Bonsai for Beginners

Bonsai for Beginners

I live in the UK and the information below is a mixture of my experience and Bonsai literature. If you live in a sub-tropical or tropical country some of the info is not relevant to you.

The Beginning!

Are you new to this amazing hobby? I know how you feel. You must be excited and worried at the same time. Excited, because you have a Bonsai but worried as well because you don’t know what to do with it.
Don’t worry, I will give you all the basic info that you need at the beginning of your journey.

Buying a Bonsai.

I believe the key to success is buying a tree that is suitable for the location and condition where you want to keep it.
You should spend a couple of minutes and answer these questions.
Is it going to live indoor or outdoor?
If it is indoor, where would you keep it? Is the room cold or warm? Is there enough light or you need additional growing light? Is the humidity level low or high?
If it is outdoor, is it sunny or is it shaded, is it cold or is it warm?
How much time can you spend on the routine maintenance eg.: pruning, watering?

When you have the answer to these questions, it is only a matter of spending a couple of extra minutes to check the description if you order it online or talk to the shop assistant for advice.

In order to make your life easy, please make sure you buy a tree species that is suitable for your conditions and not the other way around. If you think you will be able to provide the necessary environment for your tree, then prepare yourself for struggle and failure. Unless you are willing to turn your home into a rainforest. 😀

My personal recommendation will be Chinese elm, Ficus, Chinese Pepper or Portulacaria Afra (Elephant Bush) for beginners.  It is very easy to look after these species.

Positioning your tree

Indoor Bonsai:
There is no such thing as indoor bonsai. In the UK we keep tropical and sub-tropical species indoor during the winter months and outdoor from mid-spring to mid-autumn.
However, if you don’t have any outdoor space where you can keep it for the summer, make sure you do the following things. Your Bonsai tree just like every other plant needs light to survive. The best light source is natural light or alternatively growing light for 14-16 hours per day.
So where to place your tree? The best place to keep your tree is a conservatory or a bright windowsill or any other place within a 1-meter from a very bright window. Please make sure the tree is not further than 1 meter from the window and there is no direct heat source underneath the bonsai because that could create a dry environment that will dry out the plant quickly. Please remember to rotate your bonsai 180 degrees every week in order to keep your tree evenly growing.

Outdoor Bonsai:
I believe it is much easier to look after you bonsai tree outdoor than indoor.
Place your tree on any raised platform such as a stand in a semi-shaded position. Ideally, you want your tree to receive as much sunshine in the morning hours as possible and protect it from the strong midday sunshine.
Please note some tree species prefer less when other prefer more lights. Refer to a relevant care-instruction.

In spring when the temperature is right to move your trees from indoor to outdoor, make sure you do it gradually. First, place it in a shaded position and then after a couple of days move it somewhere where it can receive a couple of hours morning sunlight. Increase it slowly until it is hardened. Do not expose your indoor tree to a direct outdoor sunshine straight away without the process explained about as the strong rays of sunshine can damage the leaves on your bonsai


It is very important to keep the soil damp. Don’t let the rootball completely dry out but avoid overwatering too (always use well-draining bonsai soil). Trees in active growing season need much more water than in the dormancy period.  The best way to check the water content of the soil is by sticking your finger 1-2 cm deep in the soil. Most of the soils also change the shade of their colour, the dry soil is usually lighter and the wet soil is darker in colour.

Dry soil on the left, wet one on the right.

In the growing season, I prefer to water my trees in the evening and I always water them twice. I soak the soil until the water running through the drain holes, wait 10 minutes and soak it one more time to make sure the soil is wet all the way through and no dry air pockets left behind.
I personally prefer to use rain water or normal tap water, not filtered water!


Due to the limitation of the pot, repotting is a very important in order to keep your tree healthy.
The best time for repotting a bonsai tree is spring however, tropical trees can be repotted all year round.
The best way to make sure your timing is perfect is by checking the buds on your tree.
There are 4 stages in the buds life, but at the moment we are only interested in the last 2 stages.

  1. Dormant bud.
  2. The swelling bud.
  1. The extending bud. This is the perfect time for repotting our Bonsai because the energy what was stored in the roost in now up in the tree. All cuts will heal quickly and it won’t affect the vigor of the tree. (Please note this is a short time and the first extending buds are usually appear on top of the tree.)
  1. The opening bud. This is your last chance to repot your Bonsai. You either do it right now or you have to leave it for next year. From now on the roots need to supply moister for the new foliage and disturbing it can cause damage to the plant.

Please note young trees to age 15 should be repoted ever 1-2 years.


There is several types of bonsai fertilizers such as liquid, solid, etc. I personally prefer liquid fertilizer and I apply it fortnightly from spring to autumn for every bonsai tree and once a month during winter for tropical species only, although you should refer to the instructions on your fertilizer as they vary depending on the product.



Pruning is necessary in order to maintain the shape of the tree. However, you have to let the tree grow before you prune it back as over-pruning can weaken the tree and in Bonsai the health of the tree is the main concern and the shape is only the second on the list.

Please make sure you leave your trees alone during their dormancy period. First of all, they need rest and second of all if you prune your tree while it is dormant you risk to cut off live branches instead of the dead ones. It mostly happens with enthusiasts who have a small bonsai collection.

Please refer to Month to Month Bonsai Care Instruction for more info.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and if there is a topic that you would like to read about, please share it with me in the comments below.

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  1. Reblogged this on Wolf’s Birding and Bonsai Blog.

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