Bonsai Guide

A miniature tree that fascinates anyone who sees it. Who among us has not felt transported, at least for once, in the world of fairy tales seeing a tree of this size, wearing even for a single moment the clothes of the giant! Here is the bonsai for me is a tree that transmits magic and despite its small size expresses all the energy that is enclosed in a large plant.

We know better the bonsai, let’s see together what are its origins, techniques, care and cultivation and everything you need to know to be able to cultivate a bonsai indoors or outdoors.

Origins of bonsai

Bonsai (Bon-sai) is a Japanese term, whose literal translation would be “planted in a flat pot”. However, although very ancient, the Japanese art of bonsai originated from the Chinese art of penzai (or penjing).

Born in China, the bonsai technique, was imported and modified in Japan from the sixth century, applying the canons of their aesthetics influenced by Zen to the plants grown in this way.

The Orientals call it seishi: the art of shaping, cultivating and practicing the most varied techniques, always respecting the plant.

Characteristics of a bonsai

Bonsai trees, as we have already mentioned, are miniature trees, intentionally kept small through two techniques: root reduction and pruning.

So the bonsai trees are of all affections and as such have the same basic needs of older relatives, with particular attention to pruning and containment of the growth of the plant.

The smaller and closer it is to what a large tree might look like, the higher its value and value.

Bonsai trees are not genetically small plants, in fact any tree can be grown with this technique to obtain a miniature plant.

How to evaluate a bonsai

The fundamental aspects to be taken into account in the evaluation of a bonsai are:

  • Rooting
  • Trunk
  • Branches
  • Leaves
  • Apex

Rooting of a bonsai tree

As we mentioned before, the art of bonsai consists in the closest possible representation of the real appearance of a large tree. Therefore, the roots should be arranged as much as possible in a radial pattern, and the parts of the roots that penetrate the ground should be visible, so as to give as much as possible the feeling of strength and stability of the plant.

The Trunk of the Bonsai

The trunk, the fundamental part of the bonsai, must have a natural appearance and an erect or sinuous course depending on the styles. The base (or foot of the trunk) must be of good diameter and then gradually thin out in the apical area. The presence of an “old” bark is very important as it gives the bonsai a lived-in appearance. In general, the trunk, in an appreciable bonsai, remains visible for about two thirds of its total length.

How should be the Branches

Branch formation is very important to give the canopy the appearance of a mature tree. The best position for the larger branches, primary branching, is where the branches expand to the sides and back to give depth and three-dimensionality and the smaller ones, secondary and tertiary branching to the front, back and top to create the “stages”. The shape of the canopy and the individual stages must be traceable to a triangle.

Bonsai leaves

The leaves of the bonsai are kept small through a proper administration of water and fertilizers and practicing at the right time both the stapling of the apexes and defoliation, which consists of the partial or total elimination of large leaves, so as to allow the plant to emit new smaller ones.

The Apex of the Plant

The end portion of the bonsai, the apex must show vitality, as a symbol of life.

Bonsai trees with a broken or non-existent apex have no value. On the other hand, if in the apical area there are jin (dry wood) signs of long life, the bonsai is appreciated as it is considered a sad touch of austere nature.

Bonsai cultivation and care

Let’s first see how to multiply these magical miniature trees. The methods to obtain a bonsai are different, as well as common to their closest cousins of large size

Multiplication and propagation of bonsai trees

To obtain a bonsai the techniques used are:

  • From seed
  • From cutting
  • From layering
  • From nursery plants
  • From collection in kind
  • Getting a bonsai from the seed

Like all species of plants and trees, even a bonsai can be obtained from sowing. The first thing to keep in mind, not to be confused by mere offers, is that there are no seeds from bonsai, the seeds are the same as the “normal” plants.

Sowing is the most natural method of growing any plant. The best time for sowing is certainly spring, although it can take place in late summer early autumn depending on the species. The main advantage in cultivating a bonsai from seed is that you can intervene on the plant when it is very small succeeding, with different techniques, to set it as you want following our specific tastes.

