root pruning are also part of the program of owning a bonsai, explained one grower. “Tropical bonsai are pruned in the summer. Deciduous trees are pruned in the spring before their leaves open.

Feeding, watering, pruning, wiring, and then there’s placement – sun, shade, or partial sun? There are so many important questions. If you’d like to learn more about raising a bonsai, read “Bonsai” by Harry Tomlinson, Reader’s Digest Association, and “Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Bonsai.” Both guides offer instructions on the art and care of bonsai, complete with photos and graphics.

Patience is a virtue when dealing with all varieties of bonsai, say experts. Owning and caring for the bonsai becomes a lifestyle, and looking after them becomes a ritual. So whether you take the time to start one on your own, or purchase one, you could be the proud owner of a bonsai. Congratulations!

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