Category: Bonsai Tree

Additional Features

There are many factors, other than the main subject – a plant, which contribute to make a genuine bonsai. The next few sections of this part of the homepage cover these other factors, including using mosses, and alternatives to mosses as ground covers, using ornamental rock or stone with bonsai and an explanation on bonsai pots and containers.

How to use moss in Bonsai

Use of Rocks in Bonsai

What containers to choose (pots)

Bonsai soils, and how to mix your own

Moss for Bonsai…

There are functions for everything in bonsai, and mosses and lichens, used as ground covers, are no exception. They, of course, look great, covering the soil surface with ‘green velvet’ and helping to retain water while holding the soil in the container. For people buying bonsai, the presence of moss is always a good sign. There are a great number of types of mosses and lichens and these can be mixed to provide a very effective result overall. When not used for ‘conservation’ purposes, they should be planted sparingly so that their effect is natural, and they do not prevent water from reaching the soil. There is a particular method of mossing a potted bonsai that will produce a smooth mat of deep green, with none of the lumpy growth that can be typical of piecing bits of moss together. With a sharp knife, slice the moss from its growing place, taking as little soil as possible. Put this moss in a container lined with paper, and moisten it lightly (it should be moist, not wet). Remove most of the remaining soil from the moss using sharp scissors, pulling each little tuft away from the larger piece. Prepare the surface soil in the bonsai pot by scratching it to roughen it up. With long handed tweezers, start inserting each tuft of moss close to, but not against, the trunk. Work out and away from the trunk until you have the look you want, then brush off most of the tufts. Sprinkle dry soil over the moss and press it down with a flat spatula or small trowel (even your hand if you are careful). Mist gently two or three times and the soil will settle down between the tufts. As an alternative to collecting moss and going through this somewhat time consuming process, you can use dried moss. Gather it, then place it in the shade for a few days until it is completely dry. Put it through a fine strainer – a sieve will do – to crumble it. Mix the particles with some soil and spread it over the bonsai soil in the pot, making a thin, even layer. Press it down with a flat spatula or small trowel and gently mist continually until the soft green moss begins to grow. Some people just scrape soil off the bottom of the moss and put this on the soil of the bonsai, but takes a much longer time to root and is a delight for small birds when looking for worms if left exposed. Along with the growth of a healthy crop of moss often comes the appearance of a silver fungus around the soil line at the trunk of the tree. This is a sign of a healthily growing bonsai. The fungus develops as the moss takes hold, and it cannot be artificially implanted. In the heat of summer, moss may turn brown. Do not despair – it means the bonsai is getting the water it needs. As soon as cooler temperatures and higher humidity return, so will the ‘green velvet’.

Using Ornamental Rocks…

If you want to increase the impact of your bonsai, introducing one or more rocks is a good idea. Solid, elemental-looking rocks can give the impression that a bonsai is part of a landscape. A single rock can resemble a rugged cliff, a towering mountain, or a rocky island. A group of smaller rocks, positioned as outcrops protruding from the soil of the bonsai container, can recall the rocky terrain in which the tree lives.

The use of ornamental rocks with a bonsai tree was always something of great importance in ancient times. This practice has become less used these days, but can add just that one final touch to your bonsai masterpiece. Excessive use of rock and statues around a bonsai is known as Saikei, but a single one or two rocks along with the tree still classify as a bonsai.

The choice of what type of rock to use basically is up to the bonsai artist. Personally, I use interesting and weathered pieces of granite and slate that I have collected from the wild, but you could basically use anything that looks natural and suits the type of tree for the bonsai, and the pot. Note that if you are going to use rocks collected from the sea, or estuaries, that these have been exposed to the elements for two years at least (such as in a corner of your garden) where this has allowed the salt and any other chemicals to leach from inside. If you do use a rock that has been exposed to chemicals or substances that are detrimental to your bonsai – either do not use it, or make sure that these substances are properly eliminated.

For your rock ‘planting’ you obviously need to find a beautiful rock that is harmonious and complimentary to the tree’s structure and colours. Many types of rock exist around the world, but some are better than others for bonsai. The best kind for bonsai work is a hard type that will not crumble away. It should also have an important colour, shape, and texture. Pay particular attention to the rock’s shape and type. It should be intrinsically interesting. A round, smooth rock, for example, suggests a watery scene, so it would enhance trees such as willows. A bland rock is unlikely to produce a good effect. On the whole, pick a rock with a natural-looking shape, but you should not find this a limitation, because nature produces a wide range of fantastically contorted mountains, boulders and rocks. Pleasing texture and colour are also important: black and shades of grey are usually impressive.

