Bonsai Tree Pots

A Basic Guide on Choosing the Right Pot


blue ceramic pot

Blue Ceramic pot

There is no doubt that the right pot can make a beautiful tree even more lovely but the importance of making the right choice goes even further than aesthetics. It also has to do with the health of the tree. If the roots have enough space then they will be happy, and happy roots go a long way in making for a thriving tree. This is a basic guide to help you get the right container.

Funnily enough, the importance of containers was lost on me until I started getting compliments on my first tree. Before then, I had always assumed that  although I got immense pleasure from taking care of my tree, it was not something that others would even notice. (Silly I know!) All that changed off course when I realized that just because other people did not take up Bonsai did not mean that they did have an interest in them. When the compliments started coming in, I began thinking about how I could make my tree even better! A chance conversation with someone I met while browsing the nursery near my home made me re thinking about the importance of containers especially when he mentioned the wrong one can lead to health and growth problems for the tree.

This naturally led me to try to learn more about how I would go about picking the right one and that it is how this article came about. I hope it is helpful to you.

7 Things to Consider

The pot plays a big part in the art of bonsai, in fact one of the characters in the Chinese word for bonsai represents the container. However getting the right one can take time. Whichever style of pot chosen, its first task has to be in helping the tree maintain a healthy lifespan.

There are so many choices for containers based on size and shape, color and even finish. It is worthwhile to mention the difference between training and display pots. A bonsai training pot is a temporary pot used during the early growth before it is ready to be displayed. It usually has more room than the recommended guidelines when it comes to dimensions to allow for growth of the root system as it matures.

Click here for a  wide selection of containers to compliment your bonsai

    1. Harmony between pot and tree

The relationship between pot and tree is very important and choosing the right container emphasizes this. It needs to enhance and not over power. In fact some people believe that the right pot should give an observer the ability of imagining the tree growing in its natural element in the wild by working in harmony with the tree to enhance its features. Although this might mean choosing a pot that is the in the same color range as the tree, a contrasting pot can also be used to emphasize certain features of the tree.

Pots come in so many different styles that what makes one more suitable than another is a difficult question to answer. There are however certain considerations that can make it easier to match the pot with the right tree.

When the tree is still at its growing and development stage, then an ordinary pot can be used while matured trees can be displayed in more elaborate and decorated ones.

2.Practical Considerations

These are important as the tree needs to have enough room for the root system to get nutrients from the soil. They also need to have drainage holes at the bottom so that water can escape since excess water can lead to rot in the roots.

Some pots have feet which raise them off the ground so that air can flow beneath.

 3.Stage of development of the tree

Stage of growth is something that should be considered; for example a tree that is still growing might not need an elaborate or decorative pot while this might be more important for a matured one that is ready to be displayed.

4.Location of tree

The pot needs to be able to withstand the conditions under which the tree will be kept for example certain materials might not be strong enough to withstand frost. Pots that are lighter in color stay cooler for longer while darker ones absorb more heat and might not be suited for trees located in very hot climatic conditions. Unglazed finish also leads to more heat absorption.

5.The tree’s characteristics

How to tell if a tree is masculine or feminine.

In bonsai trees are given the role of either feminine or masculine. Whether a tree is deemed masculine or feminine can be subjective in fact sometimes they can even be somewhere in between.Some trees are however generally considered to be one or the other by nature. For example pines are considered to be masculine while Japanese maple bonsai trees are feminine; the appearance of the tree usually determines what role it is assigned.
Feminine trees will generally have any of the following characteristics;

      • Delicate with an elegant appearance
      • Might consist of curves and twists
      • Are flowering trees
      • Might have a smooth bark
      • Light canopy ,made up of thin branches
      • Thin tree

Masculine trees should be planted in a pot that compliments its strong nature.Masculine trees might have the following characteristics which gives them a sense of strength and power

      • Have thick trunks
      • Have rough barks
      • Have wide canopy made up of thick branches, lots of leaves

The above guidelines were more general while the following ones relate specifically to the container itself

6. Masculine vs Feminine pots

Similar to trees, pots are also considered either masculine or feminine. This makes the job of choosing the right one easier.
Feminine pots are

