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How to Grow and Care for a Bonsai Tree

Four Methods:Picking Out a Bonsai TreeKeeping a Bonsai Tree HealthyTraining a Bonsai TreeDisplaying a Bonsai Tree

Bon sai is an art that has been practiced in Asia for many centuries. Bonsai trees are grown from the same seeds as trees that grow to full size. They are grown in small containers and trimmed and trained so that they remain small and elegant. Learn how to grow a bonsai tree, train it in one of the traditional bonsai styles, and care for it so that it stays healthy for many years to come.

Method 1
Picking Out a Bonsai Tree

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    Select a tree species. The type of tree you grow should be reliant on the environment where you'll be keeping it. Your region's climate and your home environment should both be taken into account when you're deciding which species of tree to grow. To be on the safe side, select a species that is indigenous to your part of the world.
    • Deciduous species such as Chinese or Japanese elms, magnolias, oaks, and crabapple trees are good selections if you'd like to grow your bonsai outside. Just be sure to pick out a species that can grow to full size in your region.[1]
    • If you prefer coniferous trees, junipers, pines, spruces, or cedars all make excellent choices.
    • If you want to grow a tree indoors (or if you live in a hot climate), consider a tropical species. Jade, snowrose, and olive trees may be grown as bonsais.
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    Decide whether to plant the tree from seed. Planting a bonsai tree from seed is a slow but rewarding process. If you plant a tree, you'll have to allow it time to take root and grow strong before you can begin trimming and training. Depending on the species of tree you grow, this could take up to five years.[2] Many find the extra wait and effort to be worth it, since seeds are so inexpensive and the grower is able to control the tree at every stage of growth. To grow a bonsai from seed, take the following steps:
    • Buy a package of bonsai tree seeds. Soak them overnight before planting them in soil with good drainage and the right nutrient composition for your tree species. Plant the tree in a training container (as opposed to a ceramic display container, which is only used once the tree has been trained and reached maturity).
    • Give the planted tree the correct amount of sun, water, and a consistent temperature, again dictated by the specific species of tree.
    • Allow the tree to become sturdy and strong before you begin to train it.
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    Consider foraging for a bonsai tree. This method of acquiring a bonsai tree is highly valued, since caring for a bonsai tree you find in the wild requires a lot of skill and knowledge. If collecting a tree that has had its start in nature appeals to you, consider the following factors:
    • Select a tree with a sturdy trunk, but one that is still quite young. Older trees won't adapt well to being placed in a container.
    • Choose a tree with roots that spread evenly in every direction, rather than growing laterally or entangled with the roots of other trees.
    • Dig around the tree and extract a large amount of soil along with the roots. This will prevent the tree from dying of shock when it is moved to a container.[3]
    • Plant the tree in a large training container. Care for it according to the needs of the particular species. Wait about a year for the roots to get used to the container before you begin training it.
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    Choose from among trees that have already been partially trained. This is the easiest way to begin the art of bonsai, but it is also the most expensive. Bonsai trees that have been grown from seed and partially trained have already received a lot of time and care, so they are usually quite pricey. Look online and in local nurseries and plant shops for a bonsai tree to bring home with you.
    • If you buy a partially-trained bonsai from a shop, talk with the person who trained it about its specific needs.
    • When you bring the bonsai home, give it a few weeks to adjust to the new setting before you begin working with it.

