There are a lot of opinions out there when it comes to bonsai plants — so many, that it can be a bit intimidating to approach this deeply enjoyable pastime. But trust me, once you get started, you’ll have a hard time foregoing the pleasure that bonsai gardening affords you. It can be so calming to focus on small spaces and intricate details, creating and trimming your tiny worlds in a pot.
Let me start by saying that I am not a “Bonsai Master”. I have learned how to pot and maintain bonsai from working at Fifth Season Gardening. I have built a lot of bonsai gardens for our customers, and none of them have ever been returned, nor have we gotten any complaints about them. They live and thrive! So, as a means to make bonsai a more approachable skill to learn, I am passing what I have learned on to you.
Here at Fifth Season Gardening, we regularly have small bonsai starts available, which make it super easy to, well, get started! They come in different varieties such as juniper, jade, boxwood, and snow on the mountain, and they arrive already trained and pruned in various traditional shapes.
So here’s the deal. Some people will tell you that you need to plant bonsai trees in bonsai soil. It is an AMAZING media to work with. It holds moisture, provides excellent drainage, and can even help you know when it’s time to water your plants. I will tell you point blank, however, that it simply isn’t needed for OUR bonsai starts to thrive. Our bonsai starts come in a basic planting soil, so I use the same type of soil to pot my bonsai in. For larger bonsai pots, I like to mix a bit of bonsai soil and even a little coarse granite grit to add extra drainage.
You will see online that bonsai need well-draining soil. This is true! But they also like moisture, and THAT is where people get confused. Our bonsai starts often come in with moss growing on top of the soil. What does that mean? They like to stayMOIST. Never let the soil dry out. Bonsai soil is wonderful in that it is really easy to inspect the soil to see if it still has moisture in it, because it’s a darker color when it is moist. Potting soil’s moisture content isn’t always as obvious, in that you sometimes have to touch it to check how damp it is. My advice is to keep your soil as moist as a damp sponge, and keep your bonsai medium always looking damp, but never keep a bonsai in soggy conditions because that will drown it. If you’re bad about remembering to water, I suggest keeping your tree in a very visible place (that has the sun it needs) and set an alarm each day or two (depending on the pot size) to water it. A smaller pot will need to be watered daily. A large pot will need it every other day. Don’t forget about them! Once they dry out, they are done for.
Several factors, like humidity, time of year, and tree species, should be taken into consideration when choosing the location of your bonsai. The best thing to do is to look for specific information about your species and figure out where to place it once you know what type of light it needs. As a general rule of thumb though, most outdoor trees are best placed in a bright spot (about half the day in direct sunlight) and protected from the wind, heater vents, or cold drafts. While indoor trees are best placed in a bright position as well (preferably right in front of a south-facing window) bright, indirect light in a room with abundant natural light works just as well. Place indoor trees somewhere with a constant temperature.
The way you decorate or landscape your bosai planting is up to you entirely. I often do a top dressing of bonsai soil, mixed with select stones, creating the look of a mountain edge, or dry creek bed. Sometimes I will frame the creek bed with a bit of preserved moss as well, to really accentuate that Tiny World look. If I had the time though, I would opt for the Kyoto Moss spores that we carry to grow authentic Japanese living moss on top of our bonsai! I highly suggest going that route, to add interest, beauty, and life! Plus, how fun will it be to watch the moss slowly fill the top of the soil with a lush green velvet carpet?
While I would love to delve into the details of bonsai trimming, this particular blog entry was meant to be focused on simply starting a bonsai plant. Want to know more though? Please comment and let us know, and perhaps we will focus a future entry on the subject of pruning, ailments, and more in-depth details about bonsai maintenance.
Whatever route you take, remember that the point of all of this is to have fun, relish in the simple joy of growing and maintaining bonsai, and maybe even create a quiet daily routine of soothing meditation through plant love. We hope that this entry has helped you shed any fears or inhibitions you may have had about starting your first bonsai, and that you can come by soon to check out our bonsai start and bonsai pot selection.