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Bonsai Care 101

Picture of Bonsai tree

Bonsai Care 101

Bonsai trees–if you’re a millennial, you probably remember them from The Karate Kid movies. Did you know it’s actually pronounced “bone-sigh”? Bonsai means “to plant in a container or a potted plant.”

This blog all about bonsai care is inspired by Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai.

Can Any Tree Be a Bonsai?

There are 3 characteristics to look for to help transform trees into the bonsai art we know and love:

  • Smaller leaves. You’re trying to create a large tree shrunk down into miniature form–so if you’re using a trunk with very large leaves, it looks quite out of proportion with the overall size of the plant.
  • Plants with bark on them. You should have to work with woody plants to achieve the true bonsai form. All of the conifers like juniper and pine are great for this!
  • Look for plants with apical dominance. Apical what?! Apical dominance means the bud at the tip of the stem stops the growth that occurs on the other buds along the stem. It does this to become the dominant stem and allow woody plants to grow taller–which is great for bonsai shaping!

Are Bonsai Grown Indoors or Outdoors?

You may be wondering, “can I grow a bonsai as a houseplant?” And the answer is yes–but with a few caveats.

You need to figure out if it’s a tropical or a temperate climate tree. Temperate climate trees have four seasons and need to go through their life cycles outdoors–think oaks and maples.

Tropical climate trees do not survive freezing temperatures and suffer in below 55 degrees F conditions, so these would be better options as indoor bonsai plants. Ficuses like the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Pot-Bellied Ficus (Ficus microcarpa) would both work great!

If you want an indoor bonsai, try sticking with the subtropical and tropical climate plants. And check out the Top 5 Bonsai Trees (Indoor and Outdoor Options) with Bjorn from Eisei-en Bonsai for more variety options!

How to Care for Bonsai Trees

Now that we know more about what to look for, let’s jump right into bonsai care. We’ll cover all the basics for soil, fertilizer, water, light, and pruning. Buckle up, ‘cause we’re on this road of planty learning for a while!

What Is the Right Soil for Bonsai?

Since your goal is total control over the growth of the bonsai, you have to use almost entirely inorganic components when you mix your soil together. To make your own, try getting your hands on these 3 basic components:

  1. Expanded Shale: great for aeration and drainage
  2. Calcined Clay: holds a lot of moisture, but also releases that moisture & fertilizer back to the plants easily
  3. Aged Forest Products: also good for aeration, drainage, and root growth.

The particle size is quite large at 3/16 inch to ensure as much drainage and aeration to the root system as possible. Don’t want to make your own soil mix? Check out our Organic Bonsai Mix.

By keeping the plants in a mostly inert soil mix, you can then decide how much fertilizer to give the tree and the type of growth that you’re going to get out of the plant.

Bonsai Potting Mix

How Do I Fertilize Bonsai? 

Fertilizer is the key to controlling your plant’s growth. To keep the soil from clogging up, Bjorn recommends distributing bonsai fertilizer by adding synthetic or organic fertilizer to a tea bag and slowly allowing the nutrients to leach into the soil. Every time you water your bonsai, water directly over your nutrient tea bag.

So how much fertilizer and what type of fertilizer should you apply? That all depends on the stage of tree development.

  • Young Trees: at this stage you want to thicken the trunk of the plant. Use a very high-nitrogen synthetic or inorganic fertilizer, which produces elongating, inner nodes and bigger leaves on your tree.
  • Older Trees: with older trees, you’re simply in maintenance mode. Here you’ll need fertilizer that has a much lower nitrogen value and well-rounded, equal amounts of nutrients.

Bonsai Fertilizers

How Do I Water Bonsai?

Since you’re using a rockier, more aerated soil, you’ll be watering more frequently than you would a regular potting mix.

A good general watering rule with bonsai plants: Bjorn suggests checking on them twice a day and water when the soil surface is slightly dry. Stick to the basic schedule of checking on your bonsai morning and evening, and all should be well in the bonsai world!

Bonsai Watering Guidelines

How Much Light Do Bonsai Need? 

In general, you want your bonsai plants to have as much light as possible. Bjorn says the more light you have, the smaller the leaf size and the softer the branch structure. In the long run it will be easier to maintain that tree’s shape.

