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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:

Website

Instagram

YouTube

 

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

Featured Products

 

Indoor Liquid Plant foodBonsai potting mix

 

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.

Featured Products:

 

 

Video: Air Plant Care Guide

Learn all about air plants as Laura from Garden Answer explains what they are and how to care for them.

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How to Care for Your Monstera

Monstera is commonly called Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron referring to the beautifully cut leaves. It’s a must have for its Caribbean feel. The foliage is deep green, lush and tropical. With time the foliage can become quite large and exotic looking. There is also a rare white variegated form that is slower growing. They generally don’t bloom indoors but in its natural environment they will produce edible fruit that is said to taste like fruit salad.

Light and Placement

As a tropical plant it’s no surprise that your Monstera likes warm indoor temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. A little humidity makes them feel right at home, too. Bathrooms and kitchens can often supply a touch of humidity or you can simply mist your plant now and then. These plants grow naturally in the dappled light of the forest floor. To mimic that, place your Monstera in bright or filtered, indirect light. They can actually grow in deep shade, but may not exhibit as much of the cut leaf foliage. If you live in zones 10 or 11, you can grow it outdoors in a shady spot.

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Food and Water

Monstera likes moist soil, but not one that stays soggy or overly wet. Make sure the pot has good drainage. Water weekly, when the top inch of the soil is dry. Make sure any excess water drains away. In spring and summer, when the plants are actively growing, it’s a good idea to feed them once a month with a liquid fertilizer like Espoma’s Organic Indoor!  plant food.

Repotting

Repot young plants every year to encourage growth and add soil nutrients. Gradually go up in pot size by 2 inches per year.  Once your plant has reached its optimal height for your space, you can give it a top dressing of new soil once a year and only repot it about every 3 years. Always use a quality potting soil to help keep the soil moist but free-draining. These are natural climbers that use their aerial roots to hold on to trees. When you do repot your plant, be sure to add a trellis or moss covered plant stake for support.

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

Pruning

Young plants often have compact, bushy habits. As they grow, they will begin to show their vining nature. You can either give them support to climb and become a tall and dramatic or if you prefer, you can pinch them to rein in the lankiness. Pinch off the new growth tip with your finger at the height you’d like it to stay at. Feel free to prune out stems that are producing few or no leaves. If you can’t tuck the aerial roots back into the pot, you may remove them as well.

Pest and Disease

Monstera is rarely bothered by pest or disease. Wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth from time to time or give it a shower to remove dust. Check for spider mites when you do. This is a long-lived house plant that will give you years of pleasure with little care.

Ready for more houseplants? Check out “How to Fertilize Houseplants” with Homestead Brooklyn!

Best products for Monstera

 

Garden Answer’s Top 5 Low Light Houseplants (Extended Version)

Sometimes the perfect place for a houseplant has little to no light. But that won’t  stop these low light houseplants from growing big and healthy. Laura from Garden Answer shows off her favorites and gives tips to keep them healthy.

Watch the quick version and see instructions here.

 

Products:

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Low Light Houseplants

Houseplants are great for adding color, décor, texture or even a little bit of health to any space in your home. Sometimes the best place to put a houseplant isn’t the most ideal for the plant, but with these low light houseplants, they will thrive in even the darkest corners. Don’t forget, these plants can go anywhere indoors, like an office space that can use a little life.

Garden Answer’s Favorite Low-Light Plants

Peace Lily

Not many plants that tolerate low light areas have blooms, but this one does! It has interesting green or white flowers that are the same texture as the foliage, which is dark and glossy. The flowers bloom for long periods of time. Peace lilies can grow 18 to 36 inches tall and wide, depending on the container you have them in. Water every week or so, be sure not to overwater, and as a friendly reminder the foliage will droop if it needs more water.

Pothos

This houseplant thrives in places out of direct sunlight and is super low maintenance, so place them wherever you want to enjoy them. They can be planted in hanging baskets or on ledges to allow the foliage to drape over and trail down. Water every 10 to 14 days.

Sansevieria

Also known as a Mother-in-law’s tongue or a snake plant, this houseplant has striking foliage that grows upward. It is a very modern plant that comes in different shapes, sizes and colors, so it will truly work with any decor. It is very low maintenance — just keep an eye on the foliage for wilting and water about every two weeks when the soil is completely dry. In the winter, you may go a month between waterings. Add water away from the plant – never pour over the leaves.

