Guide to Bonsai Art and Tree Care


The symbol of the Bonsai tree is one of peace and meditation.

Bonsai Plants

The art of Bonsai actually began 2,000 years ago in China. This first early form of tree imagery was called Penjing. It became known as Bonsai when the Japanese adopted the art form. The concept reached the west in the early 1960s as a hobby that has now grown significantly in popularity.

Bonsai basically means tree in a tray and is derived from Japanese culture. A good plant resembles a real sized tree in style and perspective, but in miniature.

Selecting a Tree

Bonsai can either be an outdoor or indoor garden project. Some of the most popular varieties include Junipers, Pines, Maple, and Larches. For beginners, the best tree types are Cotoneaster or Cypress as they are nearly impossible to kill and easy to develop. Generally speaking, quick-growing tree and shrub species are best; otherwise it is easy to get discouraged by the process.

Always start by buying a tree and not from seed. Visit a specialty nursery where the staff can provide helpful advice and information. Starting with the appropriate healthy tree will make all the difference in your artistic success.

Bonsai Tree Care

Unfortunately most trees are killed by ignorance, so it is important to really know your tree care guidelines. Indoor and outdoor trees need slightly different care requirements.


Indoor plants will need regular fertilizer and a pleasant spot by a bright window. These varieties must be kept away from cold, but they can be moved outdoors during the summer months.

Fertilize your indoor trees with plant food every week in the spring and summer only.


Make sure the type of tree you selected can handle your outdoor climate. Outdoor trees need adequate light and water, plus regular fertilizer.For outdoor fertilizing of your tree, use half strength high nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks in the springtime and a 0-10-10 in the summer, taking a break during the hottest couple of weeks.

Light Needs

All trees, both indoor and outdoor, need to be turned regularly to evenly distribute light to the tree. Each week, turn the plant ½ a turn.


Soil should be kept slightly damp and never dried out. Spray the tree every day with a misting bottle of water. Water more in the spring and summer, sometimes every day. Water often, but don't go overboard as the roots will quickly rot. Always water with a watering can, and never use a hose or sprinkler as they will wash too much soil away.

Soft water is best. If your tap water is not naturally soft, you can create soft water by letting a container of water sit for a day or two. This allows the heavy metals to sink to the bottom. Then, simply use the water from the top for the plants.


If you are new to Bonsai, a club is an excellent opportunity to learn some great skills and meet new friends. The growth of the Bonsai clubs has helped to develop the hobby. The skills shared at club meetings teach members at the most practical level.

Pruning Art

Bonsai is all about the pruning. It is about making an illusion, much like a painting.

There are different styles of pruning. The two most common are:

  • Clip and Grow - A basic pruning method where developing secondary buds are encouraged to develop into branch areas. Some branches are also trained by strings with weights.
  • Wire - The principle method for shaping, wire is used to bend or straighten branches to contour the overall appearance of the tree.

For basic home maintenance, the tree needs to be trimmed back to the first set of new growth at the top, second set of new growth at the sides and middle, and the third set around the sides at the bottom. Pinching is also crucial to the successful-looking Bonsai. Start with a basic design, which will be dependent on your specific tree variety. Pinch to form the tree to the shape, with the more twigs the better.

The proper tools are critical. Although there are multiple specialty tools, the basic kit should contain the following four:

  • Angle-cutter
  • Knob-cutter
  • Sharp Bonsai Scissors
  • Jinning Pliers
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Guide to Bonsai Art and Tree Care