If you plan to keep an outdoor bonsai, morning sun and afternoon shade is best during summer. Indoor bonsai plants will need supplemental light, especially during the fall and winter months. Generally speaking, 12-14 hours of direct light is best for bonsai growth.

Bonsai Light Guidelines

How to Prune Bonsai? 

You might have guessed that pruning is one of the most important factors in creating a bonsai tree. There are two main parts to pruning: roots and shoots. Let’s go over both.

What is the difference between Root Pruning and Shoot Pruning?

Root pruning should happen every 2-5 years in spring when you notice water is no longer penetrating the soil and simply pooling on the surface. Remove a lot of the old soil with a root rake or wooden chopstick. You will inevitably remove some roots through that process, but removing that old soil exposes the outer and underside of the root system. Make sure you don’t prune back more than 20-30% of the roots. Then simply replenish the space you’ve created with new potting mix. Since the mix is fresh, make sure to use your hands to pat the soil within the root system of the plant and give it a good watering to help settle the soil.

Shoot pruning is also done every 2-5 years in late spring or early summer after new growth has appeared. Your bonsai should have put out about 6-10 leaves–cut it back to two leaves with dormant buds. Essentially, you want to look for those little bitty nubs that are right at the base of the leaves. As long as you’re counting at least two, you can cut them back.

Think about pruning like you’re always trying to push the growth back and create desired directionality in one direction or another within the plant. Make sure to avoid pruning your roots and shoots in the same year–that would be far too much stress on your precious bonsai.

Bonsai Pruning Guidelines

Bonsai is a Wonderful Practice for Mindful Plant Parents!

Are you someone who likes to interact with your plants on a daily basis, control all the elements, and look towards the future? Then the bonsai is a perfect fit for you! Caring for a bonsai is one of the most engaging and interesting hobbies you can get into. It really shifts your perspective on instant gratification, which will definitely make you think differently about not only plants, but also life in general.

Ready, Set, Grow!

If you’re ready to grow your own bonsai, make sure to check out the Eisei-en Bonsai YouTube channel with Bjorn and find all the specific guidelines for each tree variety along with tons of other helpful information.

Where can one buy a bonsai tree? If you’re in Nashville, Tennessee, you absolutely have to get one of Bjorn’s bonsai plants at Eisei-En Bonsai Garden. Otherwise, check out Brussel’s Bonsai online for plants, tools, and pots!

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai

Bjorn Bjorholm’s bonsai love started when he got a bonsai tree for his 13th birthday after watching all the Karate Kid movies. Even though his first bonsai croaked (hello plant parent initiation), Bjorn was hooked and founded the Knoxville Bonsai Society in high school with his father. After graduating from the University of Tennessee focusing on Japanese language and business, he moved to Japan and began a bonsai apprenticeship for 6 years under Master Keiichi Fujikawa at Kouka-en bonsai nursery in Osaka, Japan. His tenure as an apprentice at Kouka-en was followed by three years as artist-in-residence, making him the first foreign-born working bonsai professional in Japan. Bjorn now owns Eisei-en Bonsai in Nashville, TN, the premier bonsai garden, nursery and school of the Eastern US.

Follow Bjorn:

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References

  1. Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio
  2. How Woody Plants Grow: https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/garden-scoop/2020-12-12-how-woody-plants-grow
    1. Used to describe apical dominance
  3. Temperate Deciduous Forest: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/biome/biotemperate.php
    1. Used for temperate tree examples
  4. Ficus benjamina: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-benjamina/
    1. Used for info on Ficus benjamina
  5. Ficus microcarpa: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-microcarpa-ginseng/
    1. Used for info on Ficus microcarpa
  6. A Bonsai Close-Up on Indoor Tropical Bonsai: https://prairiestatebonsai.com/a-bonsai-close-up-on-indoor-tropical-bonsai/
    1. Used for indoor bonsai light requirements

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Indoor Liquid Plant foodBonsai potting mix

 

Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber Plant Care Guide

Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) don’t get enough credit in the tropical plant world. These humble plants are usually available at the garden center and always affordable, but they tend to get overlooked by some of the “sexier Instagram-worthy plants.” They can be hardy, growing into 6 foot trees from a small 4-inch pot, and come in beautiful variegated varieties. Rubber plants are fantastic for many more reasons that we’re going to dive into.

