Keeping a bonsai alive and healthy can seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t need to be! With modern bonsai soil, taking care of trees has never been easier!
One of the most important things to note is that most bonsai are OUTDOOR PLANTS! If your bonsai is a “temperate” species, then it likely requires dormancy. If you keep a tree like that indoors year-round then it does not get the winter rest that it needs. If kept indoors, these tree will generally decline and die within three years, often sooner! Even trees that are not hardy to your area (such as tropical trees that do not require dormancy) will generally do best if they are kept outdoors when weather conditions are appropriate. Generally you want to bring Tropicals indoors when temperatures are consistently below 60°.
A lot of people think that “bonsai” is a species of tree. Not true! Bonsai is a horticultural technique that can be applied to many kinds of plants. Because of this it is important to know what species of tree you have. A juniper has different needs than a maple.
Watering used to be much more difficult than it is today thanks to the properties of modern soils. However, there are still variations due to species and local conditions in your yard. Trees in full sun may need more water than trees in part sun. You should check your bonsai every day. Some may need to be watered every day. Sometimes even multiple times a day during the growing season if sunny or windy.
Trees need food just like any other living creature. They do make their own sugars/starches from photosynthesis, however it helps to be supplemented with nutrients from the soil. Different species of trees have different requirements, but you can generally plan on feeding your tree at least twice a year. Some prefer to fertilize every week during the growing season!
The bottom line is that it is important to research the specific needs of your tree to determine optimal care. It is also important to note that the microclimate in your yard can cause variations even in tree-specific care guidelines. Once you know the basics, monitor your tree(s) and adjust as needed.
Shaping and Trimming
Bonsai is a living art. Your tree will continue to grow and evolve as time goes by. It will periodically require repotting and shaping either though trimming techniques or the application of wire. How long until this is needed is dependent upon the species of tree and your growing conditions.