Basic Bonsai Tree Care
Bonsai trees are plants and like any other plants and trees they needs light, water, nutrients and the right temperature to grow. These elements will be dependent on where you live and other factors such as position, weather and size. If you live somewhere warmer then they usually grow faster so need more water and feed, somewhere cool and damp and they needs less water and better light.
This is probably the single most common reason why bonsai trees die it seems apt to mention is first.
Bonsai trees need to be kept moist. Large flat pots dry out faster than deeper ones. Large leaved trees will use more water than small leaved ones. Submersion should only really be done if the tree has inadvertently dried out and there is risk of dry parts of the root ball.
The majority of feeds are made up of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. A basic understanding of these will help you understand how to feed trees.
Nitrogen is essential for leaf, stem and soft branch development. Too much nitrogen then excessive green growth can occur.
Phosphorus is needed for good root and flower development. It can stay in soil for up to three years.
Potassium or Potash helps the trees build sugars and is essential growth. Flowering and fruiting trees require potassium to develop. Potash encourages trees to develop hard wood.
It can be seen that a balanced feed is best for trees as a lot of bonsai soils are very low nutrient content. Adjusting the balance in late summer starts to reduce green growth and harden trees off for winter. If trees have too much nitrogen stored in their roots or high nitrogen feeds given early spring then large leaves can develop on deciduous trees.
Liquid feeds are good for smaller and indoor trees.
Slow release solid feeds are advantageous with larger and outdoor bonsai trees as feed is released into the soil at a steady and consistent rate.
Bonsai need light to develop and photosynthesise. They will also be healthier and have a better tendency to increase branch structures when they are open to more light.
South facing always has the warmer temperatures and better light levels over a longer time but can lead to very high temperatures in midsummer.
East facing gives early morning heat from the sun which can be bad for trees that have frost as the smaller branches can thaw but the frozen root ball cannot release moisture so branch loss can occur. If trees have frozen then you need to be wary of the early morning sun.
West facing has the evening and long summer light. North facing can have low light levels and lower temperatures which can be used to keep trees dormant on warmer winter days.
Care needs to be taken when positioning indoor trees. Sites above radiators and in windows with full sun can produce very dry conditions and trees can struggle to cope.
Pruning has two major concepts - to maintain the shape and aesthetics of the tree and to allow light into the branches to encourage healthy growth and branch development. Deciduous trees back bud, growth new branches and tolerate heavy pruning more readily than evergreen trees. In the growing season it is beneficial to keep some green growth on each branch when pruning heavily to keep the sap flowing through the branches and encourage re growth.
Most trees will tolerate the thinning of the foliage to allow light inside the branch structures to encourage back budding.
These are pretty tree specific but essentially fall into two main groups – hardy and none hardy or tropical and subtropical which are roughly the outdoor and indoor class of trees. Indoor trees do benefit from periods outside in warm weather but be careful they do not get damaged by cold nights.
Outdoor trees struggle inside as they often find it too dry. In winter it can be very damaging to try and keep a deciduous tree in leaf by bringing it into the house. The occasional mild frost is often harmless to outdoor trees; prolonged and severe weather can cause die back of small branches or total tree loss.
You will struggle to water a compacted root ball effectively and the roots can get disease and root rot due to the lack of oxygen. Bonsai are kept in their unique style by pruning not allowing getting pot bound.
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