For most, the word "bonsai" conjures up images of elaborately manicured trees in elegant containers; however, the word itself does not actually represent a type of tree, but rather a style of cultivation, and translates roughly to "tray planting." Bonsai can be elevated to an absolute art form for serious enthusiasts, but for the average home gardener, these beautiful centerpieces offer a challenging and rewarding addition to a plant collection. With proper care and pruning, your bonsai can last a lifetime.
Determine the species of bonsai you have. This can be a very simple task if the tree came with an identification card, but if it did not, a little research is at hand. Searching online search engines for "bonsai species" is a great way to finding listings full of images to help you along. You can also find a wealth of information at local horticultural clubs. If all else fails, the guidelines below are generally appropriate for all species with minor modifications, so pay attention to your plant and learn from its reactions to your care techniques.
Place your tree in a well-lit, draft-free area of your home. Natural sunlight is critical to healthy growth, as UV light is the primary component in plant photosynthesis.
Keep the humidity up for your bonsai by misting it at least twice a day with a spray bottle on a fine mist setting. Avoid soaking the plant, especially near the soil and roots, as this can cause fungus and mold to grow.
Water the tree every four to five days indoors and every two to three outside. If you are in an especially dry climate, you may need to water as often as every day. If the soil is dry to the touch an inch below the surface, water the plant. Cut back watering to once a week through the winter months.
Prune your bonsai regularly. Each spring, before the growing season is fully under way, trim back any unwanted leaves and twigs to attain the form you desire. This is where you can let your creativity shine through, as there is no "right" way to design your tree. Use images from bonsai books or the Internet to reference, or create a design that is totally your own. Throughout the growing season, nip off any new shoots that challenge your look.
Inspect your bonsai often for pests, mildew and disease. Treat pests immediately with a plant-safe pesticide, and remove mold or mildew with an old toothbrush. If unknown diseases appear, consult with a local plant expert or research the cause yourself right away. Since bonsai grow in small containers, soil problems and disease can quickly overwhelm them.
Fertilize your bonsai throughout spring and summer during every other watering, using a commercial fertilizer at 1/3 strength.