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 Caring for Indoor Bonsai

 By Erik A. Olsen

People who grow bonsai for various reasons are different then people who merely are looking for an interesting plant, see and like a bonsai, buy it and take it home. One thing that these people may not realize is that the bonsai is supposed to be an outdoor plant, not an indoor plant, although since the 1990s it is becoming more and more as a piece of indoor decor. Different kinds of plants are used for indoor bonsai as opposed to outside, so make sure you place the tree in the appropriate location.

So, once you've got it home, and inside your house, then what do you do with it?

The bonsai is not frozen in time in precisely the shape you like, never to change, never to die. It's still a living plant and must be carefully tended and pruned to remain the way you want it to be.

Your bonsai must be placed in a well-lit area. If it does not get enough UV rays, it will die. The bonsai should be kept warm in the daytime - at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and humid, to recreate the regions in which they flourish. Spray the leaves with water, "generously and often." However, don't even think of standing your bonsai in a saucer or tray filled with water, as this can rot the roots.

At night, of course, the bonsai can be allowed to cool down, as would occur in nature as well.

You will need to repot your bonsai once every two years or so and this should be done in the spring. When you re-pot, make sure you prune the roots. Depending on the size of the roots, remove from 1/3 to 2/3 from the tips. You'll want to repot in a similar type of container as the original, to create the same kind of effect. And remember those drainage holes for the water. If the roots are too damp they will begin to rot.

Bonsai containers are shallower than normal indoor plant pots. So if you're going to add fertilizer, make sure you dilute it accordingly. Otherwise that liquid will burn the roots. Your bonsai should be fed this fertilizer about once every three weeks - but do not feet it in winter.

Your bonsai needs to be "pruned" and "pinched back" regularly to keep it at the desired shape. This should be done in the spring before the season's growth begins, and then regularly throughout the season. Know what kind of tree you've got before you do this pruning - for example, if you have a ficus, all the leaves should be cut back.

The Care of Your Bonsai

Because your bonsai is kept in such a shallow container, they can be sensitive to pets and diseases. Bonsai require more care... and precision in that care....than any other plant you are likely to have.

1. Clean the bonsai with a small brush on a regular basis. Do not leave any plant debris on the soil after you've finished pruning the bonsai - it will decompose and lead to the growth of fungal diseases or moss.

Some people think moss is decorative, and will not wish to remove it. If this is the case, at the very least keep it away form the trunk and branches of the tree - using a special spatula, or a hard nylon toothbrush, to scrape away moss from those areas. Use a pair of tweezers to remove any weeds - and remember that any grass can take nutrients away from the tree.

2. Hunt for pests always. Because the bonsai is watered often to keep it humid, this attracts pests such as aphids (aka greenfly), caterpillars, ants and red spider mites. Treat any sightings with pesticide.

3. Diseases

Be wary of diseases. Powdery mildew is the most widespread fungus disease. If you see a white, floury layer on the shoots and leaves of your tree.... it's powdery mildew.

Rust will appear as orange or brown patches on the leaves. You may be using too much potassium in the soil, if this begins to occur.

If your plant isn't getting enough iron, it will get chlorosis. The leaves or needles will turn yellow - while the veins will remain green. This usually occurs in chalky or lime soil, which "locks up" the iron. Repot and change the potting compost.

4. The four seasons
Outdoor bonsai will need special treatment in each of the four seasons, but even the indoor bonsai needs special treatment at times, as it has biological necessities, rather than environmental ones.

There's no need to give fertilizer during the winter, for example Pruning for shape should be done in early spring, and, as stated earlier, repotting should take place in the spring of every second year, and the roots trimmed.


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