Bonsai trees for beginners

Bonsai is an ancient art form, originating in China and Japan. The term bonsai is not used to describe a type of specific plant, rather it is the name for cultivating plants in small containers to replicate the unique look of trees in nature.

Why bonsai?

Growing bonsai requires patience, commitment and attention to detail. Simply planting a plant in a pretty pot does not make it a bonsai. Through the traditional art of bonsai, you will care for, prune, shape and train your plant to grow in a particular way. Working with bonsai is a very calming and meditative activity. It makes a great hobby if you live in an apartment or don’t have much space for outdoor gardening. When you decide to grow a bonsai your responsibilities will be:

  • Watering
  • Fertilizing
  • Pruning
  • Repotting
  • Root pruning
  • Change of soil

What is unique about growing a bonsai?

The skill with bonsai is learning how to maintain and keep the plant healthy in a small container, and what steps you can take to make the bonsai appear as if it could be a real tree in a natural setting. Typically this will be, though creating a twisted or asymmetrical trunk that leans in one direction as if its exposure to the elements has caused it to grow in this way. The key attributes to consider when growing bonsai are:

  • Scale
  • Balance
  • Harmony
  • Proportion

To think about before you get started

Before you begin with your bonsai, make some decisions.

  • Indoors or outdoors – bonsai can be grown successfully either indoors or outdoors
  • Location – your bonsai should occupy a spot where it is in proportion to other objects around it and overall space of the area or room
  • The overall size you are seeking to achieve – depending on their container, bonsai plants will grow to be anywhere from ten inches to three feet
  • Type of plant – lots of varieties can be used, and where you intend to keep your bonsai will impact the kind of environment it will live in, and this impacts plant selection

Picking a bonsai plant

There are so many options for plants that do well as bonsai. Here are some of our favorites, plus their key features to help you decide:

  • Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm) – this plant is fast-growing so is a good one to learn with
  • Ficus retusa (Fig Tree) – great for beginners because it is easy to care for
  • Serissa foetida (Thousand Stars) – a dainty choice, with lovely textured bark and white flowers
  • Loropetalum – because it is easy to care for and has a great showing of hot pink flowers
  • Porulacaria afra (Jade) – needs minimal water and is a good choice for children
  • Sageretia theezans (Sweet Plum) – a fruiting bonsai that has pretty red-tinged leaves

Types of bonsai plants

Some other things to think about when selecting a plant to use for your bonsai are:
The leaves of deciduous trees will change color and drop over the course of a year
Evergreen trees will stay green all year round, and often do well indoors
Flowering bonsai plants will produce colorful flowers, fruits or aromas
While they do require care and attention, there are some types that are hardy and easy to grow

Picking a bonsai pot

You are going to need a pot or container that has drainage! If you have a drill, you can make a hole in any ceramic container you want to use. Wet the container to keep it the right temperature, set the drill to the highest speed and create a groove, then, holding your drill very steady, create a hole. Don’t press too hard and don’t race to get it done. Once you have made a hole, you can cover the hole with mesh to ensure the soil doesn’t fall out if it becomes dry.

Watering and fertilizing

Giving your plant just the right amount of water is critically important. Too much water and the roots can rot and turn mushy. Not enough and your bonsai will find it hard to recover from an experience with dry soil. Bonsai also appreciate fertilizing, and providing your plant with nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus will stimulate growth.

Pruning and pinching

Thinning out the crown part of your bonsai plant will encourage new growth because more oxygen will be able to circulate between the leaves. You can get special bonsai pruning scissors to help you make good, clean cuts on parts to be removed. If your bonsai is a conifer, use a pinching technique to remove the tips of the needles and to achieve the desired shape.

Shaping bonsai

Pruning back growth on your bonsai is the most helpful way you can keep the plant happy in its selected pot. Pruning is good for the plant’s health and encourages new growth. When you see a lot of new growth, act quickly to reduce the number of leaves and get rid of excess shoots. Structural pruning involves removing more significant branches to change and alter the overall shape of the bonsai. Many people use moss, pebbles and rock sculptures to add to the overall appearance of the bonsai plant, to make it look even more like a tree that has been growing in the wild.

Benefits of bonsai

Gardening is a hobby that is good for you, and growing bonsai is no exception. Tending to plants can help relieve stress and lower blood pressure, plus improve the environment in which you live. Properly cared for bonsais can live for many decades, or more, and much-loved bonsai trees are often passed down through the family.

The bottom line: Bringing a bonsai into your home or garden will mean some extra responsibilities, but of course, bring with it joy and beauty. Learning how to care and develop your bonsai can be a fascinating and relaxing activity during which both you and your plant will grow.