  • Shallow
  • Have softer edges (for example round or circular)

Generally speaking, masculine

  • Might be deep with hard lines
  • Are angular
  • Have stout feet
  • Have sharp corners (can be rectangular)

7.Style of the pot

Pots can have a glazed or unglazed finish
Glazed vs unglazed
The question whether a glazed finish better than unglazed is almost as common as should I choose a glazed of unglazed pot? Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Glazed bonsai pots retain more moisture since glaze is a type of glass and is therefore non porous. Usually this finish is applied on the outside. This is mainly attributed to 2 things. Firstly glazing the inside of a pot would be waste of resources since no one will see it. The second argument is the roots of the tree cannot get a firm grip when it comes into contact with the glazed surface which is not good for the health of the root system.
Unglazed pots on the other hand allow the root system to breathe better as they allow loss of moisture through their walls.

As can be seen from the above both  have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore my answer to the question which of the two is a better choice would be that either can be fine and depends more on your personal style or the look you are going for more that anything else.The reason why I say this is that good bonsai soil is fast draining and will provide enough air to the roots of a bonsai plant anyway.


Pots come in different textures ranging from smooth to rough. Although these textures are sometimes due to the decorations,they can also be due to stains or iron oxide added during the manufacturing process.One advantage of using stains is that they can add both character and color without the need for glazing. A smooth texture is  generally used for feminine trees while rough textured pots are more suited for masculine pots.Mature trees will look well in old antique looking pots.

9. color

Although color is a personal choice, it is a good idea to consider the tree’s features and how they might change through the seasons. Things like the leaves of a tree falling off or changing color, developing flowers or fruit will change how it works with the pot. When choosing colored pots, some people prefer to choose the same color as the tree. This can work although a contrasting color can be also be used to provide balance to the  display. With this in mind, dark colors  are commonly used for masculine trees while feminine trees are placed in more colourful pots. Red and brown are popular for evergreens and conifers.

10.Traditional guidelines

Throughout the centuries certain guidelines have developed with regards to picking containers for trees. However since tastes change with time; something in fashion now might be unpopular at a later stage, these should be considered merely guidelines and not law.

      • Traditionally, Junipers and Pines are planted in unglazed pots with brown being a popular color
      • Deciduous and flowering trees in colored glazed pots.
      • Literati are planted in oval or round pots
      • Landscapes and groupings(for example bonsai forests) are planted in low pots or slabs
      • Formal or informal styles are planted in rectangular shaped bonsai pots.

11. Pot size and dimension

The size of the container needs to compliment that of the tree. Since trees are usually re potted after a period of time, it also needs to have enough room to cater for growth of the root system. It is recommended that;

      • The depth of the pot be the same diameter as the trunk of the tree
      • Lengthwise it is recommended that a pot should be about two-thirds of the tree’s height.
      • Trees with a wide canopy like Hawaiian Umbrella can be balanced out by using a shallow pot.
      • If using square or round pots, it is recommended that the width of the pot be smaller than the widest section of the trees branches
      • Rectangular or oval containers should be around one and half times wider that the branches of the tree

12. Shape

Popular shapes include  oval, rectangular and  free form shapes.
Oval shapes are common for more feminine bonsai trees(curves, twisting, whimsical flowers) while pots with clean sharp corners, rectangular, straight sides are better suited to masculine  bonsai (strong, upright)
Square shaped containers are popular with cascade or semi cascade styled trees.
There is no doubt that matching the right pot with the right tree is important since they work together as a team. If the right container is chosen it will enhance the beauty of the tree.

Handmade Bonsai pots
I thought since this guide is about pots to mention some of my favorite handmade pots. There are some really good pottery makers with the most beautiful pots. Most of these are out of my price range at the moment (a girl can dream) but I would absolutely love to buy a beautifully handmade display pot when I have a tree that has matured enough (and I have the funds obviously)

For now I love to browse these online and add them to my wish list. My favorite would have to be the ones  from Japan especially the  Tokoname  region although I also like pots by Sara Rayner.