Getting into the art of Bonsai development can be intimidating for a beginner. It can seem like there is so much to do. Although this is true, I think it is also one of the things that makes the art so beautiful. It is a process, a journey and every step of the way should not feel like hard work.
As a beginner it is worthwhile to note that you should be patient with both yourself and your plants. The art goes back more than 1000 years after all and it is impossible to become an expert in a short period of time.
To begin with and gain some confidence, I decided to buy a few trees during a sale at the plant center specifically waited for a time when they were on sale so I could get them on the cheap. The leaves of my first tree started turning yellow almost as soon as I brought it home therefore I know how frustrating it can all seem. I never did find out why that plant died but I remember thinking to myself “well I guess killing off a tree is the worst that could happen and I have already done that….”
While trying to figure out what had gone wrong, I did lots of research online and found lots of good blogs and forums where I could connect with other people who had been doing this for a longer time. I am amazed by the good information that one is able to get at a click of a button online. You might off course decide to go completely in the other direction and get your self one that is not real. With all the pretty ones ones available I am tempted myself.
For anyone thinking about or who has already got their first plant, if all the maintenance and care required to keep a tree healthy is scary or preventing you from getting your first tree then I hope this article will put things in a different light.
For the most part, the 2 main activities that you will be undertaking as soon as you get your tree is watering and fertilizing. The others like repotting, pruning etc. will come on later. As your tree grows, so will your confidence and knowledge on how to take care of it.
Care and maintenance tips
Although some would argue with me, I think caring for a bonsai is fun and does not have to be complicated. Availability of information and resources about them in the western world has made this art accessible to some of us who a few years ago would not have afforded to get involved.
Tree care will depend on the species of tree and also various factors like whether it is an indoor plant or outdoor however below are some general guide lines on the care and maintenance of your tree.
Although it goes without saying that all trees need water to survive, to ensure that your tree does not succumb to either over or under watering, every time before watering check to make sure that the tree actually needs water. Bonsai suppliers often give you a schedule on when to water, but I believe each tree will have its own watering needs. This is because even 2 trees of the same species will have different watering needs depending on their location and what season it is. The best thing to do is to check if a tree requires watering.
Checking to see if the tree requires water is easy enough. You can stick a chop stick into the soil, leave it for some minutes and pull it out, if the stick is dry then you can water the tree, if it appears wet then hold off watering
How to water
Although some people use immersion (immersing the whole plant in a bucket or basin of water for a short time) I prefer to use a watering can with a fine nozzle to water the soil. The fine nozzle ensures that the water is not strong enough to disturb the soil particles. When using a watering can, to ensure that the roots are also watered, water until water comes out of the drain holes.
A mist spray can also be used on the leaves to keep them moisturized. Do not use a watering can on the leaves since they can be to fragile sometimes to withstand the pressure of so much water on them
Dangers associated with not watering properly
Giving a tree too much water can kill off a tree by rotting the roots. Under watering on the other hand can also lead to it drying up and leaves turning yellow.
Humidity Trays: For indoor plants a humidity tray can be used as this will provide extra moisture around the tree.
Fertilization is another important aspect of maintaining the health of a tree. A fertilizer contains three main elements namely; nitrogen, phosphorus and Potassium which all aid the growth of the tree in different ways. Fertilizer is especially important in bonsai because while in the wild a tree develops tap roots that can go deep into the soil to absorb nutrients, a potted plant cannot do this. And since bonsai are still trees they need these same nutrients.
When to fertilize: During the tree’s growth season
Which type of fertilizer to use: The type of fertilizer is not too important. It can be either liquid or solid as long as the instructions on the package are followed. It is also recommended that when fertilizing Bonsai to use half the recommended strength. Secondly, liquid fertilizer should not be added to dry soil, water first and then add a mixture of the fertilizer dissolved in water.
Although watering and fertilizing are the 2 activities you will most likely start doing as soon as you get your tree, with time, during different seasons, you will need to undertake the maintence activities below;
Removing any unwanted plants that might have sprouted in the tree container and removing dead leaves, flowers or rooting fruits on the tree since any rotting on the tree can encourage unwanted organisms like bugs to take up residency.
Pruning is important since it is one of the ways that we maintain the small size and shape of the tree. It is also a chance to clean up the tree, spruce its appearance by removing dead branches and foliage.
How to prune: Pruning is done using a tool called a bonsai clipper while for larger branches a concave cutter is recommended.
When to prune: This largely depends on the type of tree you have but most common times would be the summer and spring
How to prune: This will not only depend on the type of tree but also the bonsai style that you are going. When pruning, remove any dead branches. In order to maintain the tapered shape of the trunk, remove any small branches that grow at the base of the trunk. This is also the perfect time to cut back any branches that are too large or not in proportion with the rest of the tree.
Is used to encourage the tree to grow in a particular shape using annealed copper or anodized aluminum. It can be done all year round.
This should be done to should be to give the plant new soil and to make its root system grow in a more compact nature suited to bonsai. The soil used for repotting needs to be fast draining, have good aeration so that oxygen can get to all the roots.
When repotting a plant, the root system should be examined bugs or disease.
Pests and diseases
Any time that you are doing any maintenance work is a chance to observe the tree for any problems on the tree like insects and bugs. It is also a chance to check for other signs that the tree is not healthy.
The articles below are mostly about questions that I found asking as I tackled my first plant (in fact way before I did so since I had already been fascinated with Bonsai Trees long before that.