- What is a FAQ?
- What is the most important single piece of advice you would give a beginner to bonsai?
- My bonsai isn't doing so well...what should I do?
- Should I buy a commercial bonsai tree with rocks glued on top of the soil?
- Can I use craft scissors instead of buying bonsai shears?
- Is it necessary to use a bonsai pot or tray?
- When should I water indoor bonsai trees?
Q: What is a FAQ?
A: FAQ is an acronym for "frequently asked questions."
Q: What is the most important single piece of advice you would give a beginner to bonsai?
A: Enjoy the process of learning, do not be afraid to fail, and be willing to learn from your mistakes. For the most part, bonsai are very forgiving and they will recover and keep growing. However, if you kill a tree, remember that all bonsai experts had to start at some point, and all of them have killed a few trees in the process. Expecting immediate perfection would be expecting a kindergarten student, who is learning to draw, to paint the equivalent of a Mona Lisa.
Q: My bonsai isn't doing so well...what should I do?
A: Chances are you are doing or already did something wrong. If you cannot find an explanation on this site, send us a detailed email and we will do our best to help. If your bonsai had glued on rocks/ gravel on the surface of the soil, please see the next question.
Q: Should I buy a commercial bonsai tree with rocks glued on top of the soil?
A: No, please avoid these!
Bonsai is an art, and like any art, the focus is to create the most beautiful and high quality piece possible. With that said, commercial bonsai are not technically bonsai. They are mass produced house plants with an oriental flavor (you know, those figurines of Asian men fishing or little pagodas and cranes placed under the tree). These “bonsai” trees are essentially produced by cutting off branches (cuttings) from a host plant (usually a juniper), rooting them, and then inserting them in a “bonsai” pot and soil. These trees have no age, no quality, and zero personality. Not to mention, they are very fragile and vulnerable.
To make things worse, these trees are often sold with gravel/ rocks/ pebbles glued on top of the soil. The pebbles serve two functions. First, they prevent water from evaporating from the soil so that the manufacturer, shipper, and the nursery does not have to worry about watering these trees as often. Second, the glue or lacquer on top of the gravel keeps the soil and gravel in place so that there is no spillage during shipping. This is very beneficial for those making money, but the outcome is disappointing to buyers.
Most plants, especially bonsai, do not like soggy soil, hence why bonsai pots have large drainage holes on the bottom and good draining soil is required (see our pages on Pots, Soils, and Repotting). When a bonsai’s roots are exposed to too much water, the roots will rot and/or a fungus will grow. This is usually deadly and the tree cannot be saved (see Common Problems). The number one killer of bonsai trees is root rot because of overwatering. When you have glued on gravel on top of the soil, the moisture is locked in, oxygen exchange is inhibited, fungus grows, the roots rot, and the tree dies. The glue that comes with these commercial bonsai is water based and is supposed to dissolve with time, but the problem is that it takes too long to dissolve and the bonsai is usually dead by then.
This is all quite unfortunate and it discourages many beginners to bonsai. If your tree has died, please do not be discouraged. All bonsai experts have killed many trees and these commercial trees are destined to die fast.
Q: Can I use craft scissors instead of buying bonsai shears to prune my tree?
A: Although it is possible to use craft scissors and successfully remove twigs, branches, and leaves, there is a problem with this method and we discourage their use, especially on nice trees. Craft scissors have a very large angled blade which tends to compress the remaining branch causing damage to the plant tissue that leads to die-back or permanent scarring. Bonsai spears on the other hand have very small angled blades which slice almost perfectly through the plant without causing unnecessary damage.
Q: Is it necessary to use a bonsai pot, tray, or container?
A: Yes and no. It depends. The purpose of a bonsai pot, tray, or container is to complement the shape, type, and color of your tree for display purposes as well as limiting root growth. If your tree is already in a bonsai pot or it is ready to be displayed, then yes, your tree should be in an aesthetically pleasing bonsai pot. However, if you are still training your plant then it should be in a training container or in the ground to allow for its trunk to develop and then slowly transition it into a small bonsai pot.
Q: When should I water indoor bonsai trees?
A: For outdoor bonsai, please see our Watering page. Indoor trees may be watered anytime during the day, provided they are not exposed to strong sunlight, because they are not at risk of having their roots scorched by the water overheating. Please follow the regular watering procedure explained on the Watering page.