Spider Plant

This is another interesting plant to add to any space. It is multigenerational, meaning it is easy to propagate and pass on to others (even kids and grandkids) to start their own. The name Spider Plant comes from the off shoots on the foliage. They look like little spiders hanging from a web. Pinch an off shoot (or spider) and plant it in a pot with fresh Espoma Potting Soil to start a new plant. Water once a week to keep them happy.

ZZ Plant

The dark green healthy foliage on this plant is worth noting, though it isn’t always that way. The foliage starts off bright green when it is freshly planted and will darken as time goes on. While other plants can get little burns from being indoors, the ZZ plant is hardy enough to withstand anything, even the darkest of corners. This is probably the toughest plant of this list.

Remember, low-light houseplants need time to absorb water, so allow them to dry out in between watering. The peace lily is the only exception, as they prefer it a bit moist. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the leaves every month or so. This will help keep your plants looking better as dust settles on them. Be sure to keep the cloth damp as they need humidity to survive too. In addition to the cloth, spray a mist over the foliage with distilled water to amp up the humidity around the plant.

Feed your houseplants regularly with Espoma’s Indoor! liquid plant food. It is an all-purpose houseplant food to help give them the nutrients they need. Lastly, be sure to check the roots every six months to see if you need to move your plants to a bigger pot.

 

Products:

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix

 

 

 

 

How to Re-Pot Houseplants (quick cut)

Your houseplant’s health is extremely important. Laura from Garden Answer clears the air when it comes to re-potting in this step by step tutorial.

This is the safest and best way to re-pot your plants to enjoy them in your home for years.

There are a few tell-tale signs a plant is outgrowing its container. Pick the plant up out of its container. If you see a jumbled mess of roots, it is time to re-pot. Another sign of needing to re-pot is if you are able to see roots coming out of the drain hole. Matted roots near the surface are another sign it is definitely time for a bigger container.

The new container will need to be one to two inches larger in diameter than the original. Be sure your new container has holes for drainage in the bottom. This is important because if the plant roots are sitting in water, they can rot. Laura from Garden Answer typically uses terracotta pots because they are porous and oxygen can flow in and out, which is good for your houseplant’s health. Plants in terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster so be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

When transferring your plant, you will want to use a good quality potting mix, such as Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix. This mix works for most plants, but there are some such as succulents, African Violets, and orchids that require a specific potting mix. For these plants try Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix, Organic African Violet Mix, or Organic Orchid Mix.

Now you’re ready to re-pot. It’s really simple. First, take your plant out of its original container. You will need to gently break up the tangled roots at the bottom. Next, place the plant in its new container. Fill in around your plant with soil and pack in tightly. Avoid burying your plant too deep by only filling in soil to the level at which the old soil is packed. To finish it off, water it lightly and, voila! You have a re-potted houseplant.

When fertilizing your newly re-potted houseplant, use a liquid fertilizer such as Espoma’s Indoor! Liquid fertilizer. However, plants such as succulents, African Violets, and Orchid require specific fertilizers. For these plants try Espoma’s Liquid Cactus!, Violet!, and Orchid! liquid fertilizers.

Products:

Espoma Organic Potting Soil MixEspoma Organic Orchid Mix

 

How to Re-Pot Houseplants

Plants can outgrow their homes. And by homes, we mean containers. Here are quick tips on how to re-pot houseplants.

Usually, there are two reasons to re-pot houseplants. The first is that you just bought a plant from a garden center and would like to put it in a more decorative pot. The second is that your houseplant has outgrown its current pot. Either way, the same re-potting rules apply.

There are a few tell-tale signs a plant is outgrowing its container. Pick the plant up out of its container. If you see a jumbled mess of roots, it is time to re-pot. Another sign of needing to re-pot is if you are able to see roots coming out of the drain hole. Matted roots near the surface are another sign it is definitely time for a bigger container.

The new container will need to be one to two inches larger in diameter than the original. Be sure your new container has holes for drainage in the bottom. This is important because if the plant roots are sitting in water, they can rot. Laura from Garden Answer typically uses terracotta pots because they are porous and oxygen can flow in and out, which is good for your houseplant’s health. Plants in terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster so be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

When transferring your plant, you will want to use a good quality potting mix, such as Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix. This mix works for most plants, but there are some such as succulents, African Violets, and orchids that require a specific potting mix. For these plants try Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix, Organic African Violet Mix, or Organic Orchid Mix.

Now you’re ready to re-pot. It’s really simple. First, take your plant out of its original container. You will need to gently break up the tangled roots at the bottom. Next, place the plant in its new container. Fill in around your plant with soil and pack in tightly. Avoid burying your plant too deep by only filling in soil to the level at which the old soil is packed. To finish it off, water it lightly and, voila! You have a re-potted houseplant.

