How to Grow a Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees can be a lot of fun and are ideal for compact spaces. If you like a certain type of tree but don’t have the room, you may want to see if it’s possible to grow it as a bonsai version instead. 

In this article, we explore some tips and tricks for how to grow bonsai trees, where the concept originated, and how they are made. 

What are bonsai trees?

Bonsai plants are miniature trees that are generally grown from a cutting taken from a full-sized plant. The resulting tree is a genetic copy of the larger plant, but at a much smaller scale. It can take several years or decades for your tree to reach maturity, depending on the species. 

A brief history of the bonsai

The art of cultivating bonsai trees started around 700 AD in China. There it was referred to as “pun-sai”. Buddhist monks brought this artform to Japan around 1100AD, where it was named bonsai (translating to “potted tree” or “planted in a container”). In the early 1900s, bonsai trees began to make their way to Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world. 

How do you start a bonsai tree?

Bonsai trees are grown in much the same way as other container plants. However, due to their size, it’s important that certain steps be taken when growing them.

As a beginner, you’ll likely want to either purchase a completed bonsai tree to care for, or create one yourself using a kit that explains the steps for tree pruning and training. 

If buying a completed bonsai tree, you’ll only need to focus on pruning your plant for it to continue growing into the desired shape. However, if you choose to have a go at creating a bonsai tree from a kit, you’ll need to do a little more research and follow instructions carefully to craft your plant. While this second option gives you more control of your bonsai tree creation, it can also be more time consuming and requires patience. 

Not all plant species are suitable for bonsai cultivation, so it’s important to do a little research to find out which types of trees work best for you. Some popular species include ficus, juniper, pine, jade, and bougainvillea. 

How long does it take to grow a bonsai tree?

If you choose to grow a bonsai from a regular seedling, it can be a few years of growing before you can begin the bonsai training process. After around 4 or so years, you should be able to begin the training to turn your tree into a bonsai. Due to this long process, it can be a good idea to begin learning how to care for a bonsai tree on an already established tree.

When given proper care, bonsai trees can live for many years – often growing to more than 100 years old. In fact, some bonsai trees are over 1000 years old and still living! 

How to care for a bonsai tree

Caring for bonsai trees isn’t too dissimilar to caring for regularly-sized trees and plants. You’ll need to water them properly, ensure they receive the appropriate amount of sunlight, and fertilise them regularly to encourage growth. The exact type of care your bonsai needs will depend on a number of factors, including the species of tree and its age. 

In saying this, bonsai trees can be a little more particular with their care than a hardier plant. However, researching the type of bonsai you have should be a good starting point for giving appropriate care. 

Observe your bonsai tree regularly. This can mean checking it multiple times a day during the summer months and once a day when it’s cooler. Check the soil to make sure it isn’t too dry. Place your finger in the soil up to around one centimetre. If you’re noticing this soil is dry, give your bonsai a water. Watering a bonsai should mean giving it a decent soaking. Water your plant until water starts appearing from the drainage holes in the pot. Once this occurs, stop watering and let the plant sit for a while. If the soil still appears dry, you may wish to give your plant a second watering, just be sure not to flood it!

When it comes to the placement of your bonsai tree, you’ll generally want to find a spot that receives plenty of sunlight. Some species are outdoor trees, while others can be grown indoors. If grown indoors, you’ll want to find a sunny position that receives a consistent temperature as these plants don’t do well with large fluctuations. Tropical bonsai trees can also respond well to being placed on a humidity tray. 

Fertiliser is another important element of bonsai tree care. How often you fertilise your bonsai will depend on factors such as the age of the plant, the species, and how healthy the tree is. Generally, younger trees should be fertilised throughout spring, summer, and autumn, while mature trees can be fertilised a little more sparingly. 

Your bonsai tree will also need pruning and repotting. Established trees can be repotted less frequently than newer trees and those growing quickly. When deciding whether or not to repot, take your plant out of its tray and have a look at the roots to see if they’re starting to become too condensed. If so, it’s time for your bonsai to be given a new home. During the repotting process, gently separate the roots out to untangle them before placing your bonsai in a new pot or tray. Any dead or dying roots should be removed during this process too – just be sure not to remove too many as this can put undue stress on the plant. 

Bonsai trees also require regular pruning. This includes both structural pruning, and general pruning. Just how you prune your bonsai will again depend on the species you have. 

Growing a bonsai tree can be a highly rewarding experience. Whether you choose to nurture an already established tree or start growing a bonsai from scratch, you should familiarise yourself with the specific care your type of tree requires to ensure it has a happy and healthy life.

If you need some expert advice on growing and maintaining a bonsai tree, give the trained professionals at Jim’s Mowing a shout!

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