“Small tree in a pot.” More commonly known as bonsai (pronounced “bone-sigh” or “bahn-sigh”), these wide varieties of tree species shrunk down and grown in a pot have gained lots of popularity over the years they have existed. Bonsai originated in China as early as the 8th century CE but gained most of their popularity in Japan. Today, bonsai are all over the world, with generations of bonsai artists cultivating these ancient trees. There has been a recent increase in demand for these small trees, and the bonsai market is expected to grow “by 4.1% between 2020 and 2027” due to the increasing demand for the trees because of their “low maintenance cost and fewer water usage” (per Bonsai Tree Gardener). When the word “bonsai” comes to mind, many think of very expensive, extremely difficult to care for trees. But that isn’t the case. In this article, I’ll address the most common misconceptions about bonsai.
Myth: They’re always impossible to care for.
Fact: An important fact is that almost any tree species can be made into a bonsai, and any bonsai can be made into a regular-sized tree. Some species are hard to care for, like outdoor evergreen trees, but there are lots of easy ones. The easiest bonsai are Portulacaria afra (elephant bush or jade) or any type of ficus. The jade bonsai thrives in bright light, either direct or indirect, and only needs watering every 2-3 weeks. The ficus, a variety of bonsai, can live from light shade to bright direct light and needs watering every 5-7 days, depending on size. The key to difficulty in care is age. The younger the tree, the easier it is to care for. When a tree is small, all you have to do is let it grow and trim it every once in a while to maintain shape.
Myth: They all are purchased as seeds.
Fact: All plants start from seeds. Depending on the plant's maturity, it will be either big or small. For bonsai, it depends on where the tree comes from. Some start as a seed in a nursery, carefully being watched for the right temperature, water and humidity levels, and lighting. Often those are difficult to care for since the plant acclimates to the climate it is grown in, although that isn’t always the case. Many trees are comfortable changing where they grow. A good example of this is when bonsai artists pull trees from the earth and use them. This is a very long process, where the tree is slowly introduced into its new environment. Trees such as Japanese maples and evergreen trees are the most common to be grown in this way.
Myth: All it needs is water!
Fact: There is lots more to bonsai than just watering the plant. It starts with a trip to your local bonsai store, either Cactus and Tropicals or Paradise Palm. From there, you can find trees of all sizes that are in many styles. From there, pick a tree, then pick a pot. Cactus and Tropicals offers a cheap staging service, which is where a professional will pot your plant in the right soil and make it look nice in the pot. Google the care of the tree, and find the right place for it in your house. You do have to water it, but you also have to prune leaves so the plant doesn’t grow out of shape. This is lots of care, and it needs more than water. Love is the key to a healthy tree.
Myth: It’s a quick process for new growth to come
Fact: While this is true for small trees that are fast-growing, very healthy, and constantly fertilized, it’s not true for many of the trees. One of my bonsai has had no new growth since I got it 6 months ago. Just the other day, I saw a new leaf starting to uncoil. A different bonsai that I have is constantly growing and requires pruning every other week. It truly depends on the tree and how it adjusts to a change in growing conditions. Some trees will drop all of their leaves in the winter months and will look ugly and dead, but they will all come back in the springtime, maybe even with flowers. Some trees keep their leaves year-round.
Myth: They’re expensive.
Fact: This is only true for trees that are enormous and several decades old. The cost of bonsai depends on the size and species. Some of the cheapest and most common bonsai are any variety of ficus. A 4-inch potted ficus bonsai can be found at a store for $15-20, with prices increasing or decreasing for species. Another factor is the level of care and attention they take. There could be two types of bonsai in the same size pot, but one could be double the price of the other because of how hard it is to care for.
Now that you know about bonsai, you might be interested in starting your bonsai. It’s fairly easy to get into bonsai; a good place to start is by starting to develop your green thumb. If you can simultaneously keep three houseplants alive at a time, then you’re probably able to keep a bonsai alive. A good place to start is with a ficus species since they are quite easy to care for. Another great choice would be an elephant bush, which was what I started with. Once I got the hang of trimming and watering, I decided to get more challenging bonsai. When it comes to trimming, all you have to do is trim to maintain shape and size. Trim the tree in a way where you enjoy the looks of it. The rule of thumb when it comes to trimming is to ensure that ⅓ of the trunk is shown, usually closest to the pot or soil. When you gain the confidence to care for plants and trust yourself in keeping them alive, then you’ll be able to become a bonsai artist. Make sure your plants are given lots of love, or else they won’t grow. Mr. Smith, the computer science teacher, has many plants in his room. I asked him for some advice on caring for plants. He says that “most people who say they can’t take care of plants just forget to put watering on their schedule.” Often as well, people say because “plants like cacti and succulents don’t need lots of water, you don’t need to water them at all.” In addition, “making sure plants are getting their nutrients from fertilizer is another important thing. Plants don’t get those important nutrients from the potting soil.” As a final touch, he also said that “indie music isn’t bad for them.”