Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing and training miniature trees in pots. Bonsai trees are growing in popularity around the world and it’s easy to see why! In many ways, a bonsai combines the best qualities of a houseplant and a pet – it's a living and growing entity you can grow and nurture, while enhancing your home and life. There are several different kinds of bonsai plants available on the market. In this article, we’ll cover the basic care requirements for some of the most popular and commonly available options in Ottawa.
Ficus Retusa and Ficus Ginseng Bonsai
Ficus bonsai trees are very commonly available, with the most popular being the Ficus Retusa and the Ficus Ginseng. The Ficus Retusa can often be found in various different sizes and unique trunk shapes, like an “S” shaped trunk. They truly make a unique conversation piece for your home.
Lighting: Ficus bonsai will like a spot in your home with bright indirect light. A south, east or west facing window is ideal. They can take a few hours of direct sun, but too much direct sun can lead to scorching of the leaves.
Watering: Ensure you allow the soil of your Ficus to partially dry in between each watering. Water your bonsai when the first 1-2 inches of soil are dry and the soil feels dry to the touch. Like many houseplants, they will need more frequent watering during the summer months since the warm temperatures cause the soil to dry faster, and less during the winter months.
Temperature & Humidity: Ficuses will like a little bit of humidity in the air. Our homes often have very dry air during the winter months, so there are several things we can do to increase humidity levels. You can frequently mist your plant, add a humidifier nearby, or use the pebble tray trick. A pebble tray is very simple and effective: take a shallow plant saucer, fill it with a thin layer of pebbles, and fill it with water just to reach the top of the pebbles. Then, sit your plant on top. The water will evaporate around your plant, creating a sort of mini micro-climate with added humidity.
Fertilizer: We recommend fertilizing your Ficus bonsai once every 3-4 weeks using an all-purpose fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or an all-purpose liquid plant food, from Spring to Fall. During the Fall and Winter months, we strongly suggest using PlantRX fertilizer, which is mist that you apply to the leaves of your plant, which keep your plant healthy and happy while also providing the additional benefits of adding extra humidity.
Pruning: You can prune back your Ficus bonsai to keep it’s nice and compact shape, if desired. Pruning should be done during the growing season.
Repotting: You will not need to repot your Ficus bonsai very frequently. They do not like having their roots disturbed. Repotting your bonsai may only be needed every few years, if you start seeing roots coming out of the bottom of the container.
Juniper bonsai trees are another very popular choice, due to their attractive foliage and easy care. Unlike Ficuses, Juniper plants are native to North America, so they can be grown outdoors year-round. In fact, you’ve likely seen many types of junipers used as hedges, or in landscape designs in Ottawa. As a bonsai, the most common one you’ll see are the blue-needled varieties.
Lighting: Juniper bonsai require bright, direct sunlight for most of the day. Therefore, they are best suited to being grown outdoors all year. For the winter months, place in a cool, sheltered spot. Many people place them in an unheated garage or shed. They do continue to photosynthesize over the winter, but way less actively, so they don’t need a ton of light.
Watering: Ensure you allow the soil to dry slightly in between each watering, but not dry out completely. Give the soil a good soak when you water them. It’s important to make sure that the pot has good drainage, so that the soil doesn’t stay soaked for too long. Cut back almost completely on watering during the winter, when the plant will go into a dormancy period.
Temperature & Humidity: Juniper bonsai must be grown outdoors year-round. They do not tolerate growing indoors for long periods of time. They are hardy and frost-tolerate trees that can typically go as long as –12C without protection. Place in a sheltered spot when the very cold temperatures hit in Ottawa, like a shed or unheated garage.
Fertilizer: During the growing season, they will like to be fertilized to keep them strong and to promote new growth. Use a granular fertilizer once a month, or a liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks when watering.
Pruning: You can prune back your bonsai to keep it healthy and nicely shaped. We recommend pruning in the early Spring and Summer during their active growing period. For juniper bonsai, you can simply pinch back growth rather then cutting, as cutting can cause surrounding needles to die off. Keep in mind that junipers will not bud again from any bare tree parts, so it’s best to leave some foliage on the branches to ensure continuous growth.
Repotting: You will not need to repot your Juniper bonsai very frequently. Repotting your Juniper bonsai may only be needed every 2 years for younger trees, while older ones can stay up to 5 years in the same pot.
The Jade tree is another fantastic option as a bonsai tree and one of the most beginner friendly ones, in our opinion. Jades are succulent plants, so they are slow-growing but their care will be relatively simple. There are a few different types of Jades used as bonsai, the most common being the Dwarf Jade Portulacaria, and the regular Crassula Jade.
Lighting: Jade trees will require bright indirect light. They can take direct sunlight; it will cause additional red coloring to come out on the contour of their leaves. Jade trees can be grown indoors year-round.
Watering: Ensure you allow the soil to dry completely in between each watering. Their succulent leaves hold lots of water, so they will not need watering too frequently. You can use a moisture meter to check that the soil has dried out completely before giving it a good soak. They do not take well to being overwatered. Remember, overwatering is the frequency of which you water, not the amount.
Temperature & Humidity: Jade trees are not particularly fussy with humidity. Regular household temperatures and humidity will be perfectly fine. Do not let temperatures drop below 10C.
Fertilizer: We recommend fertilizing Jades monthly from Spring to Fall, with an all-purpose fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or an all-purpose liquid plant food. During the winter, you can fertilize with SucculentRX mist fertilizer only.
Pruning: Jades are succulent, so they hold lots of water in their leaves and branches. This means that as it grows, the branches will naturally bend due to their weight. Jades can be very easily pruned, and we recommend pruning frequently to force it to grow more branches, keep the shape nice and growing upwards. Trim branches growing downwards or in the wrong direction.
Repotting: Only repot your Jade roughly every 2 years. They can grow very tight in the same pot. Use a pot with good drainage such as a grower’s pot or clay pot. When repotting, ensure you are using a Succulent & Cactus soil mix.