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A flower sitting with a group of dark rocks, bamboo, grass and the LawnZenGarden logo. A flower sitting with a group of dark rