How to care for a bonsai tree

Here we explain how to maintain a bonsai tree from first steps to long-term upkeep.

Updated

 how to care for a bonsai tree

Key Steps:

When you’re looking after a bonsai tree:

  1. Choose an appropriate species for where you plan to keep it.
  2. Keep it in a place away from direct heat but with plenty of sunlight.
  3. Water and fertilise regularly.
  4. Keep it under control with regular pruning.

A bonsai tree is a striking addition to any home but it’s also a living thing and it needs a certain amount of care. Flex your green fingers and learn how to look after a bonsai tree here – to keep other trees looking their best, try our advice on how to prune garden trees

Bonsai trees require a bit of maintenance and skill to keep them going so consider an easier plant to start with if you’re new to gardening.

How to care for a bonsai tree: placement

First things first, what type of bonsai do you want? An indoor bonsai will have warmth more or less year-round so choose a tropical or subtropical variety. Temperate bonsai, whether deciduous or evergreen, do better outdoors so keep them in a garden or on a balcony.

No matter what type you choose, follow these basic rules of looking after a bonsai tree:

  1. Place your bonsai in good sunlight – or near a window if indoors.
  2. Don’t put it too close to radiators, fireplaces, or other sources of warmth.

How to water bonsai trees

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often to water your bonsai; it’ll depend on the climate and the tree itself.

  • Your bonsai may need daily watering if it has a lot of direct sunlight.
  • Feel the soil to check if it needs watering – dry soil needs to be watered!
  • Make sure your bonsai is kept in a pot with good drainage.
  • When you water your bonsai, soak the soil until water seeps from the drainage holes.
  • Never let your bonsai tree’s soil become completely dry.

How to care for bonsai trees: soil and fertilisation

Knowing how to look after a bonsai is complicated by the fact that there are many different types of bonsai tree and they all have different needs.

  • Bonsai soil is usually a mixture of several things, from composted bark to gravel.
  • The goal is to retain moisture while also allowing excess water to drain away.
  • To ensure the soil has enough nutrients, you’ll need to fertilise it regularly.
  • Use a fertiliser with balanced levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
  • Fertilise your indoor bonsai weekly during spring and summer, and once a month during autumn and winter.
  • You don’t need to fertilise temperate bonsai as it's kept outdoors in autumn or winter.
  • Never fertilise a bonsai that’s unwell or has been repotted within the last month.
  • Seek advice on what soil and fertiliser to use for your specific species of tree if you’re unsure.

How to take care of bonsai trees: pruning

A bonsai doesn’t know it’s supposed to be a tiny tree, rather than a regular-sized one, so it’ll naturally try to grow upwards and outwards.

  • Trim branches that go against the shape you’re aiming for.
  • Pay particular attention to the outer edges of your bonsai.
  • Prune dead or broken branches and remove any dead leaves or weeds in the soil.
  • Branches that are growing across other branches, and rubbing against them, may cause issues if they’re left alone so they should also be removed.
  • If you’ve had a major pruning session, give your bonsai a watering afterwards.

Now that you’ve learnt how to take care of a bonsai tree, it’s time to put your green fingers to work!

Originally published