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Why a Bonsai Pot?

Bonsai pot with "cloud" feet by ceramic artist Chuck Iker

Why a bonsai pot?  Many centuries of oriental ingenuity, tradition and craftsmanship  produced containers specifically designed to show off their contents ... bonsai.

Today, potters around the world, such as American Chuck Iker, create both traditional and contemporary containers with the same goals of displaying the tree or accent plant.

Chuck Iker's hand thrown bonsai pot

Click here to see a video showing Chuck throwing a cracked finish pot like this one.

Guidelines 





Containers are often compared to the frame on a painting. They set off and display the art (in this case a bonsai tree.)

Over the centuries, many “rules” were initiated to emphasize the tree.  Some of those rules are listed below – today, they are more often considered "guidelines."  

Don't be surprised if you see some very good bonsai that break these not so hard-and-fast rules.  Many times bonsai are started in plastic pots.  As bonsai develop, they are often placed in nicer and more appropriate containers.

Japanese and Chinese Imports

Containers are created from many different materials. You can find them made of clay, ceramic, mica, porcelain, stoneware and inexpensive plastic for training.

Many hobbyist start with nursery plants and train them in the same nursery containers.  However, over the years, many growers find they take better care of the trees in bonsai pots, even if they are oversized and/or not the "correct" shapes.

A Few of the 'Rules'

Bonsai artists follow ancient guidelines for selecting the correct pot to enhance their trees. 

Your container should always compliment the small tree's attributes . . . such as flowers, thickness of trunk, bark texture and needle or leaf shapes and sizes.  

Glazed colors are recommended for flowering and fruiting bonsai.  The muted tones of brown and gray unglazed clay are recommended for evergreen trees, such as juniper and pine.

Remember, there are always exceptions to a rule. The flowering azalea bonsai shown above is breaking the rules by being displayed in a brown pot.  Sometimes a bonsai just looks best in the "wrong" pot!

A Professional Opinion

Peter Tea wrote about his experiences while studying in Japan with Mr. Junichiro Tanaka.  He quoted his teacher speaking about containers:

"There are no real rules as to what kind of pot looks good with what kind of tree Then Peter added: "Since all of our perceptions of what, "looks good," are different from person to person, we can really go wild with all the pots out there."  The only real rule is balance and the overall aesthetics of the pairing."

Pot Size Considerations

  • Length – approximately two thirds the height of your tree.  If it is a short tree, wider than it is tall ... consider two thirds of the width.
  • Depth - the same size as the caliper of the trunk at the very base of the tree.  This depth guideline is basically a reminder that very often, “skinny” trunks look better in shallow containers and deeper pots are for heavy trunks.

These size "rules" are very difficult to follow precisely. They are, however, definitely good guidelines.

Different Shapes

Cascade Pots

This grouping of bonsai containers consists of various shapes, colors and sizes of cascade pots. Small collections, such as this, can be decorative as well as practical.

Guidelines for Specific Shapes

  • Round pots – are most often used for literati (bunjin), cascade and semi-cascade style trees (depending upon depth.)
  • Square pots - are not commonly used with very many traditional styles. However, sometimes they seem just perfect.
  • Rectangle containers – best for straight trunk trees.
  • Oval, and rounded corners on rectangles – suit curved trunk trees.
Juniper bonsai by Michael Hagedorn
in Lotus Shape Pot
  • Lotus Shaped containers - are used much like round or square pots.
Maple Forest by Vaughn Banting
  • Wide shallow pots- are perfect for multiple trunks, rock plantings, rafts and forests. 

Placement of Your Tree
in a Bonsai Pot

  • A bonsai in an oval or rectangle pot should be placed a little behind the center line of the container.
  • Depending upon the shape of the tree, it should also be a little to the left or right of center.  Trees with a longer first branch reaching to the right should be planted a little to the left. This gives the "picture" balance. Those with a first branch reaching to the left, are planted to the right side of the pot.
  • The exceptions to this rule are - square and round containers. Trees are then placed directly in center, when possible. This includes cascade pots. (The root system does not always allow this precise positioning.)

Important Reminders

Always shape (style) your tree before you select a bonsai pot.

The art forms of Ikebana and bonsai have many similar design guidelines.  In some instances the containers may look similar.  However, ikebana containers do not have holes in them, containers for bonsai do. Holes provide water drainage and are necessary for the health of the tree.

Where to Go From Here

Leave this bonsai pot page to see more about bonsai pots including slabs and marble trays.

OR Types of Bonsai Trees





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