How to care for Bonsai trees - the only 6 expert tips you need for perfecting these meditative miniatures
Symbols of harmony, balance and patience, it's no wonder Bonsai trees are back in vogue - experts explain how to tend to them
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Of all the current houseplant trends, how to care for Bonsai trees is one that has taken us by surprise. Of course they're not technically plants, they're trees - and once you understand their rich history, the boom in Bonsai makes perfect sense. Whichever way you cut it, horticulture is hot news
'Though often considered a Japanese tradition, Bonsai art originated in China around 700AD,' explains plant expert Jo Lambell, founder of Beards and Daisies.
'The art form gained popularity and importance in Japan, where the meditative practice aligned with Zen Buddhism. Bonsai trees symbolise harmony, balance and patience and Zen Buddhists use the Bonsai to meditate and contemplate upon.
Trees in pots have become a big trend lately for both indoor and outdoor, so it's no surprise Bonsais are seeing a resurgence. 'As houseplants continue to rise in popularity, Bonsai and its more mystical aspects have engaged a more contemporary audience. As an art form, a place to meditate, something to care for, and for those with no outdoor space, the appeal of Bonsai trees endure.'
These tiny trees are not for the faint of heart though. They take a certain amount of dedication to maintain.
'As the owner of a bonsai you have the responsibility of its care and must be prepared to spend some time looking after it,' says Corin Tomlinson, Bonsai artist at Greenwood Bonsai Studio.
HOW TO CARE FOR BONSAI TREES - 6 EXPERT TIPS
1. START WITH EASY-TO-CARE FOR VARIETIES
There are many different types of Bonsai trees, so we asked the experts which are the best for budding Bonsai beginners.
'There are many varieties of Bonsai tree that require different levels and types of care,' says Maddie Porritt, plant expert at The Stem (opens in new tab). Whilst some have a tricky reputation, others are really easy to care for like a Bonsai Money Tree or Bonsai Ficus Ginseng, so they are great for beginners.
'The Bonsai Money Tree or Pachira aquatica houseplant is very popular and according to feng shui, is said to bring prosperity and good fortune.'
'We recommend buying an established Bonsai tree and a great place to start is with the Ficus Ginseng,' adds Jo Lambell of Beards and Daisies (opens in new tab). 'Other good varieties for beginners are The Crassula Bonsai, Schefflera Bonsai and Chinese Elm.'
2. RECREATE ITS NATURAL HABITAT
'Bonsais have earned themselves a reputation as being difficult, but like plants, you just need to understand its needs and nail the basics,' says, Jo Lambell of Beards and Daisies.
'They need plenty of bright, indirect light, so make sure they are situated somewhere that catches full sun in the cooler months. Keep your Bonsai away from direct heat sources or drafts. They like humid conditions, so kitchens and bathrooms suit Bonsai well, but only if they receive enough light.'
'As with houseplants, trying to recreate their natural habitat in your care routine will lead to healthy and happy trees,' adds Maddie from The Stem. 'Most indoor Bonsai have tropical origins and will thrive warmth, humidity and non-direct sunlight.'
3. DON'T LET THE SOIL DRY OUT
Knowing how often to water houseplants is the key to indoor gardening success. And how much water your Bonsai needs will depend on the type of tree, but it's important to water them frequently.
'Water your Bonsai regularly with occasional misting for humidity and don't let the soil dry out,' says Corin Tomlinson, Greenwood Bonsai Studio. 'Remember Bonsai are trees, not houseplants. And without water, they will die.'
4. FEED IT FERTILISER
The artistry with Bonsais is to keep them small, but our experts maintain that these tiny trees need to be fed to encourage growth.
'Bonsai will benefit from being fed with houseplant fertiliser in the growing season, which is spring and summer,' says Maddie at The Stem.
'Choose a Bonsai specific fertiliser to promote healthy growth,' says Jo Lambell of Beards and Daises. 'Try a liquid feed for smaller specimens and a granular feed for larger plants.'
5. TRIM AND PRUNE ITS LEAVES
This is where the meditative aspect comes in. According to The Daily Om (opens in new tab), the careful pruning of the branches and roots, pinching off new growth, and periodic repotting of bonsai, requires focus and patience, 'The gardener becomes an artist, tuning into the rhythm of nature'.
'Pruning is an essential part of keeping your plant trim and compact,' says Jo Lambell. 'The aim is to try and replicate how a fully-fledged tree would look in nature. Don’t let your tree get overgrown, keep it happy with regular trims.
'It’s worth buying some Bonsai shears, as they will cut through thicker branches with ease for detailed pruning.'
'Most of the shaping can be done with trimming alone,' says Bonsai artist, Corin Tomlinson at Greenwood Bonsai Studio (opens in new tab). 'For general maintenance pruning, trim back to 1-3 leaves on each new shoot. Woody branches and trunks are reasonably flexible and can be wired into position if necessary. Rotate your Bonsai regularly to prevent uneven growth.'
6. REPOT YOUNG TREES EVERY 1-2 YEARS
Young Bonsai trees will require potting every couple of years. The timing will depend on the species and particular tree but there are ways to tell when it's time.
'You can tell when a bonsai needs re-potting when the root system seems very dense and the roots have started to grow in a circle around the inside of the pot,' says Bonsai artist, Corin Tomlinson at Greenwood Bonsai Studio. 'You can see this by gently lifting the tree out of its pot. This should only be done during the re-potting season.
'A tree such as Chinese Elm should ideally be re-potted during early spring before they leaf out for outdoor trees, and any time during the winter for indoor trees.
'Other things to watch out for during the growing season are if your tree is drying out faster than usual or if its growth is less vigorous than usual.'
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT A BONSAI TREE?
A combination of horticulture and art, the act of creating these tiny ornamental trees is a Zen practice that stretches back for more than a millennia. The literal translation of Bonsai is 'tree in tray'. According to The Daily Om their cultivation and care is a contemplative, meditative exercise 'that draws one closer to nature and ultimately, one's self'.
HOW LONG DO BONSAI TREES LIVE FOR?
With proper care Bonsai can last for hundreds of years, as full grown trees would. Traditionally, they are passed down through the generations and revered as a reminder of those who have cared for them before.
'Ficus Ginseng can last for years. Just ensure they don’t get overwatered and they get enough light,' says Morag Hill, Co-Founder of The Little Botanical (opens in new tab). 'These guys are pretty old by the time they come to your home, usually around 15 years in fact from starting their life in China or Malaysia.'
Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites
A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.
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