Feeding

Appropriate feeding of bonsais is vital for their success. Apart from absorbing water from the soil, similar to other plants, the roots of bonsai trees also take up various nutrients that are necessary for their survival and flourishing. Hence, it is very clear that just adding a little quantity of compost in your bonsai tray will not be sufficient to provide the plant with necessary nutrients and guarantee the growth as well as survival of the bonsai. Therefore it is important to feed your bonsai with fertilizers at regular intervals.

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It is important to note that when we talk about a good fertilizer for bonsais, we do not necessarily mean that it should be a special tree fertilizer. In fact, you can use any ordinary fertilizer, which you would be using for other plants. However, the fertilizer for bonsais ought to have a balance among three vital nutrients. In addition, when you are feeding your bonsai trees, you should never use a fertilizer that is very rich. During the growth season of the bonsais, it is best to use foliar fertilizers - a liquid fertilizer sprayed on the foliage of garden plants, and soluble soil fertilizers. If you are growing evergreen species as bonsai, it is advisable that you should ideally use slow-release pellets during the winter months.

You should know that all types of trees and plants, counting the bonsai trees, need similar nutrients, which mainly include nitrogen, potash and phosphates. While nitrogen is needed to encourage healthy leaves and strong stem growths, potash is essential to augment the plants' ability to combat fungal diseases and also enable the plants to withstand extreme and unfavourable climatic conditions. Phosphate, on the other hand, nourishes as well as reinforces the roots. In fact, the labels on all fertilizers or plant foods always mention these three vital nutrients in this order - nitrogen (N), next potassium (P) and subsequently potash (K).

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In addition to these three vital nutrients, bonsai trees require minuscule trace elements like boron, manganese, molybdenum, and even zinc. Majority of the fertilizers available in the market not only contain the three vital nutrients mentioned above, but also these trace elements. However, it is important that the fertilizer or plant food meant for bonsai trees should generally have a proper balance of these three main nutrients. However, in autumn, you should use a plant feed or fertilizer that does not contain nitrogen, especially for species with broad leaves. Using such a fertilizer will help the plants to strengthen their shoots before the onset of winter, when most plants usually enter a dormant phase. On the other hand, evergreen species require a slow-release, low potency fertilizer during the winter months, as these plants remain somewhat active even during the cold season.

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If you watch closely, you will notice that most fertilizer labels will have the letters "NPK", denoting the three primary nutrients - nitrogen, potassium and potash. Three numbers will come after these letters and they denote the weight percentage of each of these three main nutrients. So how do you decide which is the best fertilizer for your bonsai? It is very simple, for the most excellent quality bonsai fertilizer will have these three nutrients in the ratio of 7:8:8. In other words, their labels will have the following words printed on them - NPK rating "7:8:8". When a fertilizer contains nitrogen, potassium and potash in this percentage, it means it will neither be very strong, not very rich. In other words, it will contain the three main nutrients in an appropriate balance. On the other hand, fertilizers containing elevated NPK ratings like "20:15:15" will be very rich and when applied will result in the burning of the roots of your bonsai. At the same time, you should be careful not to ever use houseplant fertilizers, as most of these fertilizers are very rich.

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Precisely speaking, any bonsai tree actually needs to be fertilized at 50 percent of the strength mentioned on the label of the plant food or fertilizer. Then again, you should provide your bonsai trees with fertilizers twice as often as mentioned on the product label. However, you should be careful not to feed your bonsai tree excessively. At the same time, remember that you do not require fertilizing the bonsai trees during the winter. Some simple rules regarding choosing the right fertilizer, their application and utility are discussed below. Following these guidelines will help you to feed your bonsai trees appropriately and, at the same time, ensure their optimum health.

Which fertilizer to choose?

Irrespective of whether you are growing bonsais or any other plant, the right choice of fertilizer is of utmost importance. A fertilizer with a comparatively high concentration of nitrogen (for instance NPK 12:6:6) is ideal for bonsais during the beginning of spring, as it helps to promote the healthy growth of the trees. On the other hand, you should use a more balanced fertilizer or plant feed (something like NPK 10:10:10) during summer. Use a fertilizer with low or no nitrogen (such as NPK 3:10:10) during the winter months with a view to help the bonsais to become hardened to endure the cold season. It is important to note that values of nitrogen, potassium and potash mentioned here are in ratios, denoting that 5:5:5 will be the same as 10:10:10 and so on.

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Here it is important to mention about some exceptions while choosing a fertilizer for your bonsai. For instance, you need to use a fertilizer having elevated potassium (K) content (such as NPK 6:6:12) to promote flowering by bonsais. On the other hand, if you have old bonsai trees, use a fertilizer with somewhat lower nitrogen (N) content or simply reduce the amount of fertilizer.

While "bonsai fertilizer" is similar to any other fertilizer, purchasing fertilizers from online bonsai outlets may help you in getting fertilizers having the appropriate balance among nitrogen, potassium and potash (NPK). In fact, applying any fertilizer with suitable NPK percentage to bonsais is absolutely fine. You also have the option to opt for solid or liquid fertilizer for your bonsais. Using either solid or liquid fertilizer will not make any difference. However, it is important that you follow the instructions printed on the product labels.

Traditional bonsai growers usually dislike using synthetic fertilizers, especially fertilizers having minerals as base and liquid fertilizers, and this is not surprising keeping in view the harm the chemicals do to the plants. Hence, you should not only give up any consideration of using synthetic fertilizers on the grounds of being modern, but also keep in mind that usually bonsais obtain maximum benefit due to the use of slow-acting fertilizers. In other words, you should use organic fertilizers having a slow rate of decomposition.

