Guide to Bonsai Trees

An ancient art form, the art of bonsai originated in China and was refined in Japan. This art form involves much more than just raising a tree in a container. It involves raising a container-bound tree that produces proportionately-sized foliage with a naturally aged appearance. Much easier than it sounds, mastering bonsai tree often takes years of experience.


Before you select your bonsai tree, consider variables such as where you will grow the tree, how much time you can spend on the tree and your experience level. Select a tree that complements these variables to give your bonsai a greater chance of success.


For vigorous growth, your bonsai tree requires a well-ventilated location with plenty of sunlight. It is important that you identify your bonsai's sunlight requirements since not every bonsai tree can tolerate a full day of direct sunlight. Still, try to give your bonsai some outdoor time, even if for only a few months out of the year. The outdoor air circulation is the ideal environment for healthy cell development.


Pruning your bonsai helps to promote its healthy growth and develop its shape. Just as you identified your bonsai's lighting needs, you must identify its pruning needs. While many bonsai trees adapt well to springtime pruning, some bonsai trees respond poorly to springtime pruning. Always use sharp, sterile pruning shears to make your pruning cuts. Remove dead and diseased areas of your bonsai before making cuts for shape. Reduce the size of your bonsai and develop its shape gradually over the course of several growing seasons to prevent stunting its growth and causing dieback. Thin the interior branches of densely foliated bonsai trees during the summer months to increase air circulation and light penetration throughout the bonsai.


For best results, you must irrigate the bonsai tree around its individual demands, rather than on a schedule. While some bonsai trees demand more water than others, most bonsai trees are intolerant to saturated soils, or "wet feet." These intolerant conditions often cause root rot, canker and other adverse reactions which can kill the tree. To determine the bonsai tree's needs, check the soil's moisture levels every day and only irrigate the bonsai when the soil begins to feel dry.


Repot your bonsai tree every two to three years, or as needed to prevent the roots from becoming bound in its container. Comb the root bound system with a root hook to remove about a third of the mass. Use sharp shears to trim back any dead or damaged roots and trim the very ends of the entire system. Wash the container with warm water and a mild soap and mix a fresh soil environment before repotting. Work quickly so that the roots do not dry out during the process.

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About the Author

Writing professionally since 2004, Charmayne Smith focuses on corporate materials such as training manuals, business plans, grant applications and technical manuals. Smith's articles have appeared in the "Houston Chronicle" and on various websites, drawing on her extensive experience in corporate management and property/casualty insurance.