Bonsai Care

Watering Bonsai

Watering a Bonsai… sounds like a simple task. Unfortunately this is where most new Bonsai owners go wrong. I can still remember my first Bonsai. It was a Jade. The large leaf variety if these can even be made into true Bonsai. A most hearty tree, but I killed it fast. In my case, it was due to over watering. The next time I purchased a Bonsai I made sure to get a book and it was all up hill from there. But before I delve too deeply into the subject of watering let me just say… Get to know your tree. Get to know exactly what kind of tree you have and what kind of care it requires. Familiarize your self with the soil it’s potted in. Or the soil or siolless mix is should be potted in. Understand the location where you keep your Bonsai. Where does the sun rise & where does the sun set? How much sun light does our tree get? Knowing this information is curtail to understanding what your Bonsai’s watering requirements are.

Now let’s talk about the ways to water a Bonsai. Top Watering
This is my favorite way to water and is best accomplished with the right watering can. This watering can must also have a rose that gives up fine streams of water. Why? So you don’t wash away the soil or soil-less mix of your Bonsai, which will occur with the wrong watering can. Hose watering with the wrong spray attachment can sometimes be a disaster. I have yet to find a spray attachment for my hose that suits the watering needs for all my Bonsai. I’m not saying that there is not one out there. I’m just saying I have yet to find one. One wrong squeeze on the hose spray attachment on the wrong setting, and BAM, you just washed away a fist full of soil. Top watering can also be accomplished with a drip or mist watering set up. (Possible link) This is best for those with many bonsai. Properly set up this is also a good way to go, especially when you’re away for a few days.

Watering by Soaking

I use this technique after re-potting a Bonsai. This will insure there are no air pockets that top watering may miss after having a newly re-potted tree. There are several of ways this can be done. Here are a few. You can have a bucket, basin, or sink already filled up with water and slowly submerge your pot. Letting the water soak up through the drainage holes. Once the water comes up through these holes and starts showing at the top of the soil/pot hold and let your trees soil soak up the water. Dropping your Bonsai into one of these containers filled with water will most definitely cause the water to come rushing up through drainage holes and over the top of the pot, washing away most of your soil. Another option is starting out with one of these containers empty. Place your Bonsai pot into the container and start filling with water slowly. Letting the water soak up through the drainage holes till the container is filled to the top of your Bonsai pot. Let soak. RAIN!!! Let your tree have it. Try to collect rain and water with it. I can water for weeks with my hose water but one good rainfall and my trees look like they where just fertilized. 

Potting/Re-potting your Bonsai

So it’s time to re-pot your bonsai. Whether it’s a pre-bonsai, newly purchased bonsai, or your bonsai is just in need of re-potting, there are a few things you’ll need to get started. When I say a few things, I mean you want these items/tools ready and handy before you get your Bonsai out of its pot. Would you pull of a baby’s dirty diaper and THEN start to look for a clean diaper, wipes, powder, and butt balm? Everything you need should be right there before the diaper comes off to insure a smooth transition. It’s the same with a bonsai… well maybe not quite exactly the same but the end result is the same. We desire a smooth transition. Here is a list of items you want handy when potting/re-potting: • A Tub of water infused with SUPERTHRIVE.
Root Hook, chopstick, or root rake.
A pair of shears designated for root pruning.
Concave cutters, and maybe a saw (pre-Bonsai) depending on the root situation.
Wire cutters, wire, and screens.
Bonsai pot. (If pot is new it should have screens in place)
Bonsai soil or sioless mix.
Pebbles/Gravel (which go into your bonsai pot first to ensure good drainage. If using a soiless mix this step is not necessary.)

The best time to re-pot is early spring although spring through summer is ok for many trees. Your bonsai should just be starting to bud (Deciduous). You may have a bonsai that does not lose its foliage (most Tropical, almost all Conifers). In this case, I recommend pruning or partially defoliating your bonsai before re-potting (DO NOT DEFOILATE CONIFERS). I practice pruning, wiring, and cutting most of the foliage off, or cutting each leaf down to about a quarter of what it once was. On my most hearty of bonsai, I remove all the foliage. If it’s a pre-bonsai you should have already spent some quality time with this tree and have some idea how you want to style it and where you want it to be in several years. Before re-potting, this pre Bonsai should be pruned & wired.

*Important* Remember you are going to prune the roots. If you prune the roots without pruning / defoliating you will have fewer roots trying to bring nutrients to lots of foliage. This is not good, and the results? Most, if not all the foliage could to begin to wilt and die back. This stress will cause another Bonsai to bite the dust. When it comes to root pruning it’s about balance.

Now, let’s re-pot! 
These next 5 steps will take you through the entire process with ease. 
First, remove your tree from its container. If your tree is root bound in its pot use a not so sharp knife to remove. In my case the other end of my root rake is dull and knife like which works good for me. Take your knife/knife like tool and run this around the edge of your pot. Be patient, this could take a few minutes depending on how root bound your tree is. Not to mention you don’t want to crack or chip your pot. Your tree should now be out of its pot. 

Second, using your chopstick, root hook and/or root rake start raking/combing the roots from the trunk of your tree outward. Take special care with this process. You don’t want to damage any surface roots you want or should keep. Repeat this step from below your tree. This is to train your root system to grow symmetrically outward from the trunk. Now start root pruning. REMEMBER BALANCE. I can safely say you can cut about 25-50% of the roots off most bonsai. Some say not to cut the smaller fibrous roots off, but I say cutting these roots off can be done with ease (for most Bonsai) if you remember balance. The more roots you cut, the less nutrients foliage will receive, so defoliate / prune to compensate for lack of roots. 

Third, let’s soak you’re freshly cut roots in your tub of water and Superthrive while you prep your bonsai pot. Whether you are reusing your old pot or you have a new one, make sure it’s clean. Replace old and damaged screens. If it’s a new pot your screens should have already been placed over your pots drainage holes. If that has not been done now’s the time to do it.  You may want to take this time to assess if your Bonsai tree will need support when placed into its pot. If you think support will be needed, cut some long pieces of wire and run each end up through the bottom of the drainage holes and screens of your bonsai pot. This is to tie down the roots for support later. Some Bonsai pots have small holes specifically for these support wires. Line the bottom of your bonsai pot with a thin layer of the gravel you have chosen (not necessary if using a soiless mix). This will ensure good drainage. Now put a layer of bonsai potting mix over gravel. 

Fourth, let’s get that tree out of the tub of water, into its pot, and into position. Do you like the height or angle of you tree in its pot? If not, add more of your potting mix to the pot, below the tree to raise its height. If you determined earlier that your tree needed support, now is the time to tie down those roots with the wire you added for support. Now add your bonsai potting mix, but don’t pack your potting mix down. Instead, gently work the potting-mix between the roots with your fingers or chop stick to insure that there no air gaps. Depending on your soil, it’s sometimes a good idea to soak the pot with your newly potted Bonsai. (link to watering page) You can water from above, but unless you do a good initial soaking you will most likely have air pockets that watering from above may miss repeatedly. This will cause the roots in these areas to die. If you have a very free draining soil or soiless mix, top watering after a re-potting is fine. 

Finally, you might want to consider misting your tree several times a day for several days due to the fact you just pruned the roots. Your newly potted Bonsai tree would love and appreciate moisture. Do not plant food for two to four weeks. Enjoy your newly potted or re-potted Bonsai!