A popular choice of rock is the Japanese Ibigawa rock. It is a volcanic conglomerate, a mixture of several rock types welded together by the heat of volcanic activity.

Do not use marble or quartz because their intensively shiny, glittering textures will detract from the natural effect of the trees. Frost may split the strata lines of sandstone and other types of sedimentary rocks.

You can use soft rocks such as lava rock and tufa, but don’t rely on these too heavily as they can erode quite quickly. Soft rocks should never be used for clasped to rock or root-over-rock styles.

Containers/Pots for Bonsai…

A simple, stylish rectangular pot When it comes to bonsai, it is not just the plant and its styling that makes the bonsai appealing to the viewer. The choice of the container that the bonsai is in is also quite important to the overall look and ‘feel’ of the tree. The container is as important as the tree in a bonsai design. Usually, growers select the pot after styling the tree, so that the two harmonise in shape, size, colour and texture. Practical and aesthetic factors affect the choice of pot. The purpose of the container is of course to provide suitable accommodation for the tree’s needs, but also to compliment its branch structure and seasonal or year-round colours.

The pot must hold enough soil for the roots to develop over a year or two. It should be frost-proof with enough drainage holes. Bonsai containers are usually shallow, but sometimes you may use a deeper one to hold a fruiting tree for example, that needs plenty of water to swell its fruits. (Never try to save on watering time by using a pot too large for the tree, as the roots may become waterlogged and rot.

Vibrantly coloured pots are effective. It is said that unglazed, dark-coloured containers are usually chosen for classic bonsai or to impart a look of age. Evergreens such as conifers, look best in neutral brown pots, but glazed containers should be used for flowering trees or trees with unusual colours or characteristics. Pots of the colour featured above work well with plants such as Cotoneasters – with their bright red berries. Over the years, it has become traditional to select rather neutral shades of brown, grey and red for evergreens and the more colourful pots of green, blue and white for deciduous trees. It has also long been recognised, for example, that flowering trees look good in green, blue and deep purple pots. The exception to this is that trees and shrubs with red flowers look best in white pots. Fruiting trees can handle the competition of coloured pots and certain traditions have developed around them. For instance, it is considered the norm for trees with red fruit in white pots, and trees with yellow or orange fruits in blue pots. Basic brown pots are always correct.

Glazed pots for unformal, interesting trees Both evergreen and deciduous trees known for their highly coloured foliage follow the norms, with almost any vibrant colour looking well in green, red-leafed trees looking well in white, and yellow and orange looking well in blue containers. Again, the finishes can either be glazed or unglazed.

Generally, the more mature and aged the bonsai, the plainer the container should be. The more delicate the tree, the lighter in colour the container should be.

Feel free to chose whatever container that you think looks best for your individual bonsai, but as a general rule, oval containers compliment deciduous trees and rectangular ones suit evergreens best (particularly conifers). Hexagonal pots are softer in effect than other shapes – perfect for trees with arching or short and prominent trunks. The colour, weight and size of a pot should also be given great consideration, as well as whether it should have decoration or not. Larger pots are usually subdued in colour and texture, so that they do not dominate the tree. A smaller pot can be brighter. A container that is too overpowering, is too big, or is not the right colour, takes an enormous amount of the simple beauty of a bonsai away, and detracts from its overall aesthetic appearance.

Simple pots work well with conifers Keep the container in scale with the tree: an individual tree should not look lost in a large pot, nor overwhelm a tiny one. A dense evergreen bonsai, for example, needs a deeper pot than a delicate maple. As a guideline, a mainly vertical tree needs a pot with a length between two-thirds to three quarters of the tree’s height. The pot’s length should be two-thirds and three-quarters of the overall width of a strongly horizontal tree. As a reservoir for soil and water, a smaller pot needs more depth in proportion to its width than a larger pot does. Certain styles and types of tree demand deeper pots.

The 'Drum Pot' is effective with large, dominating trees. One very important thing to remember when buying a bonsai pot is : never buy a pot with a glazed interior. It may look neat, but this drastically interrupts drainage and heat loss. The roots could rot very easily. Most good quality bonsai pots are very expensive, but it is better to pay more for a container that you know is good quality, than to buy a cheap pot that could turn out to be detrimental to your bonsai’s health. Some people might even want to use a slab of rock or slate instead of a traditional container to make a design look especially natural as an alternative to a pot for a forest planting or a bonsai that is spacious and dominating in design. These are usually granite, slate or volcanic rock, but can also be made from painted fibreglass and other materials quite cheaply.

An Unglazed pot mainly used for more elaborate trees Overall, the container of your bonsai should always suit your personal tastes – as you are the artist, but it also should compliment the basic design and layout. e.g. you would have to have a cascading bonsai in a tall, narrow pot. Remember, if you cannot make up your mind on what pot would suit the plant, experiment, and don’t be afraid to try something original. You can always repot the bonsai the following year into a more preferred style. Bonsai is a constantly changing process and one that requires a great amount of patience, but is never permanent.

An Introduction to Bonsai Soils

Article written by Harry Harrington, of

One of the most widely debated subjects for most bonsai enthusiasts is soil composition. Ready-mixed soils can be bought from bonsai nurseries and garden centres but these tend to be relatively expensive. Faced with more than 3 or 4 trees to repot in the Spring, most enthusiasts learn to mix their own soils.

There are a large number of soil ingredients that can be used when mixing your own soil; different mixes are used by different enthusiasts with varying degrees of success. For the beginner, choosing which soil mix to use can be a daunting choice.

This article is written as an introduction to Bonsai soils, it does not discuss every soil ingredient or mix that is available, nor does it tell which soil mix is the ‘best’. That question can only be answered by the individual enthusiast after experimenting over time with his own trees and care routines.

The Basic Requirements Of Bonsai Soils

A bonsai is confined to a relatively small quantity of soil throughout the year on which its very existence depends. Through the soil in the pot, the tree must be able obtain water, nutrients and gases in order to grow. For this reason, the soil that the tree is planted in must be of the correct quality. The quality of the soil that is used directly affects the health and vigour of the tree.

There are two basic qualities that are required in a good soil mix;

  1. Good water-retaining and nutrition-absorbing capacity. Often provided by the use of dead organic matter/ Humus, the soil needs to be able to hold and retain sufficient quantities of water and nutrients for the tree to absorb.
  2. Good drainage. If excess water is not able to drain immediately from the pot, the rootsystem will be prone to rotting. Drainage is normally provided by the use of grit or small stone which keeps the mixture ‘open’, allowing excess water to pass through the mix freely. Good drainage also allows air to penetrate the compost, which is required by the plant.

Varying Soil Mixtures To Suit Different Tree Species

Though all Bonsai require free-draining, water-retentive soils, different species vary in their requirements for water and nutrients and this should be reflected in their soil composition. Pines and Junipers for instance require less water than most other species; this in turn means that they require a less water retentive soil mix.

Alternatively, flowering and fruiting species have increased water requirements and tend to be planted in soil mixes with relatively high water retaining capacities.

When mixing your own soil, the ratio of water-retaining material to grit is varied according to the tree that the mix is intended for. By increasing the ratio of grit to the mix, the soil becomes more freely-draining; by increasing the amount of water-retentive material, the greater the water-holding capacity.

Organic or Inorganic Soils

Soil mixes are described as being either organic or inorganic; both types contain grit to aid drainage but the water retentive ingredient(s) differ. Organic soil mixes are made up of dead plant matter such as peat and the ingredients are easily available at garden centres and DIY stores. Inorganic soil mixes contain no organic matter; instead, specially-formulated soil conditioners ranging from volcanic lava to calcined (baked) clays are used. These materials can be harder to locate, but, are available from good garden centres and bonsai nurseries.

Basic or Organic Soil Mix

The basic soil mix for bonsai has, for many years been grit and peat, mixed to a ratio of around 50:50. The peat holds water and nutrients whilst the grit provides drainage and keeps the soil open. The peat used is moss peat rather than sedge peat, the grit, either flint grit or crushed granite. All ingredients should be sifted to remove particles smaller than 2mm.

There are other organic substitutes for peat; leaf mould and composted bark are sometimes used along with other peat substitutes. Farmyard manure, garden compost or garden soils should never be used as they are of questionable quality and frequently carry soil-borne diseases.

The standard mix for bonsai is 50:50 peat to grit, but when repotting Junipers, Pines and other species that require a free-draining mix, the percentage of grit should be increased to as much as 75:25.

