Gardening | How to care for that bonsai you received for Christmas

Tips for keeping your bonsai alive. Photo: Shutterstock.
Tips for keeping your bonsai alive. Photo: Shutterstock.

Bonsai are frequently given as Christmas presents, but many of those in receipt of these wonderful gifts often do not know how to care for them.

Bonsai is a Japanese term that basically translates as 'plant in a tray' and many people incorrectly believe bonsai originate from Japan. In fact the Chinese were the first to cultivate plants in miniature, but the Japanese perfected the art.

Bonsai have become extremely popular in the West and growing plants in miniature has become a serious hobby for many gardeners. Success can be easily achieved by following a few simple guidelines.

The first lesson to learn is that bonsai are not indoor plants. They can be kept indoors as a short-term installation for a few days, but they really need to be grown outdoors.

The most important aspect of growing bonsai is to never allow them to dry out, the growing media should always be kept moist.

This is particularly important during the summer months as the shallow area that bonsai are grown in will dry out rapidly and lead to water stress and in some cases death of the plant.

Most bonsai should be placed in a position where they receive morning sun and protection from the hot afternoon sun.

Training bonsai is an area that many novice growers find challenging. Wiring and pruning are critical aspects of bonsai culture.

Bonsai will usually come with wires already in place, wires help in bending branches to the desired shape, but they should be removed after a few months once the branch is positioned and set, to prevent wires from cutting into stems.

Styling bonsai is an art and there are many different techniques that can be used for a whole range of plants, root over rock, forests, cascades, formal upright, slanting, windswept and more.

Maintaining and developing bonsai will require some specific tools for the job, which can be purchased from local nurseries and garden centres or specialist growers.

Bonsai will require re-potting every two to three years, this should be done in late winter or early spring prior to the emergence of new growth.

Plants can also be root pruned at this time, but do not disturb the entire root ball and be sure to re-pot using a specialist bonsai potting mix.

But just remember the most important factor in keeping your bonsai alive is to never let it dry out.