Bonsai Tree FAQ

Do indoor bonsai thrive exclusively indoors?

No, because our living quarters are not the natural environment for plants. Certain subtropical and tropical plants do grow well indoors – particularly in a cold house environment, but they love to be outside during the summer months, in a location protected from the wind.


Is it possible to bring outdoor bonsai inside?

For a short period of time, yes. For instance, for special occasions when you want to use the plant as decoration. This does not present a problem during the summer, when temperature differences between the indoors and the outdoors are negligible. However if you want to bring a plant indoors during the winter months, make sure that it is not near or above a heat source. It is also important for the bonsai to have sufficient light.


Can an indoor bonsai be shaped and transplanted any time during the year?

Generally speaking, yes. The optimal time is right before the plants begin their active growing period in spring. Plants in bloom are transplanted after the flowering period.


How often should I shorten/prune/cut new shoots?

When they have become slightly lignified, or when they have developed about six to eight pairs of leaves.


How often should I transplant an indoor bonsai?

This depends on the species and age of your bonsai. Young, fast-growing plants should be transplanted every year; older and slower growing plants should be transplanted every two to three years.


Isn’t root pruning a ‘painful’ intrusion in the natural development of a plant? 

No. The removal of dead roots protects the plant from rot and decay. Shortening the roots by a third encourages root growth and fosters healthy development. Both are only done when you are repotting the plant or when the root ball has become too dense.


Many negative opinions prevail regarding the wiring of branches and twigs. Are they justified? 

No. Proper and careful wiring does not injure a plant, but makes it more beautiful. Such shaping is a much more gentle process than the many influences a tree has to endure in nature such as storms, hail and rock slides.


At what point does a gardener decide which form to choose for a bonsai plant? 

In peace and quiet, the gardener will look “into” the shape of the growing plant in order to detect the form that nature gave it. Such contemplation gives the gardener the necessary insight as well as an understanding of which of the classic bonsai forms is the most appropriate.


Is there such a thing as a “bonsai seed”?

No, even if the description on some seed packages seems to imply it. The description on these packages should really read: “seeds suitable for bonsai”.


What is a solitaire? 

A particularly beautifully shaped tree that is at least 25 years old.


Which plants are recommended for the beginner?

Always begin with young plants. All rubber trees (Ficus) work well, since they thrive indoors without any problems. In addition, the elm and the cherry bush are good for beginners, because they are very forgiving when it comes to mistakes.


What is the life expectancy of an indoor bonsai?

There are no hard and fast rules. Particularly in their native habitat, but even in other regions, we know of bonsai trees that are 100 years old. however, like everything else in nature, bonsai are subject to the laws that govern living and dying. Some live only a relatively short time.


What has happened to a bonsai tree when it gets sick?

One possibility may have to do with the plant’s location. Even if it is placed close to a window, it may need additional (artificial) light. Or, often the humidity is too low. Are you watering properly? Too much watering is as bad as too little. When in doubt, read the part of the chapter about diseases and pests. If you still cannot determine the reasons for your problem, check with an expert at a nursery or botanical garden.


Is there a rule of thumb for watering?

The following will always work: don’t let the soil dry out completely. Following this advice, let the surface of the soil become slightly dry and then water carefully. Better yet, immerse the bonsai tree – in it’s container – in a water bath.


Is spraying the plant the way to increase humidity?

It is not the best method. Trays or containers filled with water, a water garden, or a water fountain are more effective.


What is the cause of the white deposits sometimes seen at the base of a trunk and the edge of the container? 

Hard water, containing too much lime. While these deposits are not harmful, they are unsightly. They can be prevented by using soft water for watering.


Are “wet feet” dangerous for bonsai?

They are certainly not healthy. Excess water remaining in the saucer should be emptied.


Can there be good or even beneficial animals in bonsai?

Just as in the earth outdoors. Think, for instance of earthworms and snails… Remember, where there is earth, there is life. Allow it to be (unless it is a destructive pest).


Do indoor bonsai need to be fed?

Yes, just like other plants. See our fertilizer section on the bonsai tree care guide.


Should I feed a sick plant?

No. Weakened plants can only take up small amounts of nutrition. Additional fertilizer would damage the plant even further.


Is a tree sick if it loses all or part of its green leaves? (a special problem for Ficus trees)

Not necessarily. The most common reason is improper care: too little light and “cold” or “wet feet.”


What is happening when the leaves turn yellow and the inside of the tree?

This is usually nothing to worry about. It may be part of a normal process whereby older leaves are replaced to make room for new leaves; or else, the tree may not have enough light and air inside the crown. The tree may be suffering from a temporary drought. As long as the tree produces new shoots and leaves, everything is in order.


Why does moss last such a short time indoors?

Indoor bonsai usually come from a greenhouse. While the tree itself thrives, the surrounding moss does not. It is normal for the moss to become brown after a short time; this is not an indication that mistakes in care have been made.


How does one lose the fear of pruning or cutting?

Think of your hair: the more it is cut, the faster it grows. The same holds true for plants. Cutting back shoots and twigs encourages new growth.


Are bonsai appropriate for the office and a 5-day-week?

Absolutely. Water the bonsai – using the immersion method – and no harm will come over the weekend.


Why are bonsai so much more expensive than any other houseplants?

From the many plants available to us, only a limited number can be transformed into bonsai. In addition, every tree represents an enormous investment in time, gardening, know-how and creativity.


Is the age of a bonsai plant important in terms of its value?

Age is only one criterion in determining the value of these small tress. Just as important is their form. Of course, many particularly beautiful specimens can be found among older trees – but younger trees can also be very charming and beautiful.


How does one counter those critics who insist it is not right to force a tree to remain small?

Here is one answer: as is the case with human beings, plants too differ genetically, each one having very distinct developmental possibilities. Depending on where a plant lives it will develop a certain way. In rich soil and in a good climate, a plant will grow faster and become larger. If the soil is poor, or if it grows on a rock ledge or a high elevation with a short growing season and often harsh winds, a plant will grow more slowly and remain smaller. Both situations already are present in nature.


Expert information from – Bonsai in Your Home (by Paul Lesniewicz)