All about bonsai

What is Bonsai ?

The Bonsai tree is a miniature piece of breathtaking natural scenery grown in a small pot. But it is completely different from the average potted plant. Pine bonsai and maple bonsai are something much more than potted pine and maple. While the enjoyment of potted plants comes from taking pleasure in the beauty of the flowers, leaves, and fruits of plants, the marvel of the bonsai tree lies in the delight gained from recreating in miniature form of the shape of bonsai plants as seen in the natural world.

The word “Bon-sai” (often misspelled as bonzai or banzai) is a Japanese term which, literally translated, means “planted in a container”. This art form is derived from an ancient Chinese horticultural practice, part of which was then redeveloped under the influence of Japanese Zen Buddhism. It has been around for well over a thousand years. The ultimate goal of growing a Bonsai is to create a miniaturized but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree. Bonsai are not genetically dwarfed plants, in fact, any tree species can be used to grow one.


The importance of selecting the right pot to plant your Bonsai in is often underestimated. The pot (as well additions like grasses, moss, stones, figurines and a bonsai table) are important elements of the composition, and should be chosen carefully to display the tree.

Selecting a Bonsai pot

General guidelines for Bonsai pots

Bonsai are planted in small pots, often imported from Japan or China. Japanese pottery is known for its high quality and are often quite expensive, elegant, natural and unglazed, whereas Chinese pottery is generally cheaper (quality is getting better and better though) and often brightly glazed. An exception however is antique Chinese pots, which are priceless and very rare.


Old Bonsai trees, which do not need to be trained anymore and have been repotted and root-pruned many times already, are adapted to living in small pots. Younger trees however, need more room to grow and will be trained step-by-step to adept to living in increasingly smaller bonsai pots, by pruning their roots every time they are being repotted. Young trees can be planted in less expensive pots or plastic containers, widely available at (online) Bonsai shops.

Size of Bonsai pots

Trees still being trained should be placed in rather large containers, providing the roots with enough space to grow and help the tree to cope with intense training techniques applied, like style-pruning. Older trees have a more compact root-system and can be planted in smaller Bonsai pots, aesthetic considerations are more important in this case.


Choosing a pot that really suits the tree is difficult, as different variables (like shape, choosing between glazed/unglazed and color) need to be taken into account. A few basic guidelines can be used to select the right pot (these should not be taken as strict rules; aesthetic considerations tend to be highly personal!):

Use unglazed pots for conifers and pine trees.

For deciduous trees you can use both glazed as unglazed Bonsai pots; do not use a bright glaze unless the tree has flowers or fruits.

Use a pot with a width of about 2/3 the height of the tree.

The depth of the pot should be approximately equal to the thickness of the trunk base; young trees or those with very thin trunks can be an exception to the rule.

For masculine trees use angular pots, while for more gently shaped feminine trees use rounded pots.



How to water Bonsai trees

How often?

As mentioned above, how often Bonsai trees need to be watered depends on too many factors to give exact guidelines. Instead, you need to learn to observe your trees and know when they need to be watered. The following general guidelines will help you to get Bonsai watering right:

– Water your trees when the soil gets slightly dry

This means you should not water your tree when the soil is still wet but only when it feels slightly dry; use your fingers to check the soil at around one centimeter (0.4) deep. Once you get more experienced you will be able to see (instead of feel) when a tree needs watering.

– Never water on a routine

Keep observing your trees individually, instead of watering them on a daily routine, until you know exactly what you are doing.

– Use the right soil-mixture

The soil-mixture greatly influences how often trees need to be watered, for most Bonsai trees a mixture of akadama, fine gravel and potting compost mixed together in a ratio of A? to A? to A? should be fine. However, use a mixture that retains more water (by using more potting compost) when you cannot water your trees that regularly. Read the bonsai soil mixtures article for more information.


It doesn’t really matter at what time you water a Bonsai. Some advice to avoid watering (with very cold water) during the afternoon, when the soil has been warmed up by the sun and will cool down rapidly when using cold water. Though this can be taken into consideration, it should always be clear that you should water your tree no matter what time it is, as soon as the soil gets slightly dry!

How to water Bonsai trees?

As explained previously, water when the soil gets slightly dry. When the tree does require water though, it needs thorough soaking so the entire root system is wetted. To do so, keep watering until water runs out of the drainage holes, and possibly repeat the process a few minutes later.

Water a tree from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle; this will prevent the soil from being washed away. Using collected rain water is better (as it doesn’t contain added chemicals), but when this is not readily available there is no problem in using normal tap water.