Nurturing a bonsai tree – expert shares top tips to ensure it survives ‘looking beautiful’

Carol Klein explains the importance of judicious pruning

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Originally from Japan, a bonsai tree is a miniature form of a full-grown tree, which has been meticulously pruned back and repotted. Bonsai specialist, Iqbal Khan, said ensuring a bonsai is kept within “scale and in proportion” is an essential part of the growing process.

“Some people have a misconception that a bonsai is a unique species, but they’re not – any tree can be turned into a bonsai,” said Iqbal, whose business Mikbonsai Ltd specialises in selling a wide variety of the miniature trees.

Many people may have bought a bonsai only to find that it failed to survive. So, what specialist care do they require in order to thrive?

Repotting and pruning

Repotting a bonsai ensures the tree remains a miniature size. Iqbal advised on repotting a bonsai every couple of years and pruning the roots.

“In the summer months, the foliage of the tree is pruned and that is how the tree is kept looking beautiful, small and in good health,” said Iqbal.

A bonsai’s branches should be six inches in length before being pruned back to one and a half to two inches long, which will ensure their branches grow thick.

Fertiliser

When the tree is being repotted, Iqbal advised placing chicken pellets in between the soil layers to provide food for the bonsai to see it through the season. When the tree is repotted the following year it will then require more feed.

Common bonsai feed includes organic chicken pellets, organic feed, Crystal Specialist Fertilizer and 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Soil

Bonsai trees require a special soil which contains pure Akadama, Pumice, Lava rock, pine bark and horticultural grade sand.

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The soil contains equal quantities of nutrients to manage excess water.

“The soil is for draining and the excess water drains through the drainage holes at the bottom of the bonsai pot,” said Iqbal.

It is essential that the bonsai pot has drainage holes at the bottom. To prevent the soil from falling through the gaps, Iqbal said it is a good idea to place a mesh at the bottom of the pot, with a hair pin to secure it in place.

After repotting, he said it is a good idea to use netting to keep the bonsai in position until the roots, which are extremely delicate and resemble hair, have grown.

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Newly repotted bonsai trees must be kept out of direct sunlight and placed in full shade for three weeks until the roots have grown sufficiently.

Iqbal advised repotting a Japanese Maple bonsai tree in February and deciduous trees in March.

Watering 

It is vital that a bonsai is given the right quantity of water. Overwatering or underwatering will kill the miniature tree.

A useful tip to find out if a bonsai requires watering is to touch the soil – if it’s damp, it doesn’t need watering, but if the moisture level is low, it does.

Bonsai trees should be watered thoroughly. They require watering all around the tree and should watered until it pours out of the drainage holes.

Outdoor bonsai trees

Bonsai trees which are kept outside can be placed anywhere in the garden but thrive when placed in a south facing position where they are exposed to plenty of sun.

Indoor bonsai trees

Indoor bonsai trees can be placed either on a south facing window, southeast, or southwest, where there is plenty of sun and light, and within half a metre of the window.

A bonsai should be kept away from artificial heat, including a radiator, as it will die. Iqbal advised that the miniature tree must be turned around regularly to ensure equal growth.

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