Bonsai Care Basics What You Need to Know

Be sure your bonsai care basics 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 bonsai care that particular plant needs.

What Does Your Tree Like?

Azalea – Bonsai West, Littleton MA

Sun?  Shade?   Lots of water?  Little water?  Will it grow indoors?

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 plant 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.  No one can accurately give you bonsai care answers, unless they know what type of tree you have.

Don’t Know What Kind
of Bonsai You Have?

First, ask someone where you purchased it. Or, perhaps you can identify it on this Types of Bonsai Page. If you’re still 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 instructions such as “water your bonsai every day,” or “every three days,” or even “once a week” confuse the issue even more!

Find out why on the Watering Bonsai page.

Good Air Circulation

Indoors or out, good air circulation is very important. Bonsai should have space between them. Touching or even being very close together can invite problems.  Indoors a paddle fan or oscillating fan will help prevent plant pests.

Bonsai Care Basics and Plant Pests

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

Each species has its own set of potential pests. Basics include watching out for them. To learn more about pests, go to Plant Pests and Bonsai.


“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.  Hearing that over and over can be frustrating. However, it may be the most important lesson in bonsai.  Know your bonsai species.

Indoors, sometimes artificial light is required.


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 about Bonsai Tree Fertilizer.

Winter Care

Snow on bonsai at Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington, DC

No matter where you live, winter 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 your tree type.  Plants with leaves are trimmed with sharp shears. Juniper needles are often sheared or sometimes “pinched.”

Roots also need pruning!  How often and when are important factors in learning about your tree? Read more about Bonsai Tools and which ones are necessary.

What is your Climate Zone?

Specific care basics depend upon where you live. Knowing the climate zone where you live will help you grow your bonsai trees.  Don’t know?  In the United States, you can find out on The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Indoor Bonsai

Brazilian Raintree

All plants do best outdoors in their natural environment.
However, some tropical and subtropical plants can be considered “indoor bonsai.”

Having bonsai indoors does not protect them from pests. Sometimes quite the opposite!

To keep any plant healthy indoors, the more you duplicate its natural environment, the happier it will be.  If you are growing
bonsai trees indoors (even part of the year,) there is good information on artificial lighting on the Indoor Bonsai page.

Learn More

Don’t be surprised if you get conflicting information.

Sometimes, it’s 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 the 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 bonsai care basics page, read Beware of Bonsai Myths!

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