Inorganic Soil

In the past decade, there has been a significant move towards inorganic soils. Though organic soils are cheaper and more easily available, they are also of inferior quality. Peat and peat substitutes have many disadvantages; they can be too water retentive, holding large quantities of water for long periods. This can lead to the soil mix being continually sodden, particularly during periods of rain in the Autumn, Winter and Spring. Conversely, during periods of high temperatures, dry peat can be difficult to re-wet properly. Organic soils also continue to break down and relatively quickly become compacted and poor-draining. All these factors can lead to root problems and in particular root-rot.

The advantage of inorganic materials is that they hold their open structure for a long time without breaking down into a mush. Inorganic materials retain a certain quantity of water and any excess is immediately flushed through the bottom of the pot; it is difficult to over-water a bonsai planted in a good inorganic soil mix.

There are a number of materials that can be used along with grit when mixing an inorganic soil mix, ranging from volcanic lava to baked/fired clay granules;

Akadama is a white Japanese clay, specifically produced for bonsai; it is normally only available from bonsai nurseries so can be difficult to buy. There are a number of grades of Akadama available including ‘double redline’ that is more costly but is of premium quality. Avoid buying low quality Akadama as it can lose its structure quickly in European and US climates where frequent watering during the Summer is necessary.

Seramis is an orange baked clay, similar to higher-grade Akadama. It is far more easily available in the UK and US where it can be purchased from good garden centres. An advantage of Seramis is that it turns a different shade of orange as it dries allowing an easy indication that it requires watering; the colour is not to everyone’s taste but when top-dressed with grit it is not particularly noticeable. It does however retain its open structure for a long period of time.

Fired clays are excellent soil materials but are costly and can be difficult to locate. They do however hold enormous amounts of water whilst remaining very free-draining.

There are also a number of cheaper soil materials available at most garden centres, they are often sold as soil conditioners. These products can be used instead of baked clays or alternatively they can be mixed with clays to bring down the total cost of the soil mix which is often necessary for re-potting large numbers of trees!

Perlite is a naturally occurring, volcanic rock that is heated to a high temperature. As with baked clays, it is very well structured but also holds large quantities of water. It is also a very light material that makes it useful for reducing the weight of large pots.

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring, mica mineral similar to Perlite. Again, it has excellent water retention and drainage properties. Its advantage over Perlite is that it is a more pleasant colour though Vermiculite tends to contain quite a lot of small particles; around 1/4 of a typical bag can be lost after sifting out fines.

Sifting out ‘Fines’

For a good soil structure that drains well, all soils whether organic or inorganic, must be sifted to remove dust and very small particles. Soil particles smaller than 2mm should always be removed. Dust that remains in the soil mixture clogs the open structure of the soil and disrupts the drainage of excess water.

Switching From Organic to Inorganic Soils

Almost all deciduous varieties will tolerate the transition from organic to inorganic soils as long as they are healthy; coniferous species, in particular Pines, benefit from the retention of some of their old soil which will contain mycorrhiza fungi necessary for growth. If in doubt, make the transition slowly increasing the amount of inorganic material at each re-potting.

The Best Soil Mix for Bonsai

There is no single soil mix that is best for cultivating bonsai; variables such as local climate and rainfall, personal watering regimes and individual tree species all contribute to variations in enthusiasts’ soil mixes. Ultimately, experience of using different soil types and ingredients will shape your own particular preferences. It is recommended that in the first instance, find out the soil-mix of local enthusiasts who have found a successful mix and take it from there. I would however recommend the use of inorganic soils and not organic as they are nearly always of a better quality.

My personal preference when mixing bonsai soil is as follows; (by volume, not weight)

30% Seramis clay granules, 40% Vermiculite and 30% Grit. For additional water retention I increase the volume of Vermiculite at the expense of grit and Seramis, for a very free draining mix the volume of Grit is increased to 50%. My experience of this mix is that even in the height of summer, watering is necessary no more than once or twice a day though excess water is allowed to run straight through drainage holes of the pot. I have yet to experience any drainage or compaction problems, nor have I had any trees suffer with root-rot. Lastly, all these materials are readily available at all good garden-centres at a reasonable cost.

Copyright © Written by Harry Harrington, of

Root over Rock style

Written by Dan Hubik

Here, we will be examining the processes used to grow a tree over a rock (in the root-over-rock style) and create quite an effective bonsai. In this example, we will use Ficus Microcarpa over a Japanese Ibigawa Rock.

A Strangler Fig Bonsai is an art which in many ways (according to the artist’s perception) tries to mimic the sights and processes seen in nature. To follow this, the ‘root over rock’ style has been widely used in bonsai. This is when the roots of a plant are made to ‘cling’ to and grasp a rock – spilling over it and eventually disappearing into the soil. This is to mimic when a tree has started growing in a small rock crevice (the seed usually deposited by birds) and has to use its roots to ‘venture out’ and find more nutrients once its major source has been depleted. As soon as the roots reach soil, they harden up and grow ‘around’ the rock – the roots now acting effectively as the tree’s trunk.

Another instance of this happening in nature is when a tree actually starts growing on another and eventually overpowers its host by ‘strangling it’ with its roots.

This can be seen in the above photo, where a young strangling fig sends its roots down a paper bark tree into the soil to search for more nutrients.

Because figs are so tenacious and very well suited to the ‘root over rock’ style – I will use that species for this example.

The first step for a ‘root on rock’ style is to prepare the subjects. Both the plant and rock are important – so choose a suitable rock for this planting that looks appealing, attractive, natural and is a suitable size – but doesn’t overpower the tree. More information on which rocks to choose – A fig will be used, so choose one that looks healthy and that has an extensive root system. What is essentially needed is a plant which has long, tough roots that you can ‘drape’ over the rock when you position it to create the effect that the roots have grown over and down it. If the plant does not have a very long root system (at least one and a half times the height of the rock you have chosen), plant the tree in a tall, yet thin pot to encourage the roots to grow downwards. A sawn off PVC pipe can even be used – as long as the correct alterations have been made. Grow the tree for a year or so, until the roots have grown long enough.

Materials needed :

Suitable Rock (Japanese Ibigawa Rock); Plant suited to root over rock style (Ficus Microcarpa); Plastic Grafting Tape; Scissors; Concave Branch Cutters; Bonsai Secateurs; Knife; Root Hook/Fork; Clean, Sharp Sand.

Tools used to perform root over rock style.Concave branch cutters.


Once the roots are long enough, cut off all unsightly or unnecessary foliage and wash as much soil as possible away from the root ball of the plant – taking care not to damage the roots. (Try to remove as much soil possible by hand first – and then wash with a standard garden hose).


Next, take your chosen rock and your plant and place the plant over the rock. From here, experiment, and see what arrangement looks best. Try to not place all of the roots to one side, as a bonsai should be able to be viewed from all directions. Find the interesting crevices, nooks and crannies of the rock and implement the roots of the plant into these – to make the finished bonsai look as natural as possible. You can even ‘overlap’ thin, undeveloped roots, which, if left long enough, will merge together.


The next step is to set the roots in place. Although there are many methods – using grafting tape in my opinion is the easiest and most effective. (It is best to do this with an assistant). With one person holding the roots in place, wrap the grafting tape around the rock reasonably tightly, making sure to cover it completely except for the bottom, were the roots will protrude into the soil. Also make sure that there are no areas where roots can escape from gaps in the grafting tape where they are not supposed to be.


After the roots have been set in place – making sure that all of the roots protrude from the bottom of the rock – bury it with the plant in a pot of clean, sharp sand. It should be planted so that no part of the rock is visible and the bottom part of the trunk of the tree is visible.


Now thoroughly water the bonsai – leaving it in the pot for one to two years. Although the roots may seem small and weak now, in just one growing season they will really thicken up, and if you have placed them right – produce a really great show. The fig after 2 years growing over rock


Here is the fig I used growing in a large pot after having been trained to grow over the rock (under the soil) for a period of 2 years. I usually leave figs growing for two years – just so the roots can really thicken up and attach themselves to the rock. If the plant is fast growing (or you’re just impatient!) it is possible just to leave it for one year. If you do happen to take the plant out of the soil and see that it hasn’t really developed properly, you can just re-pot it back for another year.

Bonsai Wiring Demonstration

This is a photo demonstration page so I will try to keep the text down to a bare minimum. if you would like to read more about wiring have a look under make a bonsai – Potting and wiring
Heres the Link

re -Potting

Bonsai wire comes in a range of thicknesses which may vary from 6mm to 1mm. Both Aluminum and copper wire are commonly used. Aluminum is a good wire to start with as it is easy to apply and relatively inexpensive. The wire is annealed (heat treated) to soften it. The wire will harden once applied to your tree which will give it extra holding ability.

Common wiring mistakes

Wire too closely coiled and will restrict the flow of sap, which will kill the branch

The wire is too open, and will not have sufficient holding power.

The wire is too loose and will have no effect at all.