This blog is inspired by Episode 148 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Raffaele Di Lallo, founder of Ohio Tropics

Let’s first look at different types of rubber plants! 

Types of Rubber Plants

The two types of rubber plants are non-variegated and variegated.

Non-Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: typical shiny, green leaves [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: similar, but larger leaves  [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’: gorgeous, super dark, almost black leaves and stems [PHOTO]

Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: different shades of green, yellow, and cream [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’: beautiful pink variegation [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’: leaves are a little bit narrower [PHOTO]

PART 1: How to Take Care of Rubber Plants

No matter the variety of rubber plant you have, the care is almost identical. The only minor difference is that variegated plants need more volume of light than non-variegated plants. 

Rubber plants come from the Moraceae family, which also contains figs and mulberries. But don’t be fooled: rubber plants are actually toxic. If you break off a branch or leaf, you’ll notice a white substance dripping out that’s quite toxic to humans and animals. This white latex-like liquid was originally used to create rubber, hence the name rubber plant. Make sure to wear gloves when handling or pruning the plant. 

An easy-to-follow care plan for rubber plants is 1) make sure it gets plenty of direct light and 2) don’t overwater. Let’s get into more details below!

Rubber Plants Most Important Tips

How to Water Rubber Plants

Rubber plants need to dry out sufficiently between waterings. Your finger is your best friend when it comes to determining moisture in your potting mix. Use your finger to determine how dry the potting mix has gotten. If you have a small four-inch pot, let the top 1/2 inch dry out before watering it again thoroughly. If you have a much bigger pot (around 15 inches), let at least the top quarter of the soil (2-3”) in your pot dry out before watering again. 

Always water your rubber plant thoroughly and always have a drainage hole in your pot. Don’t let your soil completely dry out, or you risk stressing out your plant’s roots. How to water rubber plant

How Much Light Do Rubber Plants Need? 

Oftentimes rubber plants are labeled as low light plants, but they really are low light tolerant. You can’t overdo light for your rubber plant indoors! As a general rule of thumb, put your rubber plant right in front of a window, preferably a window with some direct sun. 

An Eastern-facing window that gets morning sun is beautiful, or a Western-facing window that gets afternoon sun is great too. If you live in the Northern hemisphere and you have an unobstructed Southern window, those tend to get a ton of direct sun. Now, if you’re in the Southern hemisphere, North and South are reversed and you’ll have to adjust appropriately.

When it comes to water, the more light you have, the quicker your soil is going to dry out, because your plant will be growing more. So if you have plenty of sun, then you have to monitor your plant a lot more frequently, because it’s going to dry out quicker. How Much Light for Rubber Plant

What Type of Soil Do Rubber Plants Need? 

A well-draining, all-purpose potting mix will do wonders for your rubber plant. Check out Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil Mix to get you started; it’s often the best soil for indoor plants. Adding in perlite or orchid mix will provide that extra aeration to make sure your mix is well draining. To get a good balance between moisture retention and drainage, use three parts all-purpose potting mix and one part perlite. 

What Type of Soil for Rubber Plant

How to Fertilize Rubber Plants

You can use any all-purpose houseplant fertilizer for rubber plants. There are two options: liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer you can add to your potting mix. 

If you don’t like liquid fertilizers, you can always use a slow-release plant food  that you add to your potting mix when you plant your rubber plant. Those fertilizers generally last up to 6 months. 

Now that you know all about rubber plant care, let’s get into some frequently asked questions! 

How to fertilize rubber plants

PART 2: Rubber Plant Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Raffaele di Lallo

Why Is My Rubber Plant Not Growing? 

Your rubber plant needs more light! If your rubber plant is in a far corner from your window, it might be time to move it to brighter light. Remember, rubber plants thrive in bright, direct sunlight. 

How Do I Get My Rubber Plant to Branch and Be Bushier Instead of Taller? 

