Bonsai 101 (Everything You Need to Get Started)

Updated on August 19, 2022

Bonsai is an ancient art form and gardening pleasure. The history of this wonderful and stylish form of plant manipulation and art dates back to about the 4th century.

It originated out from China and spread to Japan. Throughout Asia, container planting with trees and shrubs is hundreds of years old. They could be found in India, China, Japan, and even ancient Egypt.

The philosophy of this fabulous type of gardening and plant care is to create miniature gardens contained in pots. Each gardener can produce an amazing and wondrous world with bonsai. They do need care and focus and can be a delight in your yard.

Bonsai Tips

Four basic components are important to focus on while growing bonsai.

  1. First, is the type of tree or shrub you want to grow.
  2. Second, is the soil mixture and an extremely important part.
  3. Third, is the watering or the humidity in the environment.
  4. And fourth, care and styling of the bonsai.

When considering all of these important aspects to bonsai gardening incorporate your personality and you will have wonderful miniature gardens.

Type of Plants


The varieties that you can use are numerous, it is the care of the bonsai that is important. Depending on your environment and if you want outdoor (aka temperate) or indoor (aka tropical) bonsai the trees or shrubs you use will dictate what you plant.

Traditionally bonsai is an outdoor garden and keeping them indoors can damage the plant, because they will still need lots of light.

Remember that the plants used in bonsai are always found outdoors. You need to consider the tree itself; if it is a deciduous tree then you would want it to get its’ rest, if it is a tropical tree or plant then it should get full sun and have a warm and humid environment.

I think this is the important part to bonsai gardening; some people try to have control of the bonsai and fight its nature.

For the outdoor bonsai the variance in temperature is an important element to consider. If you live in cold or freezing regions you would want trees that can handle the cold. Juniper, maples, and conifers are great choices for the cold zones.

I have my juniper outside and it loves where I have it because of the sun. Depending on the plant they need to go dormant and will die if they are kept inside or are in warm zones that don’t get cold winters.

Indoor or tropical bonsai can be kept indoors or outdoors depending on the zone you live in. Just like all tropical plants and trees they don’t like the cold winters and will die if left outdoors in cold zones. So bring them and give them plenty of sun and warmth. They will be happy to be inside if they get enough light (remember they are outdoor plants).

Some of the great trees or plants you can use are: ficus (most common), hibiscus, and bougainvillea. There are some many choices that you should explore what will do well in your environment.

See Also: 24 Flower Alternatives

Selecting a Bonsai

bonsai for beginners

When looking for a bonsai take into consideration the root foundation, the mature growth of the plant, and your environment. The root foundation of the plant will determine if the plant will survive. You want to have a strong well rooted plant.

If the plant is young and the root foundation is not well developed then it will take a long time to get established growth. Depending on how large you want it to grow to, you would want either a dwarf tree or a naturally small shrub.

Also consider your style and your taste; I love flowering and fruiting bonsai. Azaleas are one of my favorite shrubs to turn into bonsai because they have such wonderful blossoms.

Bonsai Soil Mixture and Pots

This area is as varied as the plants that you choose for your garden. Depending on the plant the soil combinations of grit and humus is important. Because it is a contain plant the soil mixture for bonsai is extremely important.

For example azaleas are acid lovers they like their soil a specific way and will die if not given the right fertilizers. Bonsai is just like any other container gardening fertilizing with the right ratios is important. Do some research on specific plants and give them what they want.

One of the easiest and fun parts to bonsai is picking out the pot it will go in. This is totally an individualist element to bonsai. I like to consider the type of plant and the style of it. I have seen bonsai in pots that complement the plant and ones that distract or take away from the beauty of the bonsai.

Watering Bonsai

Bonsai is container gardening and like all container gardening you have got to think about watering. Because you don’t want the roots sitting in water having a plate under the pot is not recommended.

You do want to keep them well watered if that type of plant requires it. Once again you need to look at the type of plant you have and go with what it likes.

For your tropical bonsai keeping them well watered and in a humid environment is important. One of my friends mists his bonsai with a spray bottle to keep it moist. I have heard of some people using a drip system.

One good test to know when to water is when the top layer of the soil is dry. Never over water and drown the root and never under water. Bonsai is a care intensive type of gardening and watering is just another important element to focus on.

Styling and Care of Bonsai

Well this is an area of bonsai that is divided into two areas: wiring and cutting. If wiring is the direction you want to go into then you need to consider the type of wire used. Copper and aluminum are the most common types of wire used. Basic rules to wire are for support and manipulation of style.

Also to care for the plant by not leaving it in the sun or the cold while the wire is on. And finally to remove the wire if it cuts into the plant which will damage and could destroy your bonsai.

The other method is more traditional it is the cutting or pruning method. This is where you manipulate the growth by pruning the plant in to a shape. This method is great for people who are unsure about using wire.

Some people like to use both which I feel is more common then using one or the other.