Correct angle and spacing…

Before you start on your prized bonsai get some practice on a garden shrub first. You can always reuse the wire, if it gets too hard heating in a fire will usually soften it again wait until it cools of course.
Test the twig for resistance then coil at a 45 degree angle up the branch. It should be tight enough to make contact with the bark all the way around, but no tighter. Bend the twig to see if the wire is strong enough to hold it. Before long you will be able to assess what thickness of wire to use for any given thickness of branch.

For demonstration purposes we will use this pine.

Pinus sylvestris var. mongolica

This tree has been pruned to shape with a new apex formed and all unnessersary branches removed. It has been in this training pot for six months now. If it was left as it is it would for a reasonable formal upright with time. The section between the two branches at the apex and the third branch down is too large and could only be remedied by removing the top. With wire we may be able to hide that defect.

Trunk Wiring

Start by judging whether the wire is thick enough to do the job required of it. You can use two pieces of wire wound along side each other if necessary. Cut a piece of wire about one third longer than the trunk. Anchor the wire by pushing one end into the soil at the base of the trunk, right to the bottom if using only a shallow dish. With one hand, hold the wire firmly to the base of the trunk. With the other hand, begin to coil the wire at a 45 degree angle. After each turn, move the hand that is keeping the wire taut upwards so it follows the spiral as it coils up the trunk.

If the trunk becomes too thin for the wire you’re using, change to a finer strand. Follow the thicker wire up the trunk for at least two turns before continuing to the top.

Bend the trunk with both hands, using your thumbs as fulcrums. Make the curves narrower towards the top. Remember, a tree is three-dimensional, so it should be equally bent backwards and fowards as well as from side to side.
Try to create any bends with a single smooth movement continual readjustment will damage the bark.

Notice how the finer wire at the top follows the thicker wire for at least two full turns to anchor it in place.

Wiring Primary Branches

You need to work out a strategy in advance. Wherever it is possible try to use one piece of wire for two branches. This will not work if the branches directly oppose one another. Remember work outwards from the trunk, keep it neat and don’t cross over wires.

The first photo shows our tree with the wire for the first primary branches locked in. The second photo gives you a clearer picture of how to lock two branches in. Make sure you have at least one twist around the truck before you start on the second branch. If this twist isn’t present you will get movement in the first branch when you try to adjust the second.
IF you can’t use two branches secure the wire by coiling it around the trunk with at least two turns.

Wiring Secondary Branches

With the primary branches in place move on to the secondary smaller branches. Much the same system is used for the secondary barnches as the primary. Always make sure your wire is secured by coiling it around another primary or secondary branch. What you don’t want is movement in the branch you have already set when you try to adjust the one opposite. Be careful if you are wiring soft growth, leave the wire a bit loose in these areas. Try to avoide needles or foliage as you move up the branch.

As you can see the tree now has some movement and foliage gaps are filled.
The length of time the wire must stay on the tree before the branch sets will vary from tree to tree and variety to variety. There is, however, one hazard that is best avoided. As the branch grows it will thicken and eventually begin to bite into the bark. This can happen in just a few weeks so be vigilant. As soon as you notice this starting cut the wire away.

Don’t try to save wire by uncoiling it. It will be much firmer when you remove it than it was when it went on. When I was first starting out I broke more branches trying to save 50 cents worth of wire than I did bending the branch in the first place. Cut each coil with a sharp pair of wire cutters and it will fall away in links.


Note: Originally posted here.

Repottig Bonsai

Repotting your Bonsai

Repotting is carried out to prevent your plant becoming root bound and starving to death. It helps maintain your tree in a small pot but does not reduce the size of your tree. Apart from watering, it is probably one of the most important and misunderstood processes in Bonsai

Early Spring is the best time to carry out this process.
Select the tree to be repotted. Prepare all the items you will require: Tools, soil, clean water, mesh, gravel or cover stones. These should be on hand as the process should be carried out as quickly as possible to prevent the roots drying out any more than is necessary

This tree has not been repotted for two years now and it is starting to yellow and loose vigor.

The root ball has become a solid mass and lifts from the pot with relative ease. If the lip of your pot cuts inwards you may have to run a knife around the edge. Remove any pieces of mesh that were not wired to the pot and have become embeded in the roots. You can see new healthy roots by the mesh on this plant that is a good sign and indicates an appropriate time for repotting. Take this opportunity to check for rot from wet areas or bugs, such as mealy bug which can infest the roots of a stressed plant. Rot could be a sign that the drainage of your pot is not right look for pockets where water may sit, or blocked or undersized holes.

