Banzai Daniel-san! Banzai!
May 6, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I want a Bonsai Tree. Where do I go to find the best information on care and feeding of these little gems? And is there somewhere online I can order one from?

I love Bonsai trees and I'd like to own one, but I tend to kill plants. The few houseplants we have I'm not allowed to touch! I'd really like to get a Bonsai, but I need a really good resource for taking care of it. Really good and very simple, preferably with pictures!

I'd prefer a website with some kind of forum, so if I have questions I can post them and get help. Does such a site exist?

I'd also like to find a reputable place online to order a tree. I've seen a couple of guys selling the trees on the street corner basically out of the back of their truck, but other than that I don't know where to get one. I've heard the plants are really delicate, would it survive the trip through the mail?

Am I getting in over my head? Is a Bonsai just way out of my league? I've killed every other plant I touch, would I be wasting my money on one of these little trees?
posted by TooFewShoes to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you tend to kill plants, you will kill your first and second bonsai tree. Most true bonsais require daily watering, and are just about the highest maintenance plants you can own. The deciduous varieties require a dormant period, as do some of the tropical and evergreen varieties.

If you do decide to buy a bonsai, buy a cheap one. In fact, I would go with one of the juniper variety that they sell just about everywhere, they are much more hardy than a true bonsai.
posted by 517 at 9:54 AM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: Bonsai aren't houseplants, they are best off outside in a place where they get a little sun but not so much that they dry out in a day. Under a (full-sized) tree is good, or alongside the east side of a house's eaves where they can get a few hours of morning sun. I live in a dry area so I keep mine on top of a humidity tray. If you use a tray, put enough pebbles in it to kept the bonsai's pot out of the water: they don't like sitting around in water. If you have cold winters, you can bring your bonsai indoors to live on a windowsill but plan on spending a few weeks acclimating it.

On preview: yeah, try getting a juniper faux bonsai. It will still have to live outside but it's far more tolerant of missing a day of water.

Also, consider making or buying a moss terrarium instead. They can be kept indoors, have the same sense of miniature outdoors that bonsai do but the conditions inside the glass container helps buffer gardener error.
posted by jamaro at 10:08 AM on May 6, 2010

If you've got a brown thumb, jamaro's juniper bonsai suggestion is sound. Other species can be very delicate. The whole point of bonsai is that you're making a mini tree by systematically abusing it to the point that it's stunted, yet not letting it die. Ground-cover juniper puts up with this treatment well.
posted by lekvar at 10:45 AM on May 6, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, maybe I'm just not cut out to be a Bonsai owner. The moss terrarium jamaro linked to seems like it might be more my style. Does anyone else have any suggestions for something else like that?
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:41 PM on May 6, 2010

Just be cognizant that many types of "real" bonzai trees must be wintered outdoors in order to go through the proper dormancy/growth cycle.
posted by 1000monkeys at 1:23 PM on May 6, 2010

I'd recommend a Schefflera bonsai. I have one indoors on a windowsill and live in Seattle, so it can take a beating for sure in terms of light conditions. I bought mine here, which I recommend highly. Care information is on their website, and they'll include information with your order. They ship to the mainland, but their shop on the big island is amazing to visit if you're ever out that way. Give it a try!
posted by Craig at 1:35 PM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: Bonsai is not a species of tree, it is an art form. Most of the bonsai that you see are junipers, just like the junipers your neighbors use as a hedge in their front yard. The bonsai are just cultivated and trimmed to be smaller. Take a juniper bonsai out of it's pot and plant it in the ground, and a couple years later you will have a huge bush.

So, with that in mind, ask these questions:

-Do you want something that lives indoors (that significantly limits the types of plants you can use)

-Are you willing to monitor it every day (bonsai need more attention not because of the type of plant, but because the pot they are in is so small. It is easy for them to dry out)

-How small do you want it to be (real bonsai are typically much larger than the cheap "bonsai" you see sold in the mall. If you want something small, it is much harder to take care of, because it may die if you forget to water it even one day)

-Is this something you will want to pursue long term? The main joy of bonsai is to see it develop and change over the seasons.

I would suggest that if you want to get into bonsai, you find a beginner book at your local bookstore or online. Than, go to your local nursery, and start by buying a juniper (just a normal potted one they sell for hedges) and try to keep that alive with some very minor pruning. Junipers are very strong plants, and should be able to survive a decent amount of abuse. If you can keep that alive, slowly work on trimming it to an appealing shape. Over time, you may find that you love it, or you may find that you are bored with it.

Now, if you just like it for it's artistic look, and don't care so much about the actual gardening part, than you may instead want to find pieces of art which depict a bonsai (such as sculptures). Keeping a bonsai tree alive (especially indoors) is not one of those things you can just do once a month. If you want to really do it, start with keeping a house plant alive, and work your way up from there.
posted by markblasco at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2010

Best answer: More on terrariums here. (Is it a self-link if it's to a FPP I made? Hope not. Please excuse.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:06 PM on May 6, 2010

Response by poster: Fiercecupcake, that post is great. I'm really thinking a terrarium might be more my style. I usually kill plants by over watering them, or forgetting about them. A terrarium might be more forgiving.

I really wanted something for inside that I could 'play' with regularly. I didn't realize that Bonsai had to be watered so often, I'm afraid that might be too delicate for me. I'm going to hit the library and see what the books say.

Maybe I could just get some fun rocks or ceramic figures to put in a terrarium and switch them around every so often.

Thanks for all the answers.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:25 PM on May 6, 2010

Terrariums apparently have become quite popular again. Coincidentally, I bought a huge apothecary jar just yesterday to make my own terrarium!
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:19 PM on May 7, 2010

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