Your step by step guide to growing a bonsai tree

If you’ve always wanted to make your own bonsai tree but felt overwhelmed by the rules, this is an easy, no-fuss guide to help get you started.

Bonsai trees are the collision of art and horticulture – and the results can be mesmerising. Imagine a 200-year-old pine miniaturised and contorted by the hands of experts over time.

It’s mind-blowing to think of the knowledge, planning and patience that goes into these living works of art.

It might also seem fairly difficult to replicate at home!

But stripped back to the basics, bonsai is about expressing nature on a small scale using a plant and a container. And that’s totally achievable, even if you have an hour to spare as opposed to a few hundred years.

Bonsai trees are the collision of art and horticulture, says The Hungry Gardener, and the results can be mesmerising. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Bonsai tree species you can start with

  1. Dwarf umbrella tree
  2. Weeping fig
  3. Desert rose
  4. Jade plant
  5. Japanese maple

Step 1. Choose a plant

To start with, you will need to choose your plant.

Any plant can become a bonsai, yet some species are more popular than others due to their features. These might be small leaves, aerial roots, or adaptability to growing in a container.

Good plants for beginners include the weeping fig, dwarf umbrella tree and jade plant. Start by selecting small plants, such as saplings, from your local nursery.

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Step 2. Consider location

Also think about where you’ll keep your bonsai, as this will impact on your plant choice.

Tropical plants do best for indoor bonsai, while plants suited to your local climate zone are best if the bonsai is intended for outdoors.

Any plant can become a bonsai tree, yet some species are more popular than others due to their features. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Step 3. Choose a container

Traditionally, bonsai tree containers are low lying pots or trays. But you can use any vessel that has drainage.

Choose a container that appeals to you, that visually complements your plant, and that enables easy access to remove the plant for maintenance every few years.

Step 4. Consider the size of the container

Balance is also important. Make sure the size of the container is just enough to accommodate your plant, though not too big.

The goal is to create a small-scale representation of nature, rather than give the plant an opportunity to grow.

Traditionally, bonsai containers are low lying pots or trays. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Step 5. Cover drainage hole

Prepare your container by covering the drainage hole with some fine mesh. Secure it using wire and then lay down some gravel for drainage.

Step 6. Add soil

For the soil, use quality potting mix or make your own with a two-to-one ratio of river sand and potting mix.

Step 7. Rinse roots

Before you pot up, remove the plant from its plastic container, shake any soil loose and rinse the roots.

Gently snip the roots to half their original length, carefully removing any damaged parts and straggly ends.

Rinse the roots of your bonsai before placing in your container of choice. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Step 8. Place in pot

Now you can place the plant into its new container, filling in with soil.

Complete the scene with a little creative landscaping, using anything from moss to rocks and pebbles.

Complete the scene with a little creative landscaping, using anything from moss to rocks and pebbles. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Step 9. Control the plant’s shape

In bonsai, the challenge is not to grow a plant but to control its shape and size. There are several techniques for training your bonsai. These include pinching buds, pruning and wiring branches.

It’s really up to you how you apply these techniques, letting your creative expression take over. But for starters, think about the shape you want to achieve.

Do you want an upright composition, one that leans majestically, or cascades?

Once you’ve decided this, train your plant accordingly.

In bonsai, the challenge is not to grow a plant but to control its shape and size. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Bonsai care

Getting the watering routine right is an important part of caring for your bonsai. Remember that the pot is small, so it will dry out more quickly than standard pot plants.

Water using a watering can when the soil surface is slightly dry by pouring evenly and gently onto the soil around the base of the plant. Avoid over-watering, which is one of the most common causes of bonsai death.

Since your bonsai is in a small container, it will also need regular fertilising. This is best done when the plant is dormant, over winter. The species will determine how much and how often it needs a feed.

Every few years, refresh the soil and trim back the roots.

Getting the watering routine right is an important part of caring for your bonsai. Picture: Erinna Giblin

Originally published as Your step by step guide to growing a bonsai tree by Fabian Capomolla.

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