Delighted to have a new Bonsai But Worried too Because
You know little of Proper Bonsai Care?

The question above about bonsai care is precisely the reason for this writing.

I have conveyed to friends some of my favorite small bonsai creations in different styles. It turned out most of them struggled in taking care of the potted trees.

Tips on bonsai care shared by Ben BarejaThimble and mame sized bonsai up to 6 inches in height are actually more difficult to maintain alive compared to bigger trees

The predicament is not isolated. There are too many who consider bonsai as the best gift, specially small ones because they can be carried anywhere by hand and are suited for table display. Recipients always show their overjoy for having such exceptional and expensive gifts. 

Only to realize later that such gifts need expert bonsai care.

Some bonsai care specialists offer their services to “wire” bonsai on-trainings or to serve as trainer of bonsai collections but they are hard to find. The asking price, of course, should be presumed high. It’s bonsai after all, and everything about bonsai is pricey.

These tips on bonsai care should help.

But to start, there are some important information that need to be ascertained or understood.

First, what is the size of the tree? Learn first that the smaller the bonsai tree is, the more difficult it is to maintain alive. “Small” particularly refers here to the thimble and mame sized trees up to about 15 cm or 6 inches in height.

This is because small trees are always grown in small pots. Because the pot only contains minimal soil, the soil easily dries up. The drying may be too severe that it can cause permanent wilting and the tree will be unable to recover.

Second, when was the tree propagated? Having propagated the tree from stem cutting one year ago would suggest that it has produced plenty of roots compared to one that was propagated two months ago. Numerous slender and unbranched growth radiating from the trunk should indicate that the tree was just recently propagated.

Third, how long has the tree been growing on the present pot? Even if the tree has been growing in a training pot over extended period but was just recently replanted into the present pot, it is likely that it has not achieved stable growth yet. Such a tree should require more amount of bonsai care.

Here’s my basic personal how-to guide on bonsai care for small trees:

1. Find a place under partial shade (or partial sun; about 50-70% sun-filtering) preferably in the open, such as under a tree with a thick canopy. Or provide proper netting. This will serve as the bonsai’s intensive care unit or ICU. Full exposure to sun may be allowed early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Interior display is allowed but the duration should be as short as possible. Return the bonsai to its ICU soonest especially in the evening when interior display is not necessary.

At any time of the day when it’s raining, it will be best to move the bonsai outdoor. The rain will have a refreshing effect.

2. Ensure that the platform on which the bonsai is placed is horizontally aligned. Otherwise if the pot is somewhat tilted, water that is poured will spill at the side with lower elevation. This will hinder penetration of water into the soil within the pot. Additionally, tilted pots are prone to soil erosion when there is continuous rain.

3. Water regularly. Consider proper watering as most essential in the care of bonsai.

For small bonsai, three to four times watering may be necessary during hot days. To keep the ground and the moss cover intact, dispense water slowly or use a small watering can with a spout or use a kettle. Pour water repeatedly until the soil is thoroughly moistened.

Better still, submerge the pot in a basin of water especially so if the pot is completely filled with soil. Provided that the moss cover, if any, has sufficiently rooted and adhered to the ground. Otherwise it may detach from the ground and float. Allow some time until air bubbles stop escaping upward, indicating that the soil is completely saturated.

The potting soil can be moistened thoroughly by submerging entirely the bonsai pot in a basin filled with water

Also ensure that the soil is easily drained. If water remains on top too long, inspect the hole(s) at the bottom of the pot.

The hole may be covered with an obstacle. Execute the proper remedy to ensure exit of water such as by inserting a stick upward from the bottom. Without drainage the tree will be deprived of oxygen and die because the tree needs air in the process of respiration.

4. Always be watchful of the color and denseness of moss groundcover. Moss should not be considered only for aesthetics, it is also a good indicator of water stress and excessive light intensity. It likewise keeps mounded bases of trees intact.

If the moss turns brownish from bright green, it is likely that the moisture content of the soil has gone below the plant’s minimum requirement for some time. Excessive light will have the same effect.

5. Keep the ground weed-free. As soon as any weed  becomes visible, uproot it by hand or with the use of a tweezer or any substitute like a hair puller.

Sap-sucking insects such as aphids and mealy bugs can be killed by dubbing with a cotton bud dipped in alcohol

6. Also consider pests and diseases control as essential in bonsai care. Check regularly for the incidence of insect pests and diseases.

Common insect pests of molave as well as argao (probably Premna sp.) are aphids and the whitish mealy bugs and scale insects. Mealy bugs look like the cottony end of a cotton bud.

With only a few small bonsai these insect pests can be killed by dubbing with cotton bud moistened with alcohol. Otherwise spray with any recommended insecticide at the right dosage.

With molave, the common initial symptoms of disease are the presence of yellow to brownish patches and dark spots on leaves. Repeat application of fungicide proved effective in controlling the disease.

Likewise, resort to total defoliation has been practiced in cases of severe infection. Defoliation, that is, the removal of leaves with the use of scissor, has the added advantage of enhancing growth of branches and twigs (ramification) with healthy leaves.

The complete removal of leaves will enhance ramification and replacement of diseased bonsai leaves with healthy ones

7. Always ensure that the soil (and moss cover, if any) is intact. Heavy rainfall may dislodge some and over expose the roots or cause the tree to lean. If so, repair immediately by adding soil.

8. For those who wish to maintain for a longer time the form of the tree as it appeared when acquired, for example a conical (or mushroom-like) shape of the canopy, also apply periodic maintenance trimming as part of bonsai care.

To do it, cut the stems in excess of the desired extent of the canopy at a point immediately above a node where usually a pair of opposite leaves emerge. This will eliminate unsightly stubs of stems which will anyway die. Also remove dead stems unless desired as jin to enhance aesthetics.

9. If there are wires used in shaping the tree, remove or loosen when it appears that any has become tightly coiled on the stem. This is to prevent marks of wires which will take long to heal.

Take care not to break or otherwise injure the branch or trunk in uncoiling the wire. The removal may be made safer by cutting the wire little by little with the use of a cutter.

Note: Training by wiring and the employment of other methods, as well as techniques to enhance branch thickening and ramification, should be continued but the details are beyond the scope of this page.

The above techniques on bonsai care should be considered only as a quick reference guide. To be sure, these are not the only practices required in the care of any bonsai.

For clarity, “bonsai” is meant here to refer to any potted tree regardless of the extent of its training as a bonsai.

Molave, argao, and other more tree species which are suitable for bonsai making may be propagated by stem cuttings.

-Jan. 18, 2020

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