Mistakes best avoided, things I wish I knew when I started out with bonsai.

As I was busy preparing to write this blog I scrolled through my old blogs to get an idea of topics that I have covered in the past. I wanted to cover something that would be useful and that I have not covered yet.

I have posted 141 posts since I started blogging so scrolling to bottom took a while. As I read through it I came up with a idea to write a blog on mistakes I made in the past, each one teaching me a valuable lesson. I have come to realize that there are many variables that can be the cause of stunt growth or even the death of a bonsai and that is why I decided to categorized my mistakes into six groups.

  1. Choosing the wrong tree species
  2. Not understanding the role the soil mixture has in bonsai
  3. Incorrect watering and feeding
  4. Trimming and pruning at the wrong time
  5. Working on a tree without a end goal in sight
  6. Not finding the right location for my bonsai collection

Choosing the wrong tree specie

One of the most dissatisfying things in growing bonsai is not getting the results your expecting. When it comes to choosing a tree to transform into a bonsai you need to choose wisely. First let me just clarify why a tree specie might not be eligible to be used as a bonsai. If the species have traits(leaf size, brittle branches or erratic growth patterns) that make it difficult to work with as a bonsai. Note that I said it makes it difficult to work with not impossible. Before working on a tree get as much information as you can about the tree. Get yourself a bonsai book that covers trees in your region. Here is a site that gives you a list of 22 trees you can used to grow as bonsai: https://balconygardenweb.com/best-trees-for-bonsai-best-bonsai-plants/

Soil mixture

The right soil mixture for bonsai is a topic that has been covered widely and there are well documented experiments on YouTube and other platforms on how each component in a soil mixture plays an roll. By adding or changing the volume of each component you can adapt your soil mixture so that it works for your bonsai as well as the conditions in your region. Things to keep in mind when selecting components for your soil mixture:

  1. Water retention
  2. PH balance (acidic or alkaline) Differs depending on tree species
  3. Drainage
  4. Nutrients
  5. Air within the soil mixture

I use a soil mix of 6 parts sieved potting soil, 3 parts stone 3 mm – 5 mm, 1 part coarse sand, 0.1 part bone meal and 5 ml of Multicote slow release fertilizer. You can use this as a base for your soil mixture.

Watering & Feeding

Watering is one of the most common reasons why bonsai die. Too much water is just as damaging as too little water. Getting the balance right comes with experience. A general rule to follow is to water the tree when the soil mixture is dry. When watering make sure you water the entire soil mixture. Water the tree until the water starts to flow out of the hole at the bottom of the container.
Feeding is another topic under watering that plays a big roll in the health of the tree. Feeding is done by supplementing the nutrients in the soil mixture by fertilizing. Fertilizing can be done by using any one of these two methods. One, add liquid fertilizer to your water every other week. Two, put a fertilizer basket on the soil mixture. Both these methods have their own pros and cons. You will have to determine which one works best for you.

Trimming & Pruning

Trimming is done through out the year to maintain the shape of the tree. Pruning is done to shape the tree during initial styling as well as in Autumn and Winter to shape deciduous trees. I have lost a number of trees due to over pruning and not allowing the tree to recover after initial work was done. Allow the tree time to regain its strength before you cut back any growth on the tree is the key to success.

Working on a tree without a end goal in sight

Development of a bonsai is build on working with a long term goal in mind. Everything you do now effects the tree in the long run. When working on any tree you should have an end goal in mind. Once you have charted your course, you can use the correct techniques to aid in getting to your destination in the fastest possible time. Knowing what you want the tree to look like can save you a lot of time. I wasted hours if not days working on trees by not knowing where I was heading and only halfway through designing the tree I would realizing that the tree would look good as broom style instead of a formal upright. If you do not have a set plan for a tree do not buy it or don’t work on it until you know what you have in mind for the design of the tree.


The environment around your bonsai has a direct influence on how they will grow, the leaf size of the tree, color of the foliage and how easily the tree gets infested by pests. Having your trees in a open space, protected from the harsh sun where the air can flow through freely is a must. Have zones set up so that you can cater for different trees. Full sun to 40% shaded.

My bonsai collection in 2013

My bonsai collection today

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments in the section provided below.


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