Bonsai Support

A Simple Guide To Bonsai Care

We do not advocate beginners have Bonsai in small Bonsai pots.

There is enough to learn about having a bonsai, besides having to worry about its hydration. The deeper nursery containers, or cascade-style bonsai pots, help alleviate the worry by holding more water for longer.

Water is as important to a bonsai as it is important to a human

General watering tips.

  1. Check the plant every day.
  2. Lift the plant up a lot. Learn the difference in weight between the watered pot and a dried-out pot.
  3. Use a bamboo cooking skewer as a hydration meter. Leave the skewer in the soil. Check the skewer daily by pulling it out of the soil. If the stick is wet, the plant is fine. If the stick is dry, it is time to water.
  4. In spring the plant starts drinking water before it shows signs of activity. It needs an increase of watering then and another increase when the leaves emerge.
  5. Don’t water within four hours before below zero temperatures. Give the plant time to drain the excess water which would otherwise expand when freezing, and cause damage to the roots.

Specific watering tips.

Bonsai tree in dirt.

In summer, water the tree every day. If the plant ever feels really light, even after watering, treat it for a day as though it were in old compact dirt (below). In winter, your tree should be watered by the rain. Don’t forget to check it anyway.

Bonsai in old, compact dirt.

Water the plant as above. However, when watering, water three times. Most of the water will probably run off the first time, down the insides of the pot. So water again. More of the water will be absorbed. The more compact the soil the more one should repeat the watering.

Another technique is to place the bonsai in water so that the entire soil mass is underwater. The water will push the air out of the soil, replacing it with – water! Feel free to leave the plant submerged for up to half a day. One can actually water any bonsai this way. It is the best watering job, but laborious.

Bonsai tree in bonsai soil which is partially dirt.

This includes cactus soil. Treat as “dirt” or “compact dirt” according to the compactness of the soil. However, the more recent the potting up, the more one should be careful of quick-drying out.

Bonsai tree in inorganic bonsai soil.

Of course, this soil prevents rot in winter with its fabulous drainage; and promotes growth with its incredible root aeration abilities. It dries out the fastest. It dries out really fast in the summer. Do not go away overnight.

There are three main types of Bonsai Trimming. Scaly plants, needle plants and leafy plants.

  1. if the plant is scaly like a juniper, sequoia, chamecypress, thuja/cedar, or some heather, then you let it grow. These plants tend to form compact foliage clusters which can be shaped every couple years to increase structure. Trim off long growing shoots down to the rest of the foliage mass.
  2. if the plant has needles that come from a growth candle (spike with no needles or leaves) or one that has a leaf or needle every couple millimeters, then one needs only snip the candle or branch at 1/3 its size, during the growing season when it slows down enlarging.
  3. everything else has leaves. Maple, elm, beech, and boxwood are some examples. Cut the growing branch off leaving at two leaves on the new branch, not including the leaf the branch came out of – if there is one. If the branch still sticks out a lot, cut the branch to one leaf. 


Eventually, your bonsai will get bigger. Think about it – five years of trimming at 2 branch nodes, twice a year or more. This means your tree will grow by 20 branch nodes in five years!

Some of this will be good for the tree. As the branches become smaller and more plentiful, your tree will look like it is a more mature tree. Some growth from the original size of your bonsai is great for the look of the plant.

Some of this will not be good for the tree, the branching will make the plant look like a shrub. There a few types of trimming to be done to prevent ones tree from becoming a shrubby mess.


  1. pluck clean the branches and twigs growing from the trunk or base of the larger branches. These will only conceal the beautiful trunk and branching of your bonsai.
  2. as the tiny end twigs become more numerous, try to eliminate some of the larger branches. One can use the excess twigs from a still attached branch to fill the spot where the other branch has now vacated. The reason one does this is to encourage taper and movement; and to simplify the tree in a zen sort of way. This also can help to reduce the overall size of the tree.

Only fertilize a healthy plant. Fertilizer does not make a plant healthy. Fertilizer helps a healthy plant grow more.

There are three really simple ways to fertilize your bonsai.

  1. buy the Shulz, 7 drops per liter, use every time you water, all-purpose fertilizer. Use it according to the instructions. These should be pretty easy.
  2. buy plant spikes of the appropriate type for your plant. They come in evergreen, flowering, fruiting, vegetables, and more. It is stuck in the soil and forgotten about.
  3. buy granular fertilizer and sprinkle it on the soil at the base of the plant. This method may seem haphazardous because the instructions on granular fertilizer are in 50sq yard measurements, which is a far cry from the soil a 15cm bonsai needs. Rest assured, a little tablespoon a couple of times a year will be fine.

More Detail

Fertilizers are salts containing particular elements and compounds, which are dissolved in water and then taken up by the plant when the plant absorbs the water.

Salts absorb water. Plants’ roots are very salty to absorb the water from the wet soil, outside the root. If a plant is given too much fertilizer (salt), the salty fertilizer will absorb water from inside the plant – rather than the proper way! This is called fertilizer burn and is a form of dehydration.

All plants need different combinations of food minerals. They even use different amounts at different times of the year. You don’t have to worry too much about this though.

I always suggest all-purpose fertilizer because it is balanced in the major areas of plant nutrients and is seldom excessive in the minor or major areas.

    The plant carbohydrate.

    Plants require light.

    Plants accept light at a variety of acceptable levels, many plants cannot accept extreme intensity or lack of light.

    Different plants, different acceptable levels, and different tolerances of extremes.

    The basics are that if your plant is not getting the proper amount of light it will not grow or be healthy.

    Too much light causes leaf scorch which is very evident very quickly. The leaves turn white, then die turning a brittle brown.

    Too little light causes a plant to grow long, skinny, weak branches or no growth at all; as well the roots may die back, as shown by the plant rocking in the soil.

    When in doubt, most (like 90% of) plants can take 6 hours of sun in the morning, before the day warms up.

    More specifically, there are many different levels of light including full sun, part sun, morning sun, part shade, shade, and deep shade.

    It is important to know as many Latin names for your plant as possible. There are 220 plus varieties of Japanese maple (acer palmatum). Of the 220 varieties, there are some which can only be grown in specific conditions (like nigiri – full shade), as well as those with tolerant ranges (bloodgood – full shade to full sun).

    Plants can produce lush growth, normal growth, poor growth, or leaf scorch.


      Whether you’re new to the hobby or have an established collection already, Bonsai expert, Mark Paterson will help guide you in the art of shaping, wiring, pruning, repotting, and more.