The ancient art of Bonsai comes from China by way of Japan. Many varieties of trees are used for bonsai, which are simply miniature versions of their larger relatives. You can grow anything from spruce to oaks to apricot or crabapple as bonsai specimens. What makes them special are the small pots in which they are grown and pruning techniques that keep their branches in the standard bonsai styles of upright, slanting, cascade, formal and informal. Bonsai are typically grown outdoors, but many people bring them indoors for parties to add an elegant touch to the décor.
Purchase your young tree, container and potting mix specially formulated for bonsai at your local garden center. Look at your tree to determine its growth habit and use its natural shape to attain an attractive form for your bonsai.
Cut branches cleanly to accentuate the tree's shape. You can also cut off unattractive branches or leaves when you first begin. Keeping your bonsai pruned on a regular basis is part of the ongoing maintenance needed for this type of plant.
Plant your tree in the container you have chosen, and then water it thoroughly. You will need to water it every day because the amount of soil that is used for bonsai is very small and it dries out quickly.
Put your potted tree outdoors in an area that receives 3 to 5 hours of sunlight each day, but avoid areas that might have too much sun, too high a temperature, too much dampness or too much wind.
Fertilize bonsai once a month with your 20-20-20 fertilizer that you have diluted to one-forth or one-half strength. Fertilize only during periods when your tree is actively growing and do not fertilize during the winter months.
Bring your bonsai tree indoors for short periods of time if you want to use it for a floral centerpiece or to accentuate any area. Bonsai trees can die when left in dry, overheated rooms for long periods of time, so take your tree back to its outdoor home when the party is over.
Spray your bonsai tree with insecticidal soap spray if you notice any aphids, scale insects or spider mites beginning to appear on the leaves. You can help control most caterpillars with powdered Bt, bacillus thuringiensis, which is a natural soil bacterium you can buy at nurseries. Slugs and snails can also attack bonsai plants---use beer traps or bait to keep them away.
Control viruses and fungal diseases by removing affected growth and spraying with a sulfur spray or other fungicide. Keeping good air circulation around your tree will help to prevent diseases of this type.