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Bonsai Care Basics

Be sure your bonsai care instructions are specific to your tree.

Since these small trees are created from many different kinds of plants, they often require different cultivation. Once you know what kind of plant you have, learn what that particular plant likes.

What Does Your Tree Like?

Once you know what kind of plant you have, find out what that particular plant likes.  Sun?  Shade?   Lots of water?  Little water?  Will it grow indoors?

Azalea bonsai treeAzalea - Bonsai West, Littleton MA

The basics of taking care of bonsai trees are no different than growing any container plant.  Remember bonsai is two part - art and horticulture.

Shaping and styling is the art part; keeping them alive is horticulture.

Growing a plant in a bonsai pot is no different than growing it in a clay or ceramic pot of equal size.

When buying bonsai, here are some questions to ask about your bonsai care basics:

  • What species is my tree?
  • How much water, light and fertilizer does my bonsai tree need?
  • What kinds of pests and diseases is it susceptible to?
  • How do I maintain the shape?
  • Will it tolerate winter outdoors?

If you start with a green thumb, you have a distinct advantage. If you are a plant killer, you have a lot of work to do.

Sometimes the best lessons are learned from experience. Hopefully, you can learn from other people's bonsai care experience!

You may want to start with an inexpensive bonsai.  Ask lots of questions and do your best to follow the instructions you receive.  Remember, no one can accurately give you bonsai tree care answers unless they know what type of tree you have.

Don't Know What Kind
of Bonsai You Have?

First, ask where you purchased it.  If they don't know or you're not confident in the answer. . .  Perhaps I can help.

Watering Your Bonsai

Watering is considered one of the most misunderstood aspects of any plant care.  Bonsai care is no exception, and it's no wonder.

General directions such as water your bonsai every day, or every three days or even once a week are not adequate instructions and confuse the issue even more!

See more on the Watering Bonsai page.

Good Air Circulation

Indoors or out, good air circulation is very important. Indoors a paddle fan or oscillating fan will help prevent plant pests.

Outdoors, bonsai should have space between them. Touching or even being very close together, can invite problems.

Bonsai Care and Plant Pests

Assassin Bugs

What's eating your bonsai trees?

All plants are susceptible to pests; however, healthy plants have fewer problems.

Each species has its own set of potential pests. Bonsai care basics include watching out for them.  Having bonsai indoors, does not protect them, sometimes quite the opposite.
To learn more about pests, go to Plant Pests and Bonsai page.

There are many pesticides to use – organic and chemical. A good choice is the Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap, Ready to Use Spray


"Light" can mean indoors or out.  Not all plants require full sun, some even prefer shade.  Here again, it will depend upon the species of plant you have.

I know hearing that over and over again can be frustrating; however, it may be the most important lesson in bonsai.  Know your bonsai species.

If you are growing bonsai trees indoors (even part of the year), there is good information on artificial lighting on the Indoor Bonsai page.

Indoor Bonsai

Brazilian Raintree

All plants do best outdoors in their natural environment.

However, there are some tropical and subtropical plants which can be considered "indoor bonsai."

To keep any plant healthy indoors, the more you duplicate its natural environment, the happier it will be.  There are a many ways to accomplish this, see Bonsai Indoors.


bonsai care, bonsai fertilizer, types of fertilizer

Fertilizer is somewhat like food for plants. Plants growing wild in the ground draw their nutrition from nature.  In the case of container plants, such as bonsai, we need to help them out.

Learn the important facts of Bonsai Tree Fertilizer.

Winter Care

Snow on bonsai at National Arboretum in Washington, DC

No matter where you live, winter care is a serious concern.  All container plants need special consideration during winter - bonsai included.  See the page on winter care.

Bonsai Pruning

Bonsai are never finished.

To maintain a desirable shape, you will have to trim.  However, even bonsai pruning will depend on the type of tree you have.

Plants with leaves are trimmed with sharp shears, juniper needles are often sheared or sometimes "pinched."  Pine tree bonsai also have special pruning techniques.

Read more about bonsai tools and which ones are necessary.

What is your Climate Zone?

Specific care for any bonsai depends upon where you live. Knowing the climate zone where you live will help with growing your bonsai trees.  Don't know?  In the United States you can find out on

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map shown here.

Learn More

Don't be surprised if you get conflicting information about your bonsai care.  Sometimes, it is a matter of opinion and experience.  Other times, it is a total lack of knowledge.

With a little research, you will learn the best people and best sites to trust. (Links to several of them are on this site.)

Where to Go from Here

After you've reviewed the many valuable links on this page, consider reading Beware of Bonsai Myths!

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Colin Lewis

Know the basics?  Ready for more? Watch these amazing Colin Lewis bonsai class videos.


Bonsai Design Techniques

Craftsy sent me a copy of this class to review. Very impressed, we became an affiliate and receive a small commission on purchases. (Which helps support this site.)

Bonsai Techniques I - by John Naka is considered by many to be the bonsai 'bible.' John's own drawings diagram his techniques. This is the perfect book for the serious student of the art.