Don’t be afraid to prune! Just hack it off wherever you want (just not all the way down to the soil) and chop off a good portion of it. Pruning your rubber plant forces new branches to form, resulting in a bushier rubber plant. 

You can also try air layering, which is propagating from stems still attached to the plant. Take a sharp knife and make a diagonal cut about halfway into your rubber plant trunk. Then add some sphagnum moss in the cut and wrap the entire branch with moss. Put plastic wrap around it and tie it on both ends. Over the course of a few months, it’s going to send out roots from where you cut it, which you should be able to see through the plastic wrap. Then you simply cut the stem right under your air layering and replant it. 

What Are the Best Ways to Propagate a Rubber Plant?

The first way to propagate a rubber plant is air layering, described above. This works especially well if you have woody branches already formed. Air layering takes a few months to achieve new root growth. 

The second propagation method is making individual node cuttings. Find the spot where the leaf meets the branch and cut it off on each side, leaving half an inch on either side. You’re basically left with a leaf and then part of the stem, where the node is. At that point, you can either stick the stem in water or soil to grow roots. 

Be aware that if you try propagating your rubber plant in winter, you might have a lower success rate and it will be substantially slower compared to trying it in spring or summer when the plant is actively growing

Why Are New Leaves on My Rubber Plants Smaller Than the Older Ones?

Number one, our conditions at home are nothing like ideal conditions in the greenhouses that these plants were grown in. That in and of itself could be a cause. 

Poor, inconsistent conditions could be your second culprit. Poor lighting and letting your plant dry out too much as its developing new leaves can also affect the leaf size.

Why is My Rubber Plant Dropping Leaves? 

Rubber plants don’t like to be moved, first and foremost. And if you bring your plant home and shove it in a dark hole, you will get leaves dropping off. Your plant is not going to be able to support all the leaves it had when it was growing in good conditions.

If your plant is horribly root bound, it’s going to be very hard to keep up with the watering required to keep the roots hydrated. This could also be contributing to dropping leaves. At that point, you really need to re-pot it in a bigger pot. 

My Rubber Plant Looks Healthy, But the Branches Are All Over the Place. Why Is This Happening?

Indoors, we don’t have the benefit of wind that strengthens plants outside. Because of this, our indoor plants may need a little help compensating. It’s totally okay to tie up your plant. Rafaelle uses a bamboo stake that he inserted right through the root ball, gently tying the branches that were getting unruly. 

Why Are the Edges of My Variegated Rubber Plant Browning? 

You might not be watering your rubber plant properly. Avoid letting your soil dry out completely or letting your rubber plant soak in water for too long. Once you get the watering right, make sure your rubber plant is supplemented with enough light! 

What Are the Tiny White Spots on My Rubber Plant? 

Those tiny white spots are called lithocysts and pose no harm to your rubber plant. They are cells that contain calcium carbonate. 

Which Rubber Plant Should I Get?

Now that you know how to care for rubber plants and troubleshoot any issues, let’s figure out which rubber plant is right for you! 

If you’re getting your first rubber plant and have never grown one before, Raffaele recommends sticking with a non-variegated plant, since they’re going to be a little bit easier to care for. ‘Robusta’ is a great beginner rubber plant. And if you really love variegated plants, try the ‘Tineke’ or the ‘Ruby’ cultivars. 

Want to learn more about rubber plants and houseplants? Make sure to check out Raffaele’s blog and brand new book, Houseplant Warrior coming out soon! 

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Engineer and plant parent for more than thirty years, Raffaele Di Lallo knows that the world of houseplants can be full of confusing myths and conflicting care advice. Raffaele started his blog Ohio Tropics focused on gardening with a tropical flare in cold weather climates. It quickly became a blog all about houseplant care. Five years later and he’s still writing about all things houseplants! 

His new book Houseplant Warrior: 7 Keys to Unlocking the Mysteries of Houseplant Care demystifies every aspect of plant parenting and is set to release on March 15, 2022. Houseplant Warrior is particularly relevant for the beginner or any houseplant aficionado struggling with their houseplants. Raffaele teaches a holistic approach to houseplant care and understanding how all of the conditions work together.

​​Follow Raffaele: 

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How to Grow Citrus Fruit Indoors

Have you always appreciated citrus trees but felt that growing your own would be too much work? As it turns out, growing citrus indoors is actually fairly simple! The plant itself can be a beautiful accent piece in a room, and the indulging scent its white blossoms produce is enjoyable for everyone. Not to mention that taking good care of your citrus tree means you eventually get to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Here’s how to do it.

Water

Citrus plants don’t like to sit in wet soil, but they don’t like to totally dry out either. This is why it’s important to plant them in a well-balanced soil like Espoma’s Cactus Mix. Be sure to check the top few inches every few days until you figure out the best watering schedule. Generally speaking, it should be about once a week.

 

Sunlight

Your citrus tree will require 8 to 12 hours of sunlight each day. This means you should try to situate it near a south facing window or supplement with an indoor grow light if necessary.

Fertilizer

Citrus trees that live in pots require regular feedings every 2 to 4 weeks as some of the nutrients are washed out with regular watering. And what you feed your citrus trees can often determine the taste of its eventual fruit! That’s why Espoma’s Citrus! Organic Fertilizer is specially made to address the needs of citrus plants and help you grow some of your tastiest fruit yet.

 

Other tips

These plants like temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees and dislike sudden shifts in temperature. Try to avoid placing it near chilly drafts and space heaters to keep them in their ideal environment.

Citrus plants can also be vulnerable to spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Unlike bees or worms, insects that enjoy your gardening, these pests are harmful to your plant. If you notice any of these pests, spray them with our Organic Insect Soap, and that should be the end of them. And don’t worry about the Insect Soap harming your plant, because our organic recipe was created to help without drying out or damaging your hard work. 

Now that you know all about raising your citrus tree from seedling to fruit, the possibilities are endless! Whether you choose lemon, lime, orange, or any other citrus variety, these tips are sure to help you reach your indoor gardening goals.

 

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5 Trailing Plants to Spice Up Your Indoor Jungle

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can keep growing your indoor garden! The perfect way to turn it into an indoor jungle is to utilize trailing plants and high spaces around your home. These plants are characterized by their ability to grow long so they can gracefully drape down from bookshelves or windowsills. Here are some of the best ones to integrate:

1. Philodendron 

If you’re a new plant parent, philodendron may be the best choice to start. There are over 200 different types of just this plant alone, so you have plenty of options. The most important things to remember are to place it in indirect sunlight and water about once a week. Be careful because direct sunlight can cause sunburn on their leaves.

2. Pothos

This long, leafy vine also prefers indirect sunlight and moist soil. One of the most common problems with this trailing plant is that it can get thirsty very easily, so make sure to look out for signs of a dry habitat such as crispy brown leaf tips. For optimal care, they should be kept in a room that is 70°-90ºF during the day and above 60º F at night. That means keep them away from any drafty windows for the remainder of winter!

3. String of Pearls 

Another great starter trailing plant is the string of pearls. Unlike philodendron or pothos, this succulent thrives in bright light and can survive with less water. Be sure to check the soil and verify that it’s dried between waterings to avoid root rot from overwatering! If you’re ready to see this plant baby thrive in the coming growing season, stock up on indoor plant food and feed them every other month until spring and summer, then up their feeding schedule to once a month.

4. Inchplant

These beautiful purple leaves on top of trailing stems are perfect for hanging baskets! You need to make sure your inchplant is getting plenty of sun, because their overall health will decline if kept in low light for too long. The best way to help them thrive is to place them on a sunny windowsill. While inchplants are rarely bothered by pests, it’s always a good idea to keep a lookout for aphids and mites. If you start to see any, introduce some Insect Soap.

5. Arrowhead Plant

This plant is known for its beautiful large leaves that resemble arrows. They prefer bright light and moderate watering in addition to well-draining, acidic soil. A great way to make sure this plant stays happy and healthy is to give it the quality soil it craves. Don’t forget to repot your plants at least once a year with our Organic Potting Mix.

 

Have you decided which of these plants you want hanging around yet? There are plenty of options to greenify your shelfs and ceiling space, and many of them are easy to care for! Plus, adding these plants now will mean lots of new, beautiful growth in the coming warmer months.

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