Potting Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai is a hobby that requires (and teaches) patience. These plants should be handled with care, and require maintenance throughout their life span in your garden. They also require consistent training: wiring, pruning and re-potting as they grow. When you re-pot your bonsai, you need to know which type of pots will be suitable, and this depends on the root system of your plant, and what look you want ultimately for your bonsai.

Type of Pots

Color – Other than the aforementioned types of pot you should use for the different styles of bonsai, you should also take into account the tree\’s foliage when choosing the color of your pot. White, tan, or green pots are best suited for trees with brightly colored flowers or fruits. Unglazed pots should be used with pines and deciduous trees.

Shapes – there are basically five shapes of bonsai pots. These include round, oval, square, rectangular, and hexagonal pots that come in a variety of sizes.

Potting Your Bonsai Tree

Training of a bonsai tree takes approximately one year. The training involves wiring the bonsai to the desired look. There are two basic looks for bonsais: cascading and upright. At the end of the year, the tree is transplanted from its training pot into a pot suitable to its style. Before you transplant your bonsai, prepare the soil mix for your bonsai pot.

The type of soil mixture depends on the area that you live in as well as your own personal preferences. If you purchase bagged potting soil, make sure that the soil has sphagnum peat moss and perlite (both in equal quantities). Also make sure that the soil has good drainage and will allow fine roots to develop. They should also have decaying humus and sufficient mineral nutrients. Monitor the pH of the soil, making sure that it is similar to that of the tree\’s native soil, and make sure it is free of root rot. Avoid using dry fertilizers in the soil mix.

A recommended soil mix should have one-third clay, one-third humus, and one-third sand.

How to Pot Your Bonsai

Trim the roots and cut away any excessive root growth at the base of the trunk before you repot the bonsai. Prune as accordingly, don\’t over do it.

Your bonsai will put out new surface roots each year. These roots must be cut back periodically so that water and air can penetrate the soil and nourish the main root near the trunk.

  1. Remove the bonsai from the existing pot and check the roots to make sure it is healthy. Ensure there are no bugs or rot.
  2. Loosen the soil on the roots and prune the root to remove any large thick roots.
  3. Remove as much root so that it fits in the new pot.
  4. Remove the tap root. The tap root isn\’t important as they should only be present on seed grown stock. They usually die when they hit the bottom of the pot. The tap root anchors the tree to the ground and does not play a role in feeding the plant.
  5. Place mesh over the drainage holes in your new pot to stop soil from coming out and bugs going in.
  6. Fill the bottom of the pot with a layer of soil mixture. Then place the plant on top as according to the look you want (cascading bonsai should be planted on-center, while upright bonsais should be planted off-center).
  7. Fill the soil back around the plant, making sure that the soil goes around the roots.
  8. You can cover the surface of the soil with fine stone that stop water from eroding the soil away.

Upright bonsai

Image credit: bluinfaccia/Flickr

Note: You should re-pot your bonsai is the soil is infected by insects that can damage the plant or when the soil condition deteriorates. Avoid re-potting when new leaves emerge and are still tender. The best time is to re-pot early spring when the new buds appear. You can also do a second re-potting late summer or early autumn.

Tip: You can correct soil condition without having to re-pot your bonsai. Simple add on new soil on the top surface. Make sure that you use free- draining soil mix.

Warning: Do not re-pot bonsai in winter (unless it is kept in greenhouse culture). This is because the bonsai is in dormant stage and will not grow to re-establish itself in its new pot.

Planting and caring for your bonsai isn\’t as hard as you may have thought before. It does take patients as training a bonsai takes at least a year. Potting and re-potting your bonsai is one of the important steps in this age old hobby, which also includes how to train your bonsai plant as well as how to care for it in the long term.

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