Taking Care of Bonsai
Since a bonsais are living plants, they will need to be taken care of regularly and given proper attention. In a number of ways, a bonsai is more or less like your pet. You cannot leave them without food, water and attention for prolonged periods. However, they are certainly much easier to handle compared to any pet animal and do not require care and attention round the clock.
If you receive a bonsai as a present from someone, the only thing you should do is to make sure that you water the bonsai tree on a regular basis, so that it does not dry up completely. At the same time, you ought to bear in mind that you should provide it with some fertilizer now and then. In addition to these, the basic care for the bonsai would possibly involve trimming the new developing shoots for time to time. Nevertheless, if you desire to develop your personal bonsai from a variety of materials, it is vital for you to first be aware of a few fundamental principles related to horticulture as well as aesthetics, a blend of which is essential for any successful bonsai.
You need to understand that all types of bonsai are grown in some or the other type of containers – whether it is a classic Chinese or Japanese bonsai pot, a designed or self-made pot or may be even any flat slate piece. You should never take out a bonsai from its container and then plant it in any garden flower bed, because it would quickly slip back to a common garden plant or shrub.
Bonsai pots are available in various shapes as well as sizes. In fact, the dimension of the pot you buy should essentially depend on the size of the bonsai you want to grow, which the shape of the pot is subject to the style as well as the overall aesthetics of the bonsai tree that you wish to grow. To a great extent, the pot’s shape depends on the aesthetic sense of the grower. It is fine as long as you find the shape of the pot alright. However, it is important that all pots for growing bonsai trees should have large holes to ensure proper drainage. In fact, some of the relatively larger bonsai pots come with anything between six and ten large holes. On the other hand, if you are growing bonsai trees on flat stone or slate pieces, you do not require making drainage holes, as they will allow the water to run off on its own.
Precisely speaking, bonsai is reproducing a natural tree in its miniature form. It is an art form having its origin in China and Japan, where people have practiced bonsai for several centuries. As mentioned above, all bonsai trees are grown in containers and their success depends heavily on the care and attention given to them by the growers.
When you give appropriate care to your bonsai trees, they will continue to be healthy, attractive as well as miniature for several years. As the bonsai is basically a living miniature tree, as it matures, its beauty will increase over the years.
Placement during spring, summer and fall
You should keep your bonsai outdoors provided the temperatures during the night do not drop below 40°F. Preferably, you can place them in your balcony, on a patio, terrace or even in your garden. While placing the bonsai outdoors, you should ensure that they are positioned such that they receive adequate sun – they will be in the best of health when they receive the morning sun as well as the afternoon shade. Moreover, it is advisable that you place the bonsai at the level of the eyes on a table, bench or a wall (about three feet to four feet high) so that it is viewed best.
Placement during winter
When the temperature during the night begins to drop further and nears the 40°F mark, you should bring the bonsai indoors. Once indoors, the bonsai should be ideally placed on a south facing window sill. If you do not have a south facing window sill, the second best option is to place it on a window sill exposed to the east or west. While you can also place the bonsai on a north-facing window sill, it may require using “grow lights” to provide the bonsai with enough light to keep them healthy. It will be sufficient to provide the bonsai with about four to six hours of sunlight every day. It will definitely be much better if you can provide them with more hours of light.
Watering your bonsai
Adequate watering of your bonsai is of utmost important for its success. Hence, you should never neglect this aspect of care. You need to apply water only when you find that the soil is turning dry. Never wait for the soil to become completely dry, as it will kill the bonsai. If your bonsai is placed in a position where it receives full sun, it may be necessary to water it once every day. However, the watering schedule is dependent on the size of the pot, soil type as well as the type of your bonsai tree. Before you start growing a bonsai tree, you should assess the water requirement of each tree and regulate the watering schedule according to their requirements. It will be excellent if you use a moisture meter to gauge the water requirements of your bonsai till the time you are familiar with their precise needs.
It is advisable that you undertake watering using a watering can or a hose attachment that would be able to deliver the water in a gentle manner and, at the same time, leave the soil undisturbed. You should continue watering the bonsai till the water begins to flow out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If the bonsai receives a good rain, it should be considered as adequate watering.
Keep the bonsai indoors throughout the winter months. When the bonsai is indoors, it is advisable that you place the pot on a shallow tray full of a gravel layer and pour water on the tray. This will help to provide the bonsai tree with addition moisture, because using the contemporary heating systems results in evaporation of some water, thereby reducing the level of moisture.
At times, fertilizing is also essential for your bonsai tree, provided you want it to remain beautiful as well as healthy. As the bonsai grows in a restricted amount of soil, it is essential to top off the nutrients of the soil from time to time. Applying any common liquid fertilizer is good enough for your bonsai trees. These fertilizers can be obtained from almost any garden center in your neighbourhood. It is important to apply fertilizers no less than once every month, except during the winter months. In fact, bonsai trees also respond excellently to foliar feeding – preferably you should apply a water-soluble fertilizer as a spray once in every two months.
