Frequently Asked Questions
Welcome, you have just entered our nursery, slightly intimidated and a little confused. Try to get comfortable with this feeling because it will come again and again in your bonsai practice. That’s OK. It’s all workable…
Two most important things to know are:
- Get the right bonsai for the right spot (basically indoor or outdoor)
- Make sure to water properly
If you do these two things, the tree will stay alive and you can begin to learn about the rest. So as you enter the world of bonsai, relax and enjoy.
As our friend Kenji likes to say: ‘It’s all right. It’s OK. No problem!’
Frequently Asked Questions and Helpful Hints
What type is the easiest to care for?
We usually respond to this by telling people that it is possible to kill anything, but given that, here are a few helpful facts:
If you are just starting out and planning on keeping your bonsai inside most of the time you need a tropical tree. A succulent, like Mini Jade is good to start with. Other good varieties include Arboricola, Brazilian Rain Tree and Chinese elm.
Should I put it in direct sun?
If you know where the tree has come from and if it is acclimated to sun, then by all means. If you are not sure you can start it out in bright light.
After a week or so, try to give it at least TWO to THREE HOURS of direct sun a day.
Remember bonsai are trees and trees are native to the outdoors where they get good sun, and good air circulation.
Whether it is a tropical tree or a very winter hardy tree it will thrive in its natural environment.
The big difference is the bonsai is in a pot, not growing in the ground. So this must be considered.
But it doesn’t look like bonsai!
It’s true we associate bonsai with a windswept juniper look. This is the archetypal ‘oriental’ look that comes to mind. Indeed these trees evoke classic bonsai. Nothing wrong with that. However since bonsai is simply tree in a tray, keep in mind that there are almost endless varieties we can work with .
Imagine a stately elm, sprawling banyan tree, wild crabapple…
As long as you like the shape, it’s OK.
The important thing is to keep the tree healthy and strong.
Junipers are really better outside. and when people are starting out they usually want to have them inside. Think tree, not houseplant.
Do I have to put it outside?
You do if it is a winter hardy tree, a tree that is inherently cold hardy and needs to experience a dormancy.
You do not if it is a tropical, but you can put it out in the summer.
Remember, nothing would prefer to be inside when it could be out.
HOWEVER, acclimatization is important. Slowly ease the bonsai into any new environment.
Leave it outside all winter?
The hardy bonsai need protection once the temperatures go below freezing .
Tropicals come inside when temps start to drop below 60 degrees, as a rule.
There are many trees that are in between these two categories. Find out what the natural environment is for your particular bonsai.
Water every day right?
Absolutely not! Feel the soil every day. Water as needed. Every day or whenever it feels somewhat day. NEVER BONE DRY is your mantra. But not wet all the time, of course.
How do I keep the shape?
Depending on how fast the tree grows, you will need to prune it at least a few times a year, probably more.
Bonsai is an art and a craft. It takes practice and study, so don’t expect to know how to prune it right away. With time and practice you will get better at it.
What if it starts dying?
Someone once said about music, ’If it sounds good, it IS good!’
So if your bonsai looks healthy it probably is healthy.
If it starts to look unhealthy, then it’s time to try and figure out what is going on.
How can I tell if I am over-watering or under-watering?
Unfortunately it is impossible to list the symptoms of either in a hard and fast way. Very generally, if the roots collapse from lack of water you are likely to see a ‘freeze dried’ look to the leaves or needles. This will happen quite soon after the roots get too dry. Usually within a day or matter of a few days.
Over watering usually takes longer and results in a slower decline. Either one is to be avoided.
Pay attention to your instincts and review your habits.
And remember, trees are trees and will grow leaves and drop leaves ( or needles) naturally, so some seasonal dropping of foliage is normal.
Can it stay in this pot forever?
No, you will need to transplant it. Usually every one to three years.
Do I just take it out of this pot and put it in another one? Can I put it back in the same pot?
Remember bonsai is a harmony between pot and tree . If the old pot is now too small, the tree will look better and probably be healthier in a slightly larger pot.
What about when I go on vacation?
You will need to find someone to take care of your bonsai, if you cannot bring it with you.
If you are local, we offer very reasonable tree sitting services ( link to pdf here)
Find a mentor
It’s awesome to be able to watch YouTube videos about how to candle pinch, needle pluck and what have you. It really is. But try to find people to work with.
An experienced practitioner, especially one who is local will have a wealth of knowledge about the particulars of growing, training and wintering bonsai in your area. Join a local club or bonsai study group.
A lifelong journey
Keeping your bonsai alive and healthy is always the first priority.
As long as you and the tree are alive you have the opportunity to hone your skills.
Start a photo journal of your bonsai. Make sketches. Have a vision for how you would like to see the tree in one year, five years….etc.
A word about ‘mallsai’
The Karate Kid films prompted a surge in bonsai popularity during the 80’s. ( really!)
Some of this popularity was good and some of it not so good.
Not so good were the people who jammed small junipers into pots and sold them as bonsai. Now, a small Juniper in a pot can make an excellent bonsai!
We just want to make sure it is healthy, well rooted, in the right soil, nicely shaped and comes with the proper care instructions.
Some of these trees weren’t and since they were being hawked in malls across America someone dubbed them ‘mallsai’.
Anyway, malls are disappearing and so are mallsai, thank goodness. ( full disclosure. We have sold trees in malls!)
Yet bonsai is so compelling that even these young, poorly styled trees were attracting people.
And many people owe their love of bonsai and subsequent lifelong romance with trees to one of these mallsai- or perhaps to the Karate Kid!
The most important thing is to love your tree. Be attentive. Take good care of it and it will thrive.
Call us, email us, check out our bonsai care section. Always ask questions, no matter where you buy your bonsai. Where has it been kept for the last six months? When was it last transplanted? Where did it spend last winter? Is it an indoor or an outdoor tree?
The caring, professional vendor will be able to answer these questions and more.
It’s not about luck, or green thumb or any of that. It’s about paying attention and practice and study.
And never bone dry!