When fertilizing your newly re-potted houseplant, use a liquid fertilizer such as Espoma’s Indoor! Liquid fertilizer. However, plants such as succulents, African Violets, and Orchid require specific fertilizers. For these plants try Espoma’s Liquid Cactus!, Violet!, and Orchid! liquid fertilizers.

Products:

Espoma Organic Potting Soil MixEspoma Organic Orchid Mix

 

Plants Only a Mother Would Love

From crayon stick figures to loud burps, Moms are notorious for thinking anything their kids do is cute.

This Mother’s Day, brighten mom’s day by giving her a plant that’s just as unique as you. And if you choose the right plant, it will last for years to come. From succulents and cacti to brilliant foliage plants, there is a plant that will bring some extra sunshine to her life every day. She knows you better than anyone else, so remind mom just how awkward and quirky you were as a child.

Baseball Plant

The low-maintenance, euphorbia obesa, comes in a baseball-like shape. Perhaps it’ll remind mom of your little league days. This is a cactus, so it simply needs a warm climate, light and a well-draining soil such as Espoma’s Cactus and Succulent mix.

‘Wine Cup’

Crassula umbella is perfect for the mom who loves taking trips to the vineyard, with her children of course. When it flowers, this plant can grow up to six inches tall. This succulent likes well-drained soil and dry roots, so don’t overwater.

Donkey tails

Remind mom of your playful nature with a donkey tail plant. These succulents drape over containers in a trailing way. With their grey-green tear-drop shaped leaves, the “donkey tails” can grow up to two feet long. Flowers with small blossoms in red, yellow or white will emerge in late summer. Place these sun-loving succulents near a sunny window and water weekly during spring and summer.

Nerve Plant

If mom’s always saying you’re getting on her nerves, try getting her an actual nerve plant! Also known as Fittonia, the name ‘nerve plant’ comes from the attractive pink, red or white veins that run throughout the plant’s rich green leaves. Their bright coloring and great patterns will surely ease mom’s nerves every time she looks at it. This plant also makes a great addition to a terrarium. Place it in a space where it’ll receive medium to low light. Too much sun can cause leaves to crisp. Water the plant weekly, when the soil starts to dry. Nerve plants need regular fertilizing, use Espoma’s Indoor! Liquid fertilizer to encourage new growth.

Yes, more traditional moms might prefer something like an exotic orchid or a lovely pink succulent, but the above are sure to make her smile. Visit your local garden center to find the right plant.

Want to do something different from mom? Try this hand print planter from Garden Answer.

Classic Houseplants for your Living Room

What is the most commonly used room in your home? It’s probably the living room. It’s where the whole family comes together, where visitors sit and enjoy conversations and where memories are made. We’ve already shared houseplants for your kitchen and bedroom; now let’s focus on the living room.

Houseplants differ in needs of light, space and water. So we are outlining the perfect houseplants to add to a medium or brightly lit living room.

Head to your local garden center to pick any of these beauties up. And don’t forget to grab some Indoor! liquid fertilizer to give your plants a boost.

Here are our top picks for plants in the living room:

String of Pearls

This easy to grow succulent adds dimension and design to any space. As the string of pearls gently cascade down the container, it resembles jewelry hanging off of a shelf. You can’t go wrong with this classic plant. It grows best in bright light. Make sure you feed regularly with Espoma Organic’s Cactus! liquid fertilizer.

Philodendron

This heart-leafed plant will inspire anyone who comes in contact with it. It has gained popularity due to it’s big, angular leaves. It is easy to grow and will tell you when it needs a little bit of love through it’s slightly dropping leaves. Philodendrons prefer bright, indirect light.

Umbrella Tree

Aptly named for foliage that look like miniature umbrellas, this tree is the perfect addition to your home. This tree needs bright, indirect light – if they do not receive enough light, they can get leggy, so be sure to keep an eye on it to ensure it is getting the light it needs. Learn more about dealing with leggy plants.

Rubber Tree

Don’t be intimidated by a tree this size. Get a young rubber tree and train it to any size you want. Caring for this tree is simple – put it in bright, indirect light so it doesn’t over heat. Enjoy the oversized foliage, and a few compliments from visitors.

Staghorn Fern

This antler-like foliage will be the conversation starter you were looking for. Mount this fern on any wall or place it in a basket to really show off it’s beauty. This fern does well in low-to-medium light, so it will be happy anywhere you place it.

Learn how to fertilize these houseplants from Homestead Brooklyn.

 

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