How to Grow and Care for a Bonsai Tree

bonsai tree

Cory Voecks / EyeEm

Bonsai trees have a reputation for being difficult to care for, but after learning just what they need, it's all pretty straightforward from there. Bonsai trees are dwarfed versions of full trees, as they obviously can't reach their full size while growing in a container, but make for beautiful additions to your home. They're also rather rewarding to care for, as you can literally see the fruits of your labor as the tree grows and blooms.

In Japanese, "bonsai" means "planted in a container." This refers to the practice of keeping the tree small due to the fact that it's growing in a small planter. The tree itself isn't actually a dwarf, it's just not growing to full-size because of the limitations of its container. The precise pruning of the tree also leads to its small appearance, and it also "trains" the tree to remain small.

As long as you do your best to recreate the tree's natural growing conditions at home, you should be able to keep it alive and watch it thrive. Some species of bonsai need different care than others, though, so be sure to be aware of what type of tree you have before jumping in with a certain care plan.

  • Botanical Name: Bonsai
  • Common Name: Bonsai, Japanese maple, boxwood (and others based on what kind of bonsai you have)
  • Plant Type: Shrub 
  • Mature Size: As small as 1-3 inches, as large as 60-80 inches.
  • Sun Exposure: Indirect sunlight
  • Soil Type: Bonsai mix from garden center or hardware store
  • Soil pH: 6.0 to 6.5
bonsai collection

Letizia Le Fur

Bonsai Plant Care

The most important part of caring for your bonsai is knowing what kind you have. Be sure to look up the different varieties and see how care differs based on the plant's needs. There are some bonsais that require less intense care than others (like ficus and jade varieties), and there are some that require a little more attention (like tropical trees).

Some will flourish in dry conditions and would prefer to stay indoors. Just be sure it's near a window and receives sufficient light so it can grow properly. If you want to grow your tree outdoors, make sure the temperatures won't dip too low or that it's not too shady for the tree. Again, it's best to research the specific type of bonsai you have to figure out what it needs.

Best Growing Conditions for Bonsai

The best growing conditions for a bonsai truly depend on what kind of tree you have. Ficus varieties will want a daily misting to ensure the humidity levels around it are maintained, and it prefers full sunlight. When watering, it likes room-temperature water as opposed to anything cool—and when it comes to temperatures around it, the tree doesn't want to be anywhere below 60 degrees.

Jade bonsai are similar to succulents in that they prefer full sun and little water. They hold water in their leaves and stem, so it's better to underwater them than overwater them. A loamy soil mix is best, and make sure it drains well for the best results.

How to Propagate Your Bonsai

You can grow bonsai from cuttings, however it takes years for a plant to be mature enough to have cuttings taken from it. Most bonsai grow from seed, that way you can shape and control how the plant grows.

If you do have a mature bonsai, you can propagate it by using small twigs cut from the branches of a tree. Using clean, sharp shears, cut the twigs at a 45-degree angle, placing them in bonsai soil afterward. Keep the soil most so the cuttings can establish roots, and in a month or two, they should be ready to be planted in another container.

Common Growing Problems

Bonsai are susceptible to root rot, so always be sure to check your soil before giving the plant a drink. Not only can overwatering cause issues, but under watering can, too. If the leaves slowly start yellowing on your plant, it's probably overwatered. If leaves are drying up and falling off, it may be under watered.

Like all plants, bonsais are susceptible to pests, too. Always check for small bugs like aphids and spidermites, and try to get in front of an infestation if you can.

Potting and Repotting

If you want to have a small bonsai, keep your plant in a smaller pot. A shallow planter is best, as it gives the roots room to stretch out a little. In most cases, it's recommended that your planter be about 2/3 the height of your tree, but that's more of a traditional rule than one that must be followed.

You can repot your bonsai in a larger planter if you want it to grow larger, or you can swap it for another planter of the same size if you simply want a change in style. Some trees require repotting every year (if you notice the roots popping out of the planter, it's probably time to change planters). Others will survive in the same planter for many years as long as they are happy with their water and sun requirements.

Article Sources
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  1. “What Size Pot to Use for Your Bonsai Tree.” Accessed February 14, 2022.