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Basic Bonsai Care Guide

There is nothing mystical or secret about growing bonsai - they do need a bit more care and attention than other plants but, like other plants, they just need water, light, feeding and room to grow in the right environment.

Positioning

Indoor trees tend to need a light warm place but try and avoid putting them in places where the air is dry, such as above a radiator or on a fire mantle place.  Some trees can be grown indoors or out, others will not tolerate the indoor environment and vice versa so it is best checking before you buy.

Outdoor trees have a helping hand from nature so can be a bit easier to look after but need more attention to their water needs.  Again the majority needs good sunlight.

Direct strong sunlight or dry winds can cause leaf burn to some large leaved species (especially maples) that is unsightly rather than harmful.

If you are a novice at bonsai care then it is best checking with the seller where the tree is best kept - if they can't tell you then it may be worth finding new seller!

Feeding

Feed twice a month during the growing season on a well-balanced feed is the general principle. Liquid feed is better on smaller and/or indoor trees and a slow release surface feed on larger and/or outdoor trees.  As outdoor trees tend to get more water and drain better you are never quite sure how much liquid feed if left in the soil so with a slow release one at least you can see it!

No nitrogen feeds are good for balancing new soft growth and if used from late autumn it will harden off new growth but continue to feed the hard wood and roots and build the trees resistance for winter. Once the tree has gone dormant feeding should cease until spring, as it is not required.

Avoid using a nitrogen based feed prior to leaf opening in deciduous trees as this can increase leaf size.

Do not feed with chemical foods for one month after re potting otherwise root burn may occur.

Watering

Poor watering is one of the main reasons people loose bonsai. Water frequently enough to keep the tree moist, this may be twice a day hot weather  and reduce water slightly in winter; protect outdoor trees from getting water logged.

The soil should be moist to touch. It is worth soaking trees that have inadvertently got too dry to ensure that no dry spots are present in the root ball.  A well draining bonsai tree should be watered so that water runs out of the bottom of the pot; this will help prevent the build up of unwanted minerals in the soil.

It is worth mentioning that you should be careful watering cascade bonsai trees if there is a frost forecast as they can shatter when if the water freezes.

Trimming/Pruning/Shaping

Trees are kept in their shape and size by pruning rather than allowing them to get pot bound.  If you consider that a tree has 'X' amount of energy in it, when you prune new growth this energy is redistributed throughout the tree; theory is that that if you trim the top growth and not lower then the energy that was destined for the upper tree will be used by the lower branches.  With this approach you can balance growth in weaker areas and define the shape of your bonsai.

Regular pruning also promotes a finer branch structure.

Take care to bend wired branches slowly so they do not snap and the wire should be at 45 degrees to the branch.

Re Potting

Allowing the tree to become pot bound does not create a bonsai; they actually need room for their roots to grow to maintain health. We re-pot them to allow the roots room to grow and develop a finer root system that absorb nutrients and water better.

The majority of trees are best re-potted in early spring. This allows the tree to heal quicker and re-establish its root system before the potentially warmer summer weather.

There is a basic re-potting guide on our shop pages that expands on this area more.

A closing note on picking a bonsai tree

It is worth noting that a bonsai tree is different to a tree that has been recently put in a shallow pot.

If trees are collected from their native habitat they can take a number of years to settle and re-establish so take care if buying 'raw, collected or Yamadori' trees as these are vulnerable and you should check their history with the seller well; genuine ones are usually expensive due to the time invested in them so beware of cheap imitations!

There will be casualties along the way with bonsai tree care, its one of those things, but you should make sure that you buy from an experienced person who can offer you help in the early days if needed.

As a bonsai dealer we can't guarantee that the tree will live forever or be a specimen in 5 years, that would be unfair as it is not possible to know how trees are being treated or looked after once they are with their new owners, but I would say it is reasonable to guarantee that they are in good health when you buy them and to offer help along the way until you find you feet.

Good luck - enjoy your trees as they are very rewarding, relaxing and somewhat addictive!