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How to take care of your very own bonsai plant: all you need to know to get started

This story is sponsored by Bonsai Nursery Inc.

Growing your very own bonsai tree can be a fun and rewarding pastime that also adds a little green to any room in a house. When hearing the term ‘bonsai,’ many people picture the cascading junipers in a moss-covered, ceramic pot, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Translated literally, ‘bonsai’ is the Japanese for ‘planted in a container,’ so pretty much any small plant in a pot can be a bonsai. Everything from the plant you choose, to the pot you put it in, to the way you trim it to meet the vision in your head, each bonsai is unique to the owner. This non-exhaustive article will cover all the basics to get you started on your first bonsai.


Choosing your first bonsai

When buying a bonsai you can choose to either purchase a pre-potted one that has already been trimmed and completed, or you can buy a smaller, cheaper starter plant in a plastic pot. If you’re new to the art of growing a bonsai, a starter plant would be the best decision. You can see the process from start to finish and get practice in each part of taking care of a plant.

As far as which variety to choose, a beginner would be best suited going with a basic, hardy tropical plant. Miniature Jade and Fukien Tea bonsais are excellent choices to learn all the necessary skills. Select a pot that you feel visually matches the form factor of the plant. If the pot is too big for the plant it won’t get enough water and if the pot is too small for the plant it will prevent it from growing.


How to care for your new plant

If you’ve opted for a starter plant, don’t transplant it to a nice ceramic pot until it’s been in your house for at least a week. This gives the bonsai time to acclimate to the unique humidity, temperature and light exposure in your home. When it is time to transplant it, purchase some bonsai soil – the soil offered at Bonsai Nursery is hand mixed to provide the appropriate amount of water retention.

Place the plant in a part of your house that has good bright light, but avoid direct afternoon sunlight. An east-facing window, or the middle of a brightly-lit living room are both examples of good locations for your bonsai.

As for watering, there is no one routine for watering your bonsai. The conditions of where you put the plant and the variety can affect how it holds water. When you first purchase your bonsai, and especially after transplanting it to a new pot, be sure to completely submerge it in a sink or tub and don’t remove it until the bubbles top rising from the soil. Once you take the bonsai out of the water, allow it to drain for about ten minutes. Then, pick it up and feel its weight. This is what your Bonsai feels like when it’s fully watered.

Throughout the next few days, regularly check the weight of the plant, and as soon as it starts to feel a little too light, add some water. If the soil isn’t bone dry, there’s no need to submerge it again. Just pour some water over the soil. After you’ve done this a few times, you should recognize about how many days your plant can go until it needs to be watered again. The goal here is too keep your plant evenly moist – not soggy wet and not bone dry. So try to water the plant before it dries up to much. Beginners won’t forget to water their plants, and instead frequently make the mistake of overwatering. The cure for this is to always check the soil and the heft of the plant before  you water it.

Your bonsai will also benefit from the occasional feeding. Use half-strength, water-soluble plant food once a month. If you see bugs, there’s no need to break out pesticides right away. Just flick small bugs off the leaves if you see them or spray down the plant in your sink with a vegetable sprayer. If the plant seems to be suffering (leaves dropping, more bugs than can just be sprayed off, etc.), bring it in to your local nursery to get a recommendation for the right pesticide.


Making your bonsai unique

Bonsais are an excellent opportunity for creativity. Aside from just selecting the pot and plant, the owner can trim and shape the plant to their taste. There are no strict rules on how/when to trim the branches on your bonsai. Some bonsai owners like to shape their plant to emulate a specific tree in nature, while others just let the plant grow naturally.

Another option is to add a plant known as ‘baby tears’ to your bonsai. Baby tears are a low groundcover plant with tiny leaves that can be easily planted in your pot at the base of your bonsai’s trunk. You can also add small rocks to the surface of soil, just make sure not to lose them all when you water your plant. Also available are tiny ceramic animals and figurines.
As you take care of your new bonsai, enjoy the learning experience and don’t forget to have fun.

Here is a selection of small starter plants – a solid buy for beginners

All of your bonsai needs can be met at Bonsai Nursery Inc at 3750 S. Federal Blvd, 303-761-3066. You’ll find a professional staff ready to answer all of your bonsai and gardening questions, along with a great supply of plants and tools.