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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

 

Video: Reusing Summer Pots for Fall Plants with Garden Answer!

 

Follow along as Laura from @GardenAnswer gives her outdoor plants a fall makeover. Reusing pots for your fall garden is quick and easy with the help of Espoma Organic Potting Mix!

 

 

Featured Products:

 

VIDEO: CREATING A CREVICE CONTAINER WITH HOMESTEAD BROOKLYN!

Have you ever heard of crevice gardening? Follow along as Summer Rayne Oakes of Homestead Brooklyn shows us how to get it done in a container with the help of Espoma.

Featured:

 

Video: Creating a Salsa Garden with Garden Answer!

Ready to make some fresh salsa this summer? Join Laura from @GardenAnswer as she plants all the ingredients in a miniature garden using her favorite Espoma products.

 

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Video: Fairy House Made from the Garden!

This fairy garden house is a fun little project for gardeners of all backgrounds! Can you put your own spin on it?

Featured Products:

 

Video: 2 Easy Methods to Revitalize OLD Potting Soil

Epic Gardening has two methods for rejuvenating and reusing soil to save money but still have an epic harvest. Learn them in this video!

Featured Products:

 

 

Three signs your orchid needs to be repotted

Orchids make the perfect houseplants — they’re stylish, long-lasting and easy to care for. They’ll continue to bloom for years with minimal effort.

After years of living in the same space, things might get cramped. And the same can be said for your moth orchid. Refresh your orchid – and let it spread its roots – by giving it a new home and repotting it.

Orchids generally need to be repotted once a year. The best time to repot is just after flowering, or when new growth appears.

You’ll know it’s time to repot if any of these reasons apply to you:

  1. Your orchid has tightly tangled roots. It’s normal for Phalaenopsis orchids to have loosely tangled roots. This is a surefire sign your orchid needs to be repotted. Give plants breathing room by placing it in a larger pot every year or two with fresh potting soil.
  2. It’s been a while since you’ve repotted. Orchids need fresh potting mix every year or so.
    This continues to provide plants with the best nutrients and encourages proper air circulation. Soil that is not replaced can retain more water, leading to root rot and leaving your orchid vulnerable to fungal diseases.
  3. Your orchid’s roots are soft and brown. If you truly waited too long to repot, you’ll notice that your orchid is holding too much water. The roots will appear brown and feel soft to the touch. Fresh orchid potting mix will provide your plant with the environment it needs to stay happy and healthy.

Think it’s time to repot? Follow the steps below to give your orchid the space and soil it needs to keep growing happy and healthy.

How to repot orchids:

  1. Choose the right medium. We suggest using Espoma Organic Orchid Mix. For best results, pre-soak orchid mix for 24 hours and allow water to drain.
  2. Remove orchid from current container and trim dead roots from the plant.
  3. Fill container to one third full with orchid mix.
  4. Position single stem plants in the center of the new pot. Position multi-stem plants against the pot wall. Staking may be required until the plants are fully established.
  5. Gently cover roots with additional mix and fill pot to 1/2 inch below rim.
  6. Water thoroughly. Add more mix if setting occurs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Is your orchid telling you it needs to be repotted? Watch this video to learn how!

Orchid Care 101

Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to care for moth orchids, also known as Phalaenopsis orchids. Repot, fertilize and give orchids exactly what they need to help them thrive.

For this project, you will need:

Moth orchid

Organic orchid mix

Orchid pot with holes

Watering can

Orchid! Bloom Booster

Grab Your Books for a Lesson in Gardening 101

Going back to school is equal parts nervous jitters and genuine excitement for what could be. Remember what it was like to have a new backpack, a fresh outfit that makes just the right statement and your stack of empty notebooks waiting to be filled?

It feels like anything is possible at this time of year!

Molbak’s Garden + Home is here to help teach you gardening basics. Already an experienced gardener? Now is the time brush up on your lessons.

Espoma’s Gardening School 101

1. Build a Foundation for Success. For a garden to be great, superior soil is a must! Perform a quick soil test, study the results and your garden will be A+ in no time!

soil test

2. Back to School Shopping. Examine your garden equipment to see what should stay — and what needs to go. Look for cracked handles, rust and missing or loose parts. Then, go shopping for replacements.

Plan your garden

3. Get a Whole New Look. A new school year means it’s time to reveal your new look. Do you want to be refined? Edgy? Colorful and bold? Sweet and simple? Define your garden look and do your homework — then start pinning!

Espoma Pinterest

4. Make a Plan for Success. The only way to improve this year’s performance is to analyze the successes and failures of last year’s garden. Your assignment: create a new garden plan.

plan your garden

5. Meet the Teacher. Hi! It’s a pleasure to see you! At Espoma, we’ve been teaching organic gardening practices since 1929. Comment with questions below, post them to Facebook or tweet us. We’re here to make you the best gardener you can be.

Espoma Facebook6. Sharpen Pencils. Clean and sharpen your garden tools to get them ready for the new season! You can DIY or take them to your local garden center.

Garden tools

7. Find New Friends. Follow us on Facebook and check out our posts to find gardeners who are just as passionate about organic growing as you are.

Garden Party

Patio Party photo by Proven Winners

Throw your cap (or gardening gloves) up in the air! You passed the Back to Gardening School Class! Your garden will thank you for it later!

Spruce Up Your Garden Before Memorial Day Weekend

As the official kickoff to summer, Memorial Day weekend is the perfect excuse to tidy up the garden. So before you bring out your red, white and blue and get ready for the summer season, spend a little time cleaning up around the yard.

And yes, Memorial Day may be the start of summer fun, let’s not forget the real reason behind the holiday and thank our veterans.

This federal holiday, observed the last Monday of May, honors those who’ve died serving in our country’s armed forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, the holiday originated after the Civil War to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war.

Take some time and  follow these simple, inexpensive and necessary gardening tips to get your yard in tiptop shape.

liquid fertilizer, potting soil, container gardening

Five Ways to Spruce Up:

CLEAN.

It’s not the prettiest task but it is one that can have the most impact. First, give lawns a nice clean cut and trim. Next, rake leaves out of garden beds and borders. Shred or leave them whole and place in a compost pile. Finally, remove tools, debris and the uncoiled hose that may be sitting on the patio.

liquid fertilizer, potting soil, container gardening

WEED.

Another task that’s low on the fun list, but necessary for a clean yard is weeding. Pull any weeds and discard. Do not compost weed seeds.

MULCH.

Adding fresh mulch to the garden makes everything look clean. Mulch with shredded bark, compost or other biodegradable mulch.

FEED.

Now is a good time to apply the second application of your annual feeding program for your lawn. It’s also a good time to give your plants a boost with liquid fertilizer Bloom! to ensure they’re looking their prettiest and peppiest for the party.

liquid fertilizer, potting soil, container gardening

DECORATE.

Colorful flowers do a world of wonder for a garden. Buy annuals and plant them along borders. Choose heat-loving flowers that will bloom all summer. Decorate with colorful containers and place by front door and at focal points. Putting a few plants out around the patio will really set the mood.

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend! If you used any of our tips, let us know! Share your pictures with us on our Facebook page!