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Bonsai Tree Care and Maintenance

The bonsai tree is a beautiful plant that can bring life energy into any room. It symbolizes peace and tranquility and is the perfect centerpiece for any room.

Your bonsai plants will require the utmost care to remain stable and healthy. This guide will help you see how to care for your miniature tree, with some standards varying over the type of bonsai tree you have.

Is Your Tree Indoors or Outdoors?

The first point for handling your bonsai tree is to know if it’s an indoor or outdoor tree. While you can place your bonsai tree indoors, some trees shouldn’t stay inside for too long.

A rule of thumb is to consider if your tree is a tropical one or not. Tropical bonsai trees can stay indoors, as these indoor bonsai trees can handle warm and stable weather conditions throughout the year. The ficus, jade, and Hawaiian umbrella tree are among the most common indoor bonsai trees.

Deciduous trees like the maple, ginkgo, pine, and elm should stay outdoors. These trees will thrive in outdoor conditions similar to what their more massive counterparts can handle.

You can keep a tropical bonsai tree indoors, but any other bonsai tree needs to stay outdoors for as long as possible. You can bring one of these outdoor trees indoors for about three to five days on average, but make sure you keep it outdoors as often as necessary.

Proper Placement

For Indoor Trees

After figuring out whether your bonsai tree is an indoor or outdoor one, you can position it well. First, let’s look at how to place an indoor tree in the right spot.

There are a few things you can do when placing your indoor tree in a space:

  • Keep the tree near a south-facing window. The tree will require light to help it grow.
  • Keep the tree in a room where the temperature is consistent throughout the day.
  • The humidity in the room should also be high. A humidity tray can help collect condensation around the tree as the water evaporates.

For Outdoor Trees

You can use these points for placing an outdoor tree in a spot:

  • Keep the tree in direct sunlight while outdoors.
  • You can add a small bit of shade around the tree during the summer season. Excess direct heat during the summer could harm your tree.
  • Look at how well wind moves in your area. Keep your tree in a place where the wind won’t be much of a factor. You can temporarily move the tree indoors if the wind becomes an issue outdoors.

Choosing the Right Pot

A suitable bonsai pot will be necessary for supporting the tree’s root system. While there are many small pots you could use for your tree, the pot still needs enough room to allow the roots to grow and draw nutrients from the soil.

There are a few rules to follow when determining the size of the bonsai tree pot:

  • The depth of the pot should be equal to the trunk’s diameter at the soil level.
  • The pot’s length or diameter should be determined based on the tree’s height. A round pot can have a diameter of about a third of the tree’s height, while a rectangular or oval pot can be two-thirds the tree’s height.
  • The pot can be wider if the tree has a longer canopy. The pot can also be a little shallower, especially if the trunk’s diameter isn’t too large.

Also, review whether your tree is masculine or feminine when choosing your tree pot. A masculine tree has a thicker trunk and a more compact look, plus it may stand straight and tall. A feminine tree will have thinner branches and features and more noticeable curves.

A masculine tree can use a deeper pot with more angular parts, plus the upper rim can have a lip. A feminine tree will need a shallower pot with soft lines, while the edge has a bowl-like shape.

Make sure you have a humidity tray around the tree regardless of the pot style. The tray will collect dripping water and protect surfaces around the tree. The design works well when the pot has enough holes around its body to ensure good drainage.

Watering Your Bonsai Tree

The bonsai tree growing season goes from the spring to the early summer. The tree will experience new growth during those times of the year. The tree is dormant in the summer and winter, plus the growth stabilizes in the fall.

Your bonsai tree will require regular watering to ensure it stays healthy. A tree that doesn’t receive enough water will quickly die, as the soil layer is too shallow.

Overhead Watering

The first option you have for watering your bonsai tree is overhead watering. This practice involves using a watering can or hose to add water.

You can use these steps for overhead watering:

  1. Start pouring water over the tree.
  2. Watch as the water enters the soil. Stop watering when water starts puddling on the soil surface.
  3. Allow the water you just added to drain into the soil.
  4. You can continue watering the plant at this point.
  5. Watch how the drainage holes at the bottom part of the pot react to the watering effort. You can stop watering when water starts running out of those holes.

Immersion Watering

Immersion watering is another watering option that can be effective. Here’s how to use this measure for watering your bonsai tree:

  1. Fill a bucket with water. There should be enough water to where it goes about one inch up from the tree trunk.
  2. Submerge the tree into the bucket.
  3. Watch how you see some bubbling coming from the tree. You can tell the tree requires water when there are more bubbles coming up.
  4. Keep the tree in the bucket until the bubbles stop rising.
  5. Slowly move the tree out of the bucket and let it drain.

It can take a few minutes to use this method for watering the tree.

How Often Should You Water Your Tree?

You don’t want to water your tree too often, as too much water can cause the tree’s leaves to yellow while small branches can weaken. Many bonsai trees can go without water for days, but this will vary over the type of tree you’re supporting. But some smaller trees might require daily watering due to not having as much soil. The smaller the tree, the more often it will require watering.