This brief article on basic care for bonsai does not deal with the aspect of training. Precisely speaking, training involves the art of bonsai and one should comprehend it in detail before he/ she undertakes it. Otherwise, it is best to leave this job to a professional. Having said this, it needs to be mentioned that nearly all true bonsai trees that are seen everywhere have undergone their training period from before. Hence, these bonsai only require the normal trimming and pinching at regular intervals with a view to ensure that they remain miniature trees.
Trimming and pinching
Undertaking periodic trimming as well as pinching helps to keep your bonsai tree miniature. When you trim and pinch your bonsai, it should be undertaken in a manner that the new growth is cut back to the furthermost point that is safe. However, you should never get rid of the entire new growths. Some of them should be left behind to ensure that the health of the miniature tree is sustained. If you have selected tropical and sub-tropical trees for bonsai, they will necessitate trimming and pinching at regular intervals all through the year. As different trees have dissimilar growth rates, it is important to assess the growth rate of every individual tree and schedule your trimming and pinching according to their requirements.
Bonsai basic care also includes repotting. Hence, you should take out the miniature trees from the existing pots and plant them in another suitable pot. Repotting becomes essential when the root system of the bonsai tree has filled the pot in which it is growing. There are a number of other reasons for repotting too, and they include providing the miniature trees with new soil and also to promote the trees to develop a denser root system. Generally, nearly all deciduous trees need to be repotted at least once in every two to three years. On the other hand, the evergreen trees need repotting only once in four or five years. As different trees have different growth rates, you cannot apply this repotting schedule for all bonsai trees. Hence, before undertaking repotting, it is advisable that you study the root system of your bonsai every year and then decide whether or not the miniature tree needs to be repotted.
In the majority instances, the process involving repotting is relatively simple and even safe, provided it is done in a proper manner and at the appropriate time of the year. Ideally, repotting should be performed during the middle of summer. To repot your bonsai, remove the tree along with the entire soil from its pot. Ensure that you remove the external as well as the miniature tree’s root mass at the bottom most part. In majority of cases, it is not advisable to cut back the bonsai’s root mass in excess of one-fourth. When you prune back the root mass in excess, it will adversely affect the growth and health of the tree.
Once you have removed the tree properly from its pot, you can plant it back in its original pot or in another one. Irrespective of choosing the original pot or a new one, ensure that you fill the pot with new well-draining soil that can raise the height of the trees to their earlier height in the pot. At the same time, before re-planting the bonsai, place a slight layer of little gravels at the pot’s base to ensure better drainage. When you have placed the bonsai in the old or a new pot, you need to fill the area left empty by the root mass you have pruned with fresh soil. It is important to work the fresh soil in the region of as well as beneath the tree’s root mass in a way that you do not leave any air pockets inside the pot. Following the repotting, you need to water the bonsai thoroughly. You can achieve this easily by keeping the entire pot submerged in a tub filled with water for a while. In order to put off erosion of soil during the watering session, it is advisable that you use moss or any other good ground covers for covering the pot’s surface.
Insects and diseases of bonsai
People growing bonsai trees ought to be cautious about diseases. For instance, the most common fungus disease that affects bonsai trees is powdery mildew extensively. Hence, if you notice a white, powdery layer on the leaves and shoots of your bonsai trees, you should be sure that the miniatures have been affected by this fungal disease.
If your bonsai trees have been affected by rust, it will manifest in the form of brown or orange patches on their leaves. Using excessive potassium in the soil often encourages this disease. Therefore, refrain from using it in excess.
On the other hand, if your bonsai trees are suffering from iron deficit, it is likely that they will develop another disease called chlorosis. When this occurs, the color of the needles (leaves) of your bonsai trees will change to yellow, but the veins will continue to be green. It has been found that this condition normally occurs when the soil is chalky or contains too much lime. The presence of these substances in the soil prevents the bonsai trees from absorbing iron. If your bonsai is affected by chlorosis, it is advisable that you report the miniatures and also use different potting compost.
It is suggested that you should always be on the look out for pests that may affect your bonsai. This is important because when the bonsai trees are watered too frequently to ensure that they are kept humid, it will attract some pests like aphids (also known as greenfly), ants, caterpillars and red spider mites. If you notice any pest, treat it immediately with a suitable pesticide.
How to clean your bonsai
Periodic cleaning of the bonsai trees is also an important aspect of basic care. Use small brushes to clean the bonsai regularly. Ensure that no plant debris is left behind on the soil after pruning the miniature trees. In case you leave any plant debris, it will decay and result in development of moss or fungal diseases.
Some people consider moss to be an ornamental substance and, hence, they usually don’t like to get rid of it. If you think the same, at least ensure that there is no moss close to the branches and trunks of the bonsai trees. It is advisable that you use a hard nylon toothbrush or a special spatula to scratch off the moss from the tree trunk and branches. If there are any weeds in the container, remove them using a pair of tweezers. It is also important to bear in mind that presence of any grass in the pots will deprive the bonsai trees of nutrients. Therefore, ensure that there is no grass close to your miniature trees.