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Bonsai Basics

This section will provide basic advice on how to care for your tree.


If you have any doubts about the health of your tree, call us or visit the nursery.


It's important to remember that your bonsai tree is a living plant in a small pot. As such, like any pot plant in your home and garden, it depends on your dedicated care. Regular watering, fertilizing, as well as protection from the elements (heavy rain and cold weather in winter, high temperatures and dry winds in summer) are essential for the wellbeing of your tree.



Position: Bonsai should be outdoors all year round. Choose a sunny spot, sheltered from winds. Place your tree on a stable support (shelf, low wall, outdoor table, etc.), never directly on the ground to avoid parasites from entering the pot. Bonsai generally loves sunshine. The amount of sunshine given to your bonsai depends on which species it is. Conifers are generally more sun and heat tolerant than deciduous trees (trees that shed their leaves in autumn). All trees should be moved to shade or semi-shade in very hot weather. Protecting your bonsai with shade cloth (75% sun blocking capacity) works very well for most bonsai. In winter, your tree may be relocated under an eave in very wet weather. If you wish to display your tree indoors, you could, but for no more than one or two days at a time, a few times during the year.


Watering: Your bonsai must be watered regularly: daily in summer (twice a day in very hot and dry weather); occasionally in winter if there is no rain for a week or more. In time, you will acquire a 'feel' for the watering needs of your tree. In the meantime, it's good practice to check the bonsai's soil condition regularly, even in winter! Gently poke the soil with a skewer. If the top centimeter of soil is dry, then water. If the surface is still moist, don't water. Bonsais die more from over-watering than under-watering! Water gently with a fine hose spray or a watering can equipped with a fine rose. Water softly and don't drench the soil. if you do, you may disturb the soil and uncover some of the roots! It's advised to water twice a few minutes apart. The first watering opens the soil by flushing out used gases and salts from the soil; the second allows the soil (medium) to hold capillary water! Check regularly that the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot are not blocked; water should be draining freely out of them immediately after watering. In summer, it’s good practice to dunk your bonsai in a large container of water (there should be enough water to cover the pot) for about 5 minutes once in a while. It gets rid of salts and gases that accumulate in the soil overtime.


Fertilizing: Sprinkle a balanced slow-release fertilizer on top of the soil in October (or when leaves harden) and again lightly in March. In the meantime, until mid-Autumn, alternate between liquid solutions of fish emulsion and seaweed extract once monthly (half the strength recommended by the manufacturer). Occasional top ups of manure and seaweed pellets are a bonus, and a sprinkle of Blood-and-Bone in early spring for larger bonsai won't go astray. It’s also good practice to sprinkle the soil surface with lime once a year in autumn to neutralize the substrate. Avoid fertilizing on hot days as your tree won’t absorb the fertilizer.


Going away: If you are going away, even for a few days, leave your bonsai with a relative or a friend. In summer, not watering your bonsai for more than a couple of days could have dire consequences.


Problems: you should be mindful of the following problems:


Overwatering may result in yellowing of leaves, scales or needles (due to root rot). If you have over-watered your tree, place it in a sunny spot and don't water again until the soil is near dry (poke the whole depth of the soil with a skewer). Then water thoroughly. Let the soil dry again, then water again. Repeat the operation until the bonsai shows signs of recovery. In extreme cases of an over watered bonsai, the tree will need urgent repotting, without being root-pruned, in a very free-draining substrate.

Under-watering will result in dried leaves that will eventually fall. If your tree hasn't been watered for a few days, the chances are it may survive. Submerge the pot (not the whole plant) in a bucket of water for 30mn. If the leaves are dry (dull in colour and curling), defoliate the whole tree, place the tree in the shade and mist it several times daily. It will help it recover quicker. If scratching the bark with your thumb nail reveals green cambium, your tree is still alive. 

Under-watering may be caused by the non penetration of water in the soil as the tree is rootbound in the pot. If it's the case, small holes may be made with a skewer or a chopstick through the soil to help the water penetrate. Another way to saturate the substrate is to dunk your bonsai in a water container (see Watering). If your tree is  rootbound, it will need repotting at the appropriate time.

If your bonsai looks unwell, don’t fertilize it. Fertilizing an unhealthy bonsai could worsen its condition. However, watering it with a very weak solution of seaweed extract (which is a root tonic) may be beneficial.


Pruning: To keep a bonsai in good shape it must be branch-pruned. Light pruning of decidious trees may be performed a couple of times a year (in late spring and in early autumn. Just cut back to the desired shape with sharp scissors. Pruning conifers and structural pruning of all trees, however, require a good understanding of bonsai culture. It shouldn't be performed by bonsai owners who haven't received adequate training. Bonsai Mujo offers workshops that may help you acquire the knowledge and skills to perform these tasks. Alternatively, the team at Bonsai Mujo can prune your tree for a very reasonable fee (which will depend on your tree).


Repotting: To keep it in good health a bonsai must be repotted regularly, usually every one or two years, depending on the species, the age and health of the tree. Repotting involves prunning roots which, in time, invade the pot and saturate the soil. To avoid the tree becoming root-bound, the roots must be cut back at the most appropriate time of the year (usually August-September in SA) and the soil needs to be changed. Repotting requires a good understanding of bonsai culture. It shouldn't be performed by bonsai owners who haven't received adequate training. Bonsai Mujo offers workshops that may help you acquire the knowledge and skills to perform this task. Alternatively, the team at Bonsai Mujo can repot your tree for a very reasonable fee (which depends on your tree).


Please note: If you are going to repot your tree, we don't recommend purchasing commercial bonsai mix from garden centres and hardware stores, nor do we recommend repotting bonsai in 100% multi-purpose potting mix. These prepackaged mixes are often not suitable for bonsai culture and could be detrimental to the health of your tree as they may be too compact. A suitable bonsai mix must be open and free draining. An adequate bonsai mix can be made cheaply by mixing sharp sand (not beach sand or mortar sand) and ordinary potting mix in equal proportions. Bonsai Mujo sells a range of  bonsai media adapted to your tree's requirements and to Adelaide's conditions.

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