Bonsai: care tips from the experts

Bonsai trees exhibited by the Federation of British Bonsai Societies at Chelsea Flower Show
Part of the Federation of British Bonsai Societies gold medal exhibit
at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, including some from Swindon.  
I have a confession. I usually leave the bonsai exhibits at flower shows alone. They're quite difficult to photograph and until recently this is a branch of gardening which was a mystery to me ('scuse pun).

However, I was given a bonsai tree in March and it's clear I need some help to look after it properly. I'd read they should be kept outdoors, which was fine until April's hard frosts. My poor tree ended up with lots of leaves sporting an unhealthy bleached look.

So this year for once I made a beeline for the Federation of British Bonsai Societies' exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show, where a friendly expert was more than happy to give me a few tips.

My bonsai tree
My tree is probably Ligustrum sinense and is approximately 9 years old 

As you can see, my tree is quite small, even by bonsai standards and my first piece of advice was to bring it in for the winter for quite some time to come. Here you can see it in the final spot I've chosen for it for the summer, on the table on our patio.

This is because I need to see it from our kitchen so I'm reminded to water it daily - my second piece of advice, the tree should not be allowed to dry out. Ideally it should be fed daily too, with a dilute solution of the plant food I usually use. I was told there is no need to buy the special feeds available. I'm currently trialling some seaweed feeds, and my tree's looking much happier... it did go through an alarming period of the bleached leaves turning yellow and then dropping off. Now there's a lot of new growth - phew.

I was concerned about my tree's exposed roots and I was reassured to hear these are fine. If there are any exposed ends, then these can simply be snipped off. I spotted that most of the bonsai on display at Chelsea showed even more exposed roots than mine, with many sporting moss between them which looked quite decorative.

Now my tree has recovered from its frosty shock and has started to grow it's time to think about thinning out the foliage and training it further into shape. For this I will need some wire and I was surprised that training can also involve anchoring some of the wires into the soil. Mine is vaguely growing in an s-shape (not one of the traditional forms I was told) and this gave my expert a clue to my tree's origin:

'Aha', he said, 'you've got one of those trees imported from China via Holland.' I don't think he was that impressed.

Bonsai tree with ladybird larva

I'll persist with my tree, though going on holiday may prove a challenge. My neighbour's kindly agreed to water it every day, thank goodness. If you think a bonsai tree is an ideal gift for a keen gardener, do give it some thought. You're giving them something which requires daily attention. Will they be up for that?


  1. An interesting post about a fascinating subject. xx

  2. I wonder if you will get bored of the daily watering and feeding - I think I would. It's like having a pet with none of the benefits.

    1. Exactly, Sue... that's why I'm urging caution for people considering them as a good gift for a keen gardener.

  3. Good to see the ladybird on duty.

    Daily watering? Oh dear. Not going to happen here, and I have a row of hopeful bonsai pots (empty!)

    1. I wonder what else you could use them for...

  4. Bonsai would be Gone-sai in my murderous hands, I'm afraid. Good luck with yours!

    1. I may develop murderous hands when I get round to pruning it Helen!


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