Part of the joy of bonsai plants is that they require your gentle care and attention. This article will give you information about how to water your bonsai in a way that will keep it in good health and promote growth.
Establishing a bonsai for optimum watering
Improper watering causes more problems for bonsai more than anything else, although it sounds like a simple step in taking care of your plant, it is a very important one to get it done right. Traditional bonsai artists in Japan can take up to three years to learn art and science to water correctly. To begin, you should grow your bonsai in a pot or container with drainage holes. Excess drainage is harmful to your plant as it affects the overall stability. Bonsai are thirsty plants that need regular watering, but suffers if too much water is trapped around the roots.
Watering is a big responsibility!
Some bonsai experts recommend adopting a daily watering schedule. This means you will get into a routine that benefits your plant, and you are probably less likely to forget if you make a daily habit of watering your plant. If you are travelling or going to be away for more than a few days, you’ll have to make arrangements for your watering to be done. Depending on the season, an indoor bonsai could be moved outdoors, where it will receive rain or where a neighbour or friend can give it a quick drink. You can also get drip-feeding devices that can be used in the short term.
Checking if your bonsai needs to be watered
Rather than watering daily, you might prefer to assess your plant’s actual need for a drink before automatically giving it one at a set time each day. The first thing to assess is the color of the soil. If it needs a drink, the soil around the base of a thirsty bonsai will look pale. You might also be able to observe a visible dryness. You will also feel the firmness and lack of moisture. If you are still not sure, try looking at the soil of a recently watered bonsai in comparison to one that hasn’t had a drink for a day or two. Comparing like this will really reassure you that it’s time to give your plant some water.
Watering indoor plants
If your bonsai is an indoor plant, you might want to consider taking it outside for watering. This will allow you to give the plant a good soak from the top and means that any excess water can be drained off before you bring the plant back in. If your plant is too heavy to be carried in and out, or if it’s mid-winter and cold might shock the plant, then you need to ensure you have a way of collecting eliminated water that drains out of the bottom of the pot. A narrow tray or pan underneath the plant is probably the quickest and easiest way to catch run-off, without permanently impacting the overall look of your bonsai.
Watering outdoor bonsai plants
The first method is to water bonsai on the top. Bonsai will appreciate a gentle spray from a hose that has a nozzle which can provide a mist or soft stream of water. For the top watering method:
- Make sure you are watering the base and the leaves
- Apply a steady stream of water for about 30 seconds or so
- Water for longer if your plant is large in size
- Check that the soil and leaves are thoroughly drenched
- Tap water is fine
- You can get special bonsai watering cans if you don’t have access to a hose
Bottom watering for bonsai
Another option is to allow water to seep up into your bonsai. To use this method, select a tub that is big enough for your bonsai plant and that you can fill water for about 2-3 inches. Use room temperature or cool water in the tub, and gently place your bonsai plant into the tub. Leave the plant in the tub for a couple of hours. You will notice that water will seep up into the soil and that after this time you will see those indicators of moisture. This means the soil will be darker in color and spring back when touched.
Ensuring enough water has been absorbed
Another way you will know that enough water has been absorbed during the bottom watering process is that the pot will be heavier. The soil will take up what it needs using this method, but if you choose to water this way you still need to ensure drainage can occur. Let this draining occur before you return it to its home on a desk, bookcase or cabinet otherwise you run the risk of damaging the surface of the furniture.
Dealing with over watering
The roots of bonsai require oxygen to be able to breathe. Excessive water held in a bonsai reduces the plant’s ability to absorb air. Bonsai roots can become rotten if they are allowed to get too wet and soggy. This is not typically a problem if you have used a well-draining, good quality soil for your plant. But, if your plant is growing in a lower quality soil or cannot drain properly, your plant may be at risk of root rot.
Dealing with root rot
One way you can detect soggy roots is actually with your nose! If you notice a musty or rotten smell as you draw close to the draining hole, it could be an indicator of rotten roots. The best thing to do in this instance is to remove the plant from the pot, clean up the root system and remove any that appear unhealthy, mushy or soggy. Only retain roots that are healthy and firm.
The bottom line: As you get to know your bonsai, you will be able to identify signs that it needs a drink. Follow these cues, ensure your bonsai can drain any excess and you will be helping your plant prepare for optimum growth.