How to grow Bonsai trees

How to water your Bonsai

Watering on a regular basis is important for the good health of your Bonsai tree.  I water my Bonsai everyday unless there's been a good steady rain in the past 24 hours.  In the cooler seasons, watering every other day may be enough for your Bonsai.

To see if your Bonsai needs water, stick your finger just below the surface of the soil.  If it feels dry, it probably ready for your water.  Water your Bonsai before 9AM.  This gives it time to absorb the water before the sun evaporates it from the surface of the soil.

I like to use water that has sat for at least 12 hours.  This helps to gas off any chlorine that may be in the water.  Chlorine is not healthy for your Bonsai and can cause white build up on your pots.  I like to use a watering container that was filled with water the previous day.  Because it's been sitting over night, any chlorine will have evaporated by now and it should be safe to use on my Bonsai.

Only water the soil of your Bonsai.  Do not water the leaves or branches.  Only watering the soil of your Bonsai will encourage your Bonsai to absorb the water upward though out the entire tree.  Make sure you use a gentle water flow so you don't wash away the soil of your Bosai.  Water thoroughly until you see water coming out of the bottom of your Bonsai.

If water puddles up in your Bonsai pot, it's not good, and it's probably time to repot your Bonsai.

After watering, fill up your watering container and let it sit for at least 12 hours so it will be read to use the next time you water your Bonsai.

Like many other things in life consistency it key when it comes to watering your Bonsai.  Following this steps when watering your Bonsai will keep it healthy so you can enjoy it for a very long time.

If you'd like to learn more, sign up for my Bonsai Mentor Blog updates below or pre-register for my Bonsai for Beginners e-Course.  You can also ask a Bonsai question by clicking here.

Bazai or Bonsai?

How to say Bonsai
How to say the word Bonsai.

One thing that drives me a little bit nuts is when people come up to me and say "Mark how are your Banzai trees?"

If there is nothing else that you gain from this site, there is one thing I do want you to know, and that is how to properly pronounce the word Bonsai. 

The word Bonsai literally combines two Japanese words.

Bon: Tray or Dish  

Sai: Planting

When pronounced in English, Bonsai should sound like the words "bone" and "sigh"

Please do not use the word Banzai when describing the art of Bonsai

Bazai is a Japanese word that had a number of meanings.

When said, the word Banzai can mean "ten thousand years” or the desire to have a long happy life.

Bazai is also used during a last desperate, effort military charge against an enemy.

Also, if you've ever been out drinking with a group of Japanese friends, you will find they start yelling the work Banzai after about the fourth or fifth shot.  I'm not sure why, but have seen this happen on more than one occasion.

Bonsai is the Japanese word used to translate the Chinese word Penjing which literally means: "tray scenery"

Although the art of Penjing originated in China, the Japanese word Bonsai is used more often when describing this art form..

When learning the art of Bonsai, it's important for you to understand a little bit of the history.  This will help you in the long run and is also very interesting to learn.  Pronouncing the word Bonsai correctly is a very important first step in learning the art of Bonsai.


How to find plant material for Bonsai 

One of the questions I'm asked time and time again is, "Where can I find trees to make Bonsai from?"  This article will tell you where some of the best places I've found plant material to create Bonsai from.

Bonsai created from cuttings.

Bougainvillea cutting tuned into bonsai

Many of the Bonsai trees I've created were from cuttings taken from trees in the ground for from exiting Bonsai given to me during demonstrations at my Bonsai Club.  Cuttings work especially well with fast growing trees like Ficus and Bougainvilleas.  

Once you receive a cutting you must first propagate the roots and give it time to grow  before you can even begin the process of turning it into a Bonsai.  

This process takes time, so once you have a cutting it will be a long time before you will be able to start working on it.  

I try to take multiple cuttings at one time so I can see which one develops into a nicer tree.  You'll also find that not all cutting will survive the propagation process, so its best to take multiple cuttings for Bonsai.

The photo above is a cutting from a very old Bougainvillea given to be during a demonstration at a Bonsai club.  

It took about a year and a half to let the roots generate enough that I could start working on it.  It's now on its way to becoming one of my most colorful Bonsai.

Because the cutting is from a very old Bonsai.  This newly developed Bonsai will look much older as it develops.

Bonsai from Seed

Bonsai from seed

Growing Bonsai from seed is the absolutely slowest way to create a Bonsai.  

There are advanced Bonsai experts who want a very specific variety of plant material and are willing to invest the time it takes to grow a tree and develop it into a Bonsai from seed.  This is one of the very few reasons I can think of to create a Bonsai from seed.

Be aware and steer clear of "Bonsai Kits" sold online which are grown from seed.  Companies selling these "Bonsai kits" tend to be very misleading in having you think you'll have a Bonsai in a mater of months.  

There is also a process for determining which seeds will do better as Bonsai, one which is a bit complicated if you're just starting out in Bonsai.  

So if you're new to Bonsai, just know it's possible to create a Bonsai from seed, however it's only recommended for the advanced Bonsai artist.

Growing s Bonsai from seed. Photo by Chrissy Polcino


Purchasing plants for Bonsai

Small junipers for Bonsai for beginners class

A good way to find plant material to create Bonsai is to purchase trees or shrubs from a nursery.   After you purchase a tree, you can begin the process of developing a Bonsai. 

Purchasing plants and trees for Bonsai is good in that you can pick and choose desired size, shape age and maturity to begin the Bonsai process.  You can usually get good instructions on caring for the tree with regards to sun exposure, pest control and more when you purchase your plant material from a reputable nursery. 

When I teach my Bonsai for Beginners course, I usually have students work with Junipers purchased from a local nursery.  I try to find Junipers that are at least two years old before beginning the process of turning them into Bonsai.