Feel the soil around your tree to see how wet or dry it is. You’ll need to water your tree if you don’t feel much moisture around the first half-inch of the soil.

You can also see if the tree looks or feels light. The tree will be dry if it is too light, so you’ll need to water the tree at this point.

Getting the Right Soil

The type of soil you’ll use in your bonsai tree should be planned well. You can use these materials in your bonsai soil:

  1. Akadama – This clay material works for bonsai trees.
  2. Pumice – This soft rock absorbs nutrients and water, allowing the tree to retain these materials.
  3. Lava Rock – Lava rock is a good base material that retains water. Roots are unable to grow into the lava rock.

A deciduous bonsai tree should have two parts akadama for every part of pumice and lava rock. A coniferous tree can handle an equal amount of all three items.


These small trees also require fertilization to support new growth, especially during the early spring. You can find many bonsai tree fertilizers on the market, with many of them using the NPK ratio:

  1. Nitrogen – This nutrient helps the tree grow its stems and produce leaves.
  2. Phosphorus – Phosphorus strengthens the tree’s root structure.
  3. Potassium – This third part helps promote flowers and fruits around the tree.

There are a few standards to use when fertilizing your tree:

  • Nitrogen is necessary during the early spring. Stick with a 10:6:6 fertilizer at this point.
  • A 9:9:9 or 10:9:10 fertilizer is helpful during the summer season.
  • Fertilizers for the winter months should consist of phosphorus to keep the tree structure safe. Some of these fertilizer items will only consist of phosphorus.

When Should You Fertilize the Tree?

You can use these points to determine when you’re going to fertilize your tree:

  • Fertilize your tree every week during the growing season.
  • Fertilize once a month during the late summer and fall seasons. The tree’s growth rate will slow down at this point, so fertilization won’t be as critical here.
  • Make sure the tree isn’t under lots of stress before fertilizing. Fertilizing a tree that is sick could cause more stress upon that tree.

Pruning Your Bonsai Tree

Proper structural pruning is necessary for keeping your tree healthy and beautiful. You can prune the top and outside parts of the tree to help control how well the tree grows.

You can prune branches and other features that have outgrown the intended tree shape. You’ll be more likely to trim outdoor plants during the growing season, but an indoor plant can be pruned year-round.

Pruning shears are suitable for most trees, but hand-pinching is best for conifers to keep the cuttings from experiencing excess stress.

There are many growths you should prune:

  • Suckers that grow from the trunk base
  • Limbs too close to the ground
  • Branches that go beyond the profile
  • Branches that reach upward to where they compete with the trunk
  • Branches with unusual bends and shapes
  • Anything that looks thicker than most other branches
  • Suckers growing around the top branches

Caring For An Ill Bonsai Tree

How to Tell Your Bonsai Tree Is Ill

Your bonsai tree could weaken if you don’t care for it well. There are many signs that suggest your bonsai tree is ill:

  • The leaves are wilting or discolored.
  • The leaf edges are slightly ragged.
  • You notice spots on the leaves.
  • The leaves or needles are falling off before the fall season.
  • Some of the branches are weakening and aren’t as strong as usual.
  • Some pests or insect eggs might also appear around the tree.

How to Fix Your Tree

You can use these measures to keep your bonsai tree from further harm:

  • Add a humidifier to your growing room to improve how well the area can handle water.
  • Water with distilled water to remove salt and other toxins in your soil.
  • Apply a small bit of alcohol to a cotton ball and dab it on a leaf with an unusual spot or growth.
  • Pesticide materials can go over a bonsai tree, but make sure anything you use is safe for a bonsai tree. Always follow the instructions on how to use pesticides over a bonsai tree.
  • Remove the tree from your pot and look for diseased roots. You can trim the roots with clean pruning shears to keep them safe. Be sure you dispose of the root well or burn it to prevent the diseased material from hurting anything else.
  • You might have to replant your bonsai tree if the soil has been compromised.

Repotting Your Bonsai Tree

You can repot your bonsai tree if it becomes too large for the old pot or the existing one is too damaged or has diseased soil. This measure is important, as a tree that isn’t repotted soon could die due to poor growth.

Here are some steps for repotting a bonsai tree:

  1. Remove the tree from your pot with a root rake.
  2. Gently remove the old soil on the bottom and sides. Avoid touching the root structure at this point.
  3. Trim roots that have grown too long. Avoid trimming more than a third.
  4. Apply the proper heavy-grain soil and drainage soil to your new pot.
  5. Put the tree into the pot.
  6. Apply more soil around the tree.
  7. Water the tree afterward. Make sure the drainage holes in the pot are healthy.

How Often Is Repotting Necessary?

Repotting is necessary every few years. Faster-growing trees require repotting every two to three years, while more mature trees can be repotted less often.

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