If you’re a fan of all houseplants, you may have considered adding a bonsai to your collection. Not only do these miniature trees have a lot of history behind them, but they’re also a little harder to maintain than your average houseplant.
However, because of this, many people buy bonsai without realizing how sensitive they can be. These aren’t the kind of plants you can overlook – bonsai require special care and attention if you want to help them thrive.
This is, of course, a daunting prospect for even the most dedicated plant owners – but that doesn’t mean keeping bonsai trees alive is particularly tricky. If you stick to the basics, keeping “beginner” bonsai types alive is relatively simple.
So whether you’ve bought a tree or are planning to bring one home, here’s everything you need to know about bonsai care as a beginner.
What are bonsai?
At the most basic level, a bonsai is simply a miniature tree planted in a container. In fact, the Japanese word “bon-sai” literally translates to “planted in a container.”
But bonsai are no ordinary houseplant – they have a rich cultural history. While the word bonsai is Japanese, the art of growing miniature trees in containers actually began in China in 700 AD, when the Chinese elite practiced the art of ‘pun-sai’. This involved growing dwarf trees and creating small landscapes.
Only later, during the Kamakura period, did it become part of Japanese culture. It was during this time that the art form focused more on the cultivation of individual trees, thanks to the influence of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
What is the best type of bonsai for beginners?
If you haven’t purchased your first bonsai yet, the best place to start is with a ginseng ficus. In the wild, these trees can grow up to 100 feet tall in a forest environment, but as bonsai, these trees are known for their oval-shaped green leaves, thick trunk, and aerial roots.
“Ficus ginseng is the perfect bonsai for beginners because it’s very easy to care for,” says Morag Hill, co-founder of online plant store The Little Botanical. “These little trees, with their sturdy, airy roots and glossy leaves, only need a little pruning to keep their shape and will be happiest in a bright spot in your home.”
How to care for a bonsai
Different bonsai trees require different levels of care, so it’s worth researching the specific type you have before tending to them.
It should also be remembered that bonsai trees can be sensitive and it is not abnormal for them to lose some or all of their leaves if they have been overwatered, if they do not receive enough light or if they have been moved to a new location.
That being said, one of the most important things you can do for a bonsai tree is to make sure it gets enough light, Hill says. The ficus ginseng, for example, is a tropical plant, so likes a bright spot in the house – for example, in front of a south-facing window.
In terms of water, you will need to watch your tree’s soil and only water your plant when the topsoil begins to dry out. You may need to give it a little more water in the summer and a little less in the winter – hot weather and brighter light can cause it to dry out faster.
While these are the basics of bonsai care, there are many other things you can do to help your plant grow and thrive. These include using a misting bottle to increase humidity levels around the tree and learning how to prune and shape your tree’s growth.
Fortunately, there are plenty of dedicated bonsai websites and guides online and in bookstores, so it won’t be too difficult to find all the information you need.