The most beautiful bonsai are obtained from the seed. However, although with this technique you get excellent results is the slowest method for creating a bonsai, since it takes on average from 5-7 years to get a discrete plant.

In addition to the great patience that it takes, using this technique, there are also other aspects to consider, in fact for some types of seeds to germinate is necessary to the so-called stratification. In practice, they must be kept in the winter in the middle of cold sand, and then planted in spring.

It is useful, during this period, to spray some fungicide to avoid that the seeds rot. The ideal soil for germination is composed of 50% sand and 50% soil or peat. The seeds are to be planted in a pot or basin with holes in the bottom to facilitate drainage and avoid water stagnation that would cause the seed to rot.

From cutting

The method perhaps most used to multiply plants, as unlike sowing is much faster. The cuttings can be of two types, semi-woody or woody.

The best time to get a rooting of the cuttings varies depending on the type. For semi-woody cuttings the best period is June – July, as it takes a lot of heat for the cuttings to root.

Take a young branch (from another bonsai) by cutting it sharply, with a gardening scissor, at the level of a foliar internode, or leaving a bark heel of the branch from which the cutting is taken.

It is deprived of all the leaves except the two more at the top, then the base of the branch is cut at 45 degrees, it is immersed in a solution of rooting hormones and it is planted in the ground slightly inclined.

Well drained and soft, the ideal soil for this technique to facilitate the rooting must be a mixture of soil and sand. The ideal place for cutting is a place sheltered from the wind and direct sunlight. It is watered when the soil is almost dry, and to maintain humidity you can also cover the containers of the cuttings with transparent paper or plastic bags.

After a few weeks, if all went well, new leaves should appear: at this point it is good to let the cuttings get some sun, but not too much.

Instead, proceed in autumn for the woody cuttings, with the biggest branches and already lignified. The procedure is the same as previously described for the semi-woody cuttings, but in this case, going towards the winter, we will have to be careful to protect the roots from the frost.

Although the procedure to obtain a bonsai from cutting is the fastest and used does not work with all plants, especially with conifers and resinous ones.

From layering

Another very fast method to get a bonsai is by layering, although it requires a lot of technique is the one that has the most success.

Once you have chosen a branch that already has an interesting shape, that we like and that comes close to the appearance of a large tree, we can apply this technique that allows you to grow the roots of the branch. The layering can be done in several ways.

The first is to cut the branch until it is replaced with a copper or iron wire and spread root hormones on it. This incision should then be covered with a “candy” composed of wet sphagnum wrapped in a plastic sheet. It is good to tighten the ends of the candy firmly so as not to allow air to pass through.

Once this is done, all that remains is to wait, keeping the sphagnum moist with injections of water, for the roots to sprout.

The rooting time varies depending on the species, but usually is around 2 or 3 months. Once the roots have appeared, the branch will be cut off from the plant and transplanted, thus obtaining a new sapling.

The best time for the layering is April-May, preferably May, when the plant is in full vegetative thrust. Just like the method for cutting, also the layering does not work with all plants, as, for instance, the pine takes up to 2 years to emit roots.

From nursery plants

To find material at affordable prices, we can turn to nurseries, although it is not always possible to find suitable material, since nursery plants in general are very tall and with few characteristics of bonsai.

From collection in kind

Another method to obtain a bonsai is the collection in nature, is done in autumn or spring, removing a clod of soil containing the roots whose size will be equal to the size of the foliage of the plant, then remove the taproot (main root of the root system of plants dicotyledon and gymnosperms) and transplanted in the soil best suited to the species, preferably with the same characteristics of the soil of the place where the plant was found.

However, although this technique may seem the simplest and most natural, harvesting in nature is not always permitted, in fact it is prohibited in Italy on state land, while it is permitted on private land, subject to the consent of the owner.

How to treat a bonsai?

Once we have obtained a bonsai, bought or cultivated, we must take care of it to make it grow well and healthy. Treating a bonsai is not difficult, although it takes constant attention and a daily commitment to achieve good results.

Ideal exposure for a bonsai

There are indoor bonsai and outdoor bonsai that can be grown at home, in the garden or balcony, in any case exposure is one of the most important things. Although as we said bonsai are nothing more than miniaturized trees, unlike the big relatives need more attention, but as the first of a bright and airy place.