Any fertilizer containing 50 percent nitrates, 30 percent phosphate and 20 percent potash is generally considered to be ideal for bonsai trees. This is irrespective of which organic matter they are based on, such as fishmeal, bone meal, dried blood or powdered horn.

Bonsai fertilizer may be available in powdered form and it is meant for sprinkling over the soil surface or can be mixed with the soil using a rake. Alternatively, it may also come in pellet form and you simply need to place them on the soil surface. These pellets will gradually be absorbed by the roots by means of capillary action. Traditionally, bonsai growers prefer using pellets. However, you cannot use this type of fertilizers if the soil surface is covered with moss. If you apply pellets on the moss covering, they may possibly "scorch" the moss.

As far as fertilizing bonsai trees is concerned, there is no hard and fast rule. In fact, fertilizing bonsais is somewhat like watering, because the amount of fertilizer applied as well as the frequency of application is completely subject to the species you are growing and the tray size. While applying fertilizer to your bonsai trees, it is important to remember that excessive fertilizer actually does more harm to the plants than applying less fertilizer. You should know that the use of fertilizers is not meant to promote the growth of the bonsai trees, but to make certain that they survive well. Applying excessive fertilizer may prove to be counterproductive and may not help in keeping the plant in its dwarf size. Apart from this, too much fertilizer may even scorch the roots and, thereby, be responsible for the bonsai tree's death.

The growing season is the time when you need to feed your plants. This means that you should essentially apply fertilizers in right proportions during the period between spring and autumn. However, you should not fertilize any bonsai tree that may be flowering or fruiting. Apply the fertilizer only after the flowering season is over. If you are growing deciduous species, you should continue feeding the plants till they have shed their leaves. On the other hand, you should stop fertilizing conifers after mid-autumn. Provided you are using fertilizer in a powder form, it would be enough to apply two doses (about two teaspoonfuls) every month.

On the other hand, if you are using fertilizer in pellet form, you need to apply them only after the fertilizer applied earlier dissolves into the soil. Moreover, never place the pellets in the same place where you had put the earlier pellets. It is also advisable that you place the pellets roughly mid-way between the trunk of the bonsai tree and the container's edge. However, you need to ensure that the pellets are placed somewhat closer to the trunk of the bonsai tree, but not too close. Placing the pellets very close to the trunk may harm the roots of your bonsai tree.

Make sure that you do not feed your bonsai trees during the winter months. This is mainly because most tree species have a very sluggish development during the cold months and, hence, the roots of bonsai trees also take in very little amounts of nutrients.

You may also add a foliar feed to the water that you use to spray over the foliage of the bonsai tree. Currently, several commercial house plant care products are advertised and you may be tempted to use some of them. Hence, it is important for you to always use your discretion while using such products. A number of such products, for instance leaf polishes, may actually damage specific types of plants. Therefore, be careful not to confuse between bonsai trees and any other indoor plants. Despite the fact that these plants are grown almost in the same manner, each variety of plant requires dissimilar care. Before we conclude, it is worth mentioning that you should never provide bonsai trees grown indoors with fertilizers for about three months after they are repotted. And if you want to grow bonsai trees, it is important that you have enough patience.

If you are looking for the best fertilizer for your bonsai trees, you need to ensure that the plant feed contains the minerals mentioned below.

Nitrogen
Nitrogen is one of the main nutrients of plant food and it helps to regulate leaf and shoot growth in bonsais. However, excessive nitrogen is usually detrimental for the plants, because it causes the plant to produce big, intensely dark green leaves and, at the same time, inhibits the wood from becoming mature and also delays flower production. You should know that plants are also very vulnerable to various diseases. Deficiency of nitrogen is identified by the poor growth and paleness of the leaves. Generally, all fertilizers contain sufficient amounts of nitrogen. In case you are using a fertilizer or plant feed whose nitrogen content is low, you can supplement nitrogen by adding calcium nitrate to the soil. On the other hand, if the plants you are growing have a preference for acid, you may add potassium nitrate to the soil.
Phosphorus
This nutrient promotes healthy growth of flowers and roots. Different from nitrogen, the roots of bonsai trees will not absorb any excessive phosphorus than what is necessary for the plant. On the other hand, deficiency of phosphorus is manifest by upward pointing leaves with a reddish tinge. Applying super phosphate at the onset of summer for roughly two months and in appropriate amounts to bonsais will help to augment their capability to bear more and healthy flowers.
Potash
This vital nutrient facilitates the maturing of the bonsai wood, while augmenting the roots' capacity to absorb water and other nutrients from the soil. In other words, potash helps to make the bonsais robust and strong. Deficiency of potash is manifested by brownish flecks on the leaves, which curl up along the edges.
Calcium
Although calcium is not included among the main nutrients of plant food or fertilizer, this element works to regulate the plant's absorption of potash and phosphorus. At the same time, calcium directly influences the bonsai root growth. Any shortage of lime or calcium results in the die back of the vegetative points of the plants. You can get a soil test kit from the market and examine the pH level of the soil in which your bonsai is growing. If the results show a deficit of calcium, you should add carbonate of lime to the soil to correct its pH level and ensure the healthy growth of the plant.
On the other hand, adding excessive calcium to the soil will result in the leaves having a yellowish tinge, a condition known as lime chlorosis. This happens because lime hinders the plant from taking up iron from the soil.
Iron
Most trace elements like boron, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, sulphur, zinc and others actually serve as catalysts in plant metabolism. Among all these trace elements, iron is perhaps of most importance for plants. While iron promotes chlorophyll manufacture, the absence of this trace element results in a condition known as chlorosis of leaves. You can rectify deficiency of iron by mixing chelated iron or sequestered iron in water and watering the bonsai trees with this solution.
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