Bonsai is a plant art that goes back at least as far as the 13th century, when the Japanese collected and potted plants dwarfed in nature. Bonsai actually means "tree in a pot." The visual aesthetic of a bonsai tree is that of an old, wise tree, left in nature to live out its days. The art is to make the tree look as authentic by a meticulous trimming of the branches. Getting a bonsai tree started is not difficult, and care, after the basics are learned, is a process that many find meditative and relaxing.
Take your bonsai tree from the nursery pot and gently remove the soil from the roots with your fingers and some water.
Spread the roots out and clip the side roots to about half their size using pruning scissors. Spread the bottom roots out along the bonsai container and trim the bottom roots so that they are not crammed in the bottom or sides of the new pot.
Cover the bottom of the pot using a bonsai mesh to keep the soil from falling out of the holes of the pot. Bonsai mesh can be bought from garden centers or bonsai specialty stores. Place the mesh along the bottom of the pot so that it lays flat and covers the holes at the bottom, but allows water to drain through. The weight of the potting soil should hold it in place, but it can be secured to the bottom of the pot using thin wire. Check the bottom of the pot after placing the potting soil to see if the mesh has moved.
Add a small amount of bonsai soil to the bottom of the pot and place the bonsai tree on top. Completely cover the roots with more soil.
Look at the natural shape of the plant and prune the sides of the tree so that they are no larger than the sides of the bonsai pot. Make a sketch of what you wish the pruned tree to look like based on mature plants of the same type in the wild. Prune the tree from the bottom of the tree to the top, starting from the inside and working your way out to ensure even cuts. Remove branches from the bottom of the tree that are growing up or inwards towards the trunk. Cut one branch of any pairs that are growing on opposite side of the tree to maintain balance in the trunk.
Water the soil every few days after potting, making the soil moist but not seeping, and ensure the soil does not go dry. Water once a week after the first month.
Fertilize the plant only before or after the active growing season to control the plants growth. Apply a houseplant fertilizer that is watered down to one-quarter to one-half strength. Water soluble fertilizers with a 20-20-20 strength are the best.