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Bonsai Care Instructions for Beginners

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Are you in search of bonsai care instructions for beginners? Here at Gertens, we provide all the information you need to know for growing healthy Bonsai.

Bonsai is the art of growing trees in a confined space to induce environmental conditions on the plant such as; twisted or contorted form, age, and weathering.

It is important to understand what type of tree and look you want. There are upright forms, cascading, and slanting. There are slight modifications within each style as well. Choose a plant that is already leaning toward the shape or form that you are looking for.


Bonsai is art, highly revered in Japan and Asia.

Clean up the plant

The plant will have extra branches and stems that do not contribute to the design you are looking for. Remove all the branches that will not aid in your shape. You will want a strong trunk form; so remove all the small branches around the base. The trunk branch should run from the bottom of the plant all the way to the top. The plant should begin to look like a small tree by now. The branches that you choose to keep for your design should be cut back if they are too large and out of proportion to the rest of the plant. Choose the side of the plant that will be the front of your pot and work from that side from now on. This should be the best part of the plant.

Pruning for shape and form

The first branch of the plant should be 1/3 of the way up the trunk of the plant. That is the way trees are formed in nature. From there, remove branches that do not contribute to the balance of the tree and wire branches to fill in spaces where there should be a branch and there was not. Alternate the branches up the trunk until you reach the top. The tree canopy should form a triangle with the top of the tree being the highest point and the lower branches reaching the farthest out.

Older trees have horizontal branching and even droop downwards slightly. Wire the existing branches so they look mature and will grow in a horizontal manner.

Water and Sunlight

Check the plant to make sure that it is dry. This will change with the season and maturity of the plant in its pot. Water the plant thoroughly so that water runs out of the drainage holes. It is also best to spray mist the leaves of the plant to clean the leaves of the plant. Do not spray the leaves in the direct sun or at night. Most plants need partial light and cannot handle direct southern exposure sun. An east window with morning sun is the best environment.


Repot the plants in early spring before plant shows any signs of growth. Remove excess soil from the roots and cut any roots that are thicker than a pencil to promote smaller feeder roots. This decreases the chance of girdling the roots. Trim the entire root ball and return it to its original container with fresh soil. Smaller plants should be repotted every 2-3 years. A soil mix should contain equal parts of sand, peat moss, and perlite.

Winter Care

Gertens sells indoor plants for bonsai, which can and must stay indoors all the time. There are plants such as maples and evergreens that are outdoor plants and need to have dormancy at least once a year and will need to be put in a room or cold frame outside that can be kept between 33 – 40 degrees. An unheated garage is a good place to store the plants or you could bury them outside in their pots, cover them with mulch, and cover with a cone to keep the roots from freezing and killing the plant. Do not work on the plant inside during the winter because it might break dormancy. Once the weather warms in spring, bring the plants out gradually and expose them to moderate amounts of sun at one time.

Bonsai Tools and Uses

Shears. You need a pair of scissors which will allow you to do the fine work of trimming in a small space. These scissors should be sharp and you should only use them for bonsai work. You may want to try a small set of pruning shears to start with. Eventually, you will want a pair of shears made especially for bonsai work.

Concave cutters. This is probably the most important piece of equipment you can purchase. Concave cutters allow you to cut branches off the tree and leave behind a concave wound. The wound will heal much faster than a straight cut, and will callous over in such a way as to make it very difficult to tell a cut has been made at all. These cutters are an essential part of your collection.

Wire cutters. While you will not need them immediately, I suggest purchasing a pair of bonsai wire cutters. If you put wire on, you will eventually have to take it off. These wire cutters allow you to cut the wire right up to the tree's bark, without harming the tree. These too are essential.

Wire. You will want to get several different thicknesses of annealed copper wire. It is very flexible until it is bent, then it sets and holds its position. You will use it to position and train branches.

Knob Cutters. These are very similar to the concave cutters listed above, except that they have a spherical head, which allows you to cut branches and leave a small hollowed out scar. This is very useful, but not as important as a good set of concave cutters.

Folding saw. This is a useful tool for cutting through branches larger than the diameter of either concave or knob cutters. This is particularly important for working with big trees.