The ideal location or place depends largely on the variety of bonsai, if for example well withstands the direct rays of the sun or prefers places where they do not get there.

To give bonsai always the right amount of light, as is the case with indoor plants, you should change exposure depending on the season.


Although the specific characteristics of the different varieties may influence the frequency of watering, we should bear in mind that they should be watered at least 2 times a week and in warmer periods even 4 – 5 times. Depending on the peculiarities of the plant we are growing, it is also advisable to spray the leaves, to ensure the right amount of moisture, at least once a day.

During watering, avoid water stagnations, which can cause root rot that creates serious damage and even the death of the plant.

The ideal soil for bonsai trees

There are already ready and specific potting soils on the market for bonsai, even if preparing one is not at all difficult and also economic. Let’s see what we need and what are the needs of a bonsai.

The ideal soil for the cultivation of bonsai will be composed of 50% of universal soil, 20% of fine gravel, 20% of pumice and 10% of humus.

The most important thing to keep in mind is the drainage of the mixture so composed, to avoid the formation of water stagnation use expanded clay on the bottom of the pot or container of our bonsai. Then, depending on the microclimate of the place where the plant is located, it will be possible to increase or decrease the part of the soil that retains more water, thus obtaining a soil moist enough for the flourishing growth of bonsai.


Unlike large trees that have their roots free to propagate in the soil, bonsai trees are generally grown in small pots to contain their roots and growth. They therefore need to be continuously “looked after”, which is why the fertilization of bonsai becomes a key aspect for its good growth.

Regular fertilization during the spring with ternary fertilizers (ie composed of three elements, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, there are also binary fertilizers composed only of Nitrogen and Phosphorus and simple composed of a single element) with a medium-high content of nitrogen. While in late summer it is advisable to use a more balanced fertilizer.

Fertilisation should be reduced in the winter period. The dosage and frequency depends essentially on the type of fertilizer and the variety of bonsai. An incorrect dosage could also damage your plant, so to avoid mistakes always listen to the advice of your trusted phyto dean who will be able to advise you in the best possible way according to your specific needs.

What are the techniques used for setting up and maintaining a bonsai?

The art of bonsai is an ancient art, considered by the Orientals the fusion of nature and art.

Cultivating a sapling does not mean obtaining a bonsai, on the contrary, a bonsai must respect precise canons and styles that share the characteristic conicity of the trunk, the reduced size of the leaves and in particular the shape of the plant itself, which as a whole has the objective of reproducing nature in miniature.

To obtain all this, to give the desired shape and style to our sapling, we use various techniques.


One of the techniques to contain growth and especially give a particular shape or style to a bonsai is pruning. Obviously it is not the only technique that is used to obtain a specific type of bonsai but it is the fundamental one since you must necessarily use it even after you have obtained the desired shape.

There are several types of pruning, in the first phase of setting up the plant is necessary a fairly drastic pruning, pruning training, in which you have to cut the branches that are not in line with our goals. Decide which ones to keep and which to shorten, then keep in mind the form of bonsai that we want to get.

In addition to pruning training there is also a less drastic pruning and much lighter, which serves basically to contain and give shape to the branches chosen. They are also shortened several times during the year, although this depends greatly on the type of growth of the specific plant, to achieve the desired effect.

While the pruning of the leaves, called defoliation, is done during the summer for purely aesthetic reasons, so that the plant produces new leaves smaller and therefore more proportionate to the size of the bonsai. Please note that not all bonsai trees are suitable for defoliation.


In addition to pruning, spinning is used to give the appearance of an old tree and as close as possible to the appearance of a large tree.

A fundamental technique for the formation of a bonsai, spinning consists of wrapping the branches with wire, copper or aluminum as long as they are rigid enough, and then bending them to take them to the desired position.

After a few months, it also depends on the type of variety of bonsai, the branches will assume the desired position and you can then remove the wire.

Although pruning and spinning are the basic techniques to get a good result, there are other methods used to change and modify the course of the plant or branch, such as the use of weights and tie rods.