Method 2
Keeping a Bonsai Tree Healthy

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    Pay attention to the seasons. Bonsai trees, like all trees and plants, react to the change in seasons. If you're keeping a bonsai tree outside, it will have an even stronger reaction to the change in temperature, sunlight, and the amount of rainfall in the region. In some regions there are four distinct seasons, and in others the seasonal changes are more subtle. In any case, understand the way your tree species reacts to the seasons in your region, and let that information guide the way you care for it.
    • Trees lay dormant during the winter; they aren't producing leaves or growing, so they don't use as much nutrition. During this season, watering the tree is about the only care it needs. Avoid trimming it too much, since it won't be able to replace the depleted nutrients until spring.
    • In spring, trees begin using the nutrients they stored during the winter to sprout new leaves and grow. Since your tree is in transition during this time of year, it's a good time to repot the plant (adding extra nutrients to the soil) and begin trimming.
    • Trees continue to grow during the summer, using up the rest of their stored nutrients. Be sure to water yours well during this period of time.
    • In the fall, tree growth slows, and the nutrients begin accumulating again. This is a good time for both trimming and repotting.
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    Give the tree morning sun and afternoon shade. Place it outside in the morning in direct sunlight, then move it to a shadier spot during the afternoon. This rule applies to most, but not all, bonsai trees, so make sure you know if your tree needs a different combination of sun and shade. Some may struggle to be able to move your bonsai tree indoors/outside everyday, so if it is placed near a window inside be sure to turn the tree 90 degrees every few days so all of the tree foliage can receive an equal amount of light.[4]
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    Protect the tree from extreme temperatures. During the summer, it's fine for the tree to spend the majority of time outside. Bring it inside overnight when temperatures dip below about 40 degrees. In preparation for the winter, get your tree acclimated to spending more time indoors by moving it inside for a few hours at a time, and increasing the time it spends indoors every day until you bring it inside entirely.
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    Provide food and water. Fertilize the tree with a special fertilizer meant to keep bonsai trees healthy. Do not let the soil get too dry. When the soil begins to look dusty, water the bonsai. A little water every day is the best method; don't let the tree dry out and try to make up for it by pouring in too much water.

Method 3
Training a Bonsai Tree

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    Decide on a training style. There are several traditional training styles that you can choose for your tree. Some are meant to resemble a tree in nature, while others are more stylistic. There are dozens of bonsai styles to choose from. Here are some of the most popular:
    • Chokkan. This is the formal upright form; think of a tree growing strong and straight with branches that stretch evenly around it.
    • Moyohgi. This is the informal upright form; the tree has a more natural slant, rather than growing straight upward.
    • Shakan. This is the slanting form - the tree looks windblown and striking.
    • Bunjingi. This is the literati form. The trunk is often long and twisted, with minimal branches.[5]
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    Train the trunk and branches. Gently bend the trunk and branches in the direction you want them to grow. Wrap copper wire around the trunk and branches to begin molding them into a particular shape. Use heavier gauge wire toward the bottom of the trunk, and finer wire on the branches.
    • Wrap the wire at a 45 degree angle, using one hand to steady the tree while you work.
    • Trees have different wiring needs depending on the time of year and whether they have just been repotted.[6]
    • Don't wrap the wire too tightly; it will bite into the tree and damage it.
    • As time goes on and the tree grows and begins to take on the shape you have designed, you'll have to rewire the tree and continue to train it until it holds the shape you want without the help of wire.
    • During the training period, the tree should remain in the training container.
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    Prune and trim the tree. Use a small pruning tool to strategically clip off leaves, buds, and parts of branches to help the tree grow a certain way. Each time you prune, growth is stimulated on another part of the tree. Knowing where to prune and how often is part of the art of bonsai, and learning how to do it takes a lot of practice.[7]
    • Be sure to prune at a time of year when the tree has plenty of stored nutrients, such as spring or autumn.
    • Over-pruning a tree can cause damage, so be careful not to clip away too much.

Method 4
Displaying a Bonsai Tree

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    Move the tree to a display container. When you deem the tree's shape to be finished, it's time to move it away from the training container. Beautiful ceramic and wooden containers are available for you to display your bonsai to best effect. Choose one that complements the bonsai style you have created. Be sure to repot it carefully so that the roots are not damaged, and use a container big enough to hold the amount of soil (and nutrients) that are necessary for the tree to stay healthy.
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    Consider adding other features to the container. While the bonsai should be the star of the show, adding a few additional elements can add to the beauty of your bonsai display. Stones and rocks, shells, and tiny plants can be used to make the tree look as though it is part of a forest or beach scene.
    • Be sure not to crowd the roots with stones or other objects.
    • Adding some moss is a great way to create an intriguing display.
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    Place the bonsai on a display stand. A beautiful bonsai deserves to be displayed like any other work of art. Choose a wooden or metal display stand and place it against a blank wall, so that the bonsai will stand out. Placing it near a window is a good idea, since the bonsai will continue to need sunlight while it's on display. Continue watering, fertilizing, and caring for the bonsai, and your work of art will stay alive for many years.


  • Trimming the tree is what causes it to stay small. Otherwise, it will outgrow its container.

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Categories: Indoor and Patio Plants