Remove about one third of the root mass from around the outside and bottom of the ball. To do this you can use a root hook. If you have no hook you can use a fork with a tine bent at right angle to the handle to make a hook. If you think bending one of the forks might cause a little house hold strife a chopstick or pencil would do just as well.

Trim any damaged or excess roots with a sharp pair of scissors. Don’t use your good pruning scissors you will be cutting through dirt and the odd stone. Make sure all your tools are kept sharp and clean.

Take the opportunity to clean your pot remove any old soil and green colour from the outside.
Replace the mesh over the holes. It is a good idea to wire the mesh in as shown. This will prevent it moving when you replace the soil or as the roots grow around it. The mesh will prevent the soil falling out and the bugs climbing in.

Place a layer of soil in the bottom of your pot and reposition you plant. You can see from this picture how much root and soil has been removed.

Replace the removed soil with fresh bonsai soil. You may need to make sure the soil is down around the bottom edges of the pot, a chopstick is useful for this.

Replace the top stones these help retain moisture prevent weeds and look good too. Some of the stones on the top of trees from garden shops are glued or mixed with glue before they are placed, this is not good and is only done to stop people knocking them off in transit. If you come across this in a bonsai, remove them as soon as possible.

Trim your tree to remove any excess growth. Repotting is a good time to thin your plants foliage mass to help reduce the stress on the bonsai. Water thoroughly, if you can it is a good idea to immerse your tree in water, leave it there until the bubbles stop comming out of the soil. Take it out and place your plant in a sheltered position with a little shade for a few days.

Step 4: Bonsai Care and Maintenance

Bonsai Care and Maintenance

Care of bonsai can be very simple or you can spend hours rewiring and changing your trees, you will know how long you have but basic care is as follows.

Just a reminder Bonsai trees are out door plants I know the temptation after creating this thing of beauty and placing it in such a nice pot is to bring it inside and look at it. Don’t it will kill it or at best make it weak and unhealthy. The best you can do is treat it as you would a vase of flowers and bring it in when you have guests or need a center piece on your dinner table but don’t leave it indoors for more than two or three days at a time.

Your new tree will need a little bit of special care for a short time.

    Place it in a shady spot out of the wind Keep it well watered but not in a puddle

    Don’t be tempted to feed your plant there will be plenty of nutrient in the new soil and feeding may damage the newly developing roots.

Your tree will last for at least a year in the pot it’s in without repotting and at least 6 months without feeding. You may need to feed it through spring and summer after this period Any liquid food will be ok mix it about half the recommended rate but use it more regularly as the frequent watering and the shallow pot leaches fertilizer quite fast.

Repotting should be carried out in early spring, the plant should be carefully removed from its pot and about one third of the soil and root is removed. The plant can then be replaced in the same pot with fresh soil. This repotting helps feed and keep your tree healthy, repotting promotes new feeder roots and is not the reason for the trees diminutive size.

There are two things that I can’t stress enough and have been the cause of the death of so many trees

    Grow them outdoors even when its cold or wet

    Keep the soil moist don’t let it dry out in between watering some of the roots that feed your plant may be as small as one cell thick kill them kill the tree. Find a reliable person to look after you plants when you take that summer holiday.

My Juniper procumbens ‘Nana’

The finished tree just awaiting time to complete its development

Step 3: Bonsai wiring and pots

Bonsai wiring and pots

Wiring is sometimes seen as another form of bonsai torture for these little trees but it is really no different to staking or espaliering fruit trees. The wire is only on for a short time; long enough to set the branch in the new position and then it is removed. It is quite possible to create a perfectly acceptable tree without wiring using a clip and grow technique but the use of wire speeds up the whole process and allows you more flexibility in your design.

The wire used is a soft copper or aluminum; try to get wire that is about one third the thickness of the branch to be bent. Wire stripped from electrical cable is perfectly adequate but if you can’t find any, you may have to contact your local bonsai nursery. The trick with wiring is to make sure that one end is anchored properly; you can achieve this by pushing one end into the soil if bending the trunk or wiring two branches at the same time. Practice on a branch you have removed or on a near by tree before you start on your tree. The turns of the wire should be kept at an angle of 45 degrees and quite firm against the branch, be careful not to tear the bark or worse, snap your branch. Go slowly and keep it tidy, people will be looking at it for a few months before you can remove it.