The only drawback from purchasing plant material from nurseries is it can become expensive rather quickly, especially if you're looking for older plant material. 

Many times nurseries will have what is affectionately know as a "cabbage patch" or some other similar name.  These are the pile of trees off in a corner that are not  of the best quality.  These are trees no one really wants, don't seem to want to die and the nursery doesn't have the heart to throw away.

It is these trees that very often can make the best Bonsai.  They're usually older trees, are very hearty and can usually  be purchased at a reduced price if you talk to the right person at the nursery.

Photo: Small Junipers purchased for the Beginner's Bonsai Class.


Removing trees from the ground for Bonsai

Bouganivillea dug up from ground

Another great way to get plant material for Bonsai is to remove existing trees or plants from the ground.  Getting the land owner's permission first should go without saying here. 

Many times you'll find people who don't want certain trees or plants in their yard anymore, especially if they're over grown and not well maintained.

Some plants are easier to successfully remove from the ground than others.  Care must be taken to dig up enough root ball so the tree will survive once it is removed.  It is also important to drastically trim back the branches and foliage when removing from the ground.   This will reduce the amount of energy required to keep the plant alive while it recovers from being removed.

Pines are especially difficult to remove from the ground because they require a much larger root ball to survive. While Ficus tree can be removed with a much small root system in place and still do well.

One of the great things about removing plants from the ground is you're usually getting much older plant material than if you were to purchase from a nursery and it is more times than not free.

The down side of digging up plant material to use for Bonsai, is our course, digging it up.

The photo above is a  30 year+ Bougainvillea bush removed from the ground after the property owner decided they no longer wanted it because the sharp thorns literally made it a pain to maintain. All the branches were removed and enoughroot ball preserved to sustain it.  Over time and with great patience, this will become a beautiful Bonsai.


Purchasing plants online for Bonsai

Shimpaku Bonsai Trees

Purchasing trees online to turn into Bonsai is possible, but not recommended, unless you're a seasoned expert. 

When purchasing online you don't get to inspect the plant before you get it.  Many times the photo online is not the same tree or is at a different stage of development.  You're also not sure if it may have pest like insect or diseases.  Check the reviews of the seller that may have been left from past purchases. 

It's important to make sure the species of plant can survive in your geographical area if purchasing from a different climate.  With regards to shipping, make sure the seller understands how to package the plant material for shipping and use the fastest shipping method to put less stress on the plant material during shipping


Find "Give a way" Bonsai

ficus bonsai

Being given a Bonsai is in my opinion, the best way and most rewarding way to get existing Bonsai, or plant material to create Bonsai with. 

You will be very surprised at how many Bonsai trees I've been given my people who simply don't want them anymore.  Many times collectors end up with too many trees for the space they have and want to thin out their collection.  I've also met Bonsai artist who can no longer manage larger Bonsai and want to give it to someone who will care for it for another generation.

If you're a person known for respecting the art and taking care of your Bonsai, they may offer you their trees as gifts.   This gift also comes with a bit of recognition that the person giving you the tree believes you will take good care of it.

Be sure you show respect and appreciation for both the tree and the person giving it to you when this happens

Photo: This 30 year old ficus Bonsai was given to me by a woman who no longer had the time to care for it.

Learn to create Bonsai


What type of plant should I use for my Bonsai?

Award winning cascading juniper bonsai tree

Creating a Bonsai takes years of practice and patience, but one must not forget to start with the right type of tree.  One of the questions I’m asked by many beginners is  “what is the best type of tree or plant to make into a Bonsai?”  I’ll do my best to and help you pick a great tree for your first Bonsai.

The tree that you use for your first Bonsai should have the following characteristics.

Small Leaves.  In creating a Bonsai, your goal is to replicate a large tree in nature on a much small scale.  Plant material with very small leaves will help you achieve this goal.

Branches that bend easy.  In creating your Bonsai, you will need to twist and bend your branches with copper Bonsai wire.  When first starting out in Bonsai it's best to have branches that are flexible and forgiving.  Choosing plant material with brittle branches may result in that bone chilling snapping sound which we you do not want to hear.

Heartiness.  When first starting out in Bonsai, you want to choose plant material that is forgiving when it comes to  insects, diseases, various climate conditions and watering conditions.

Available in your area.  You’ll want to pick plant material which is available at your local nursery or Home Center.  This will make it easy for you to acquire the plant and will also give you a variety to choose from.  Acquiring your plant material locally will assure it will thrive in your geographical location.  You will also be able to get a recommendation for the best fertilizer from where you purchase the tree.  You do not want to purchase material from online or from a different part of the country for your first Bonsai.

What plant material is the best when starting out in Bonsai?
The type of  plant material that meets all of the above criteria is the Juniper.   There are many different types of varieties and styles most of which are great for creating Bonsai.  They are also hearty and forgiving trees with very small leaves and are pretty easy to take care of once they become Bonsai.  You’ll find them at most nurseries and they are usually pretty inexpensive to purchase.

For my beginners class students create their first Bonsai using small Junipers trees in two gallon pots.

So if you’re just starting out in the art of Bonsai, and wondering what type of tree to use for your first Bonsai, I highly recommend the Juniper tree.  You’ll find it easy to work with and forgiving enough so you’ll be able to enjoy it for decades to come.

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Photo above:  Award winning Cascading Juniper created from a two gallon juniper purchased at a local nursery and trained as a Bonsai for six years.


Join a Bonsai Club

Joining a Bonsai Club is a great way to not only sharpen your Bonsai skills, but also meet great people and even acquire some great plant material to create Bonsai with.  As Bonsai becomes more popular, more and more Bonsai clubs are popping up all over the United States.  For a great list of Bonsai Clubs in the united states check the Bonsai Club Directory at

Learn to create Bonsai

Sign up here.