The length of time you leave it on will vary depending on the type of tree and the time of the year. Keep a close eye on it and when it starts to look too tight, cut it off. If the branch springs back, it will need rewiring. Don’t leave the wire so long that it cuts grooves into the bark.

With your tree all wired and roughly to the shape you require its time to pot. The pot is an important part of the whole bonsai process it can make or break your design. Use a proper bonsai pot they should have quite large drainage holes and some kind of feet to lift the base off the ground. As well as these two horticultural requirements this is a piece of art you’re creating so the pot should be part of your overall design. This is a new bonsai and as such still has some maturing to do don’t try to put it in too small a pot. It will continue growing and you can always down size once some new root is established.

Step 1 Mix four parts potting mix that you can obtain from your nursery with one part small sharp stone. This improves drainage and helps the roots to divide. You can in some places buy a ready made Bonsai mix.


Step 2 Remove your tree from its existing pot and check the roots, look for bugs or rot. Loosen the soil with a root hook or a bent fork. Tease out the roots and remove any large thick roots. People seem to think the tap root is important at this stage, if you are working on nursery stock you are unlikely to find one they will only be present on seed grown stock and usually die when they hit the bottom of the pot anyway. The tap root is for anchoring the tree to the ground and has little to do with feeding the plant so if perchance it is there remove it. Only remove as much root as needed to fit into your new pot.


Step 3 Place small pieces of mesh over the holes in your pot, this stops soil coming out and bugs moving in. Fill the bottom of the pot with a layer of soil and place your plant on top, try to place it off centre and towards the back if possible. Pack soil around the plant, you may need to use a twig or chop stick to push soil around the roots.


Step 4 Cover the soil with a fine stone, the stone used in your soil mix would be fine. This looks nice and stops the water washing the soil away.


Step 5 Watering. A good method for this first watering is to immerse the entire pot in water until all the soil is covered leave it there until the bubbles stop. This makes sure that all the gaps in the soil are filled and no roots are left to dry out.


Step back and admire your new creation.

My Juniper procumbens ‘Nana’

Juniper thining

With the front of your tree decided upon you can start trimming away any parts that are not part of your finished Bonsai. Easier said that done. If you do it in small stages it becomes clearer as you go along, start by removing anything that is diseased or dead. If you have picked your tree carefully there should be very little to do here. Then move on to removing anything that is growing down from the bottom of a branch. Don’t remove any branches until this is done, it will thin out your tree and allow you to see the branch placement more clearly. Remove any small growth comming directly from the trunk and anything that you are obviously not going to use in your final design.

Juniper first wire

If you are going to wire your tree now is the time. I have seen trees that have just been planted into a bonsai pot and then someone tries to wire them, they usually end up out of the pot or at least wrenched about in their new soil. While Bonsai wire is softened it can still take a bit of effort to bend some of the thicker wires so it is best to do it while you can move your tree around without damaging newly developing roots. If you intend to clip and grow your new tree without wire move on to potting now. Make sure the wire is about 1/3 the thickness of the branch to be bent. Anchor one end of the wire either in the soil or around another branch. Twist around the branch at a 45 degree angle or as close as possible. Wiring can take time and practice, keep it neat people will be looking at it for at least a month or so.

The wire allows you to stand the tree up. The basic shape of the tree can be seen now.

With the basic wiring completed, the rest of the tree can be thinned and unwanted branches removed. After this, fine wiring can be carried out. I would recommend this is left until a later date. There is no rush with the basic shape of your tree established it may be prudent to allow it to recover and give yourself time to look at your tree and refine it in your mind.

The tree ready for potting

To prepare your pot, place the mesh over the drainage holes. Don’t try to use a very small pot. Keep the pot quite large for a new Bonsai. This tree has not had time to produce the fine feeder roots that are required to keep a bonsai healthy in a small pot. If you wish to reduce the size of you pot you can do it on your next repot in a years time.

juniper root trim

Trim off any excess roots. Roots to remove would be damaged roots or very thick roots that may prevent the tree being potted. Don’t go over board, retain as much root as possible.

Pot your tree. The tree is usually placed slightly off center in the pot to give the tree balance. If the tree looks like it is going to pull the pot over it is probably not placed correctly. How to pot is in the yellow boxes above or follow the link below to go to a photo demonstration.

Repotting your tree

For a more detailed photo demonstration of wiring follow the link below

Bonsai Wiring

To see a photo of the finished tree and learn how to care for your tree go to the next stage.

Step 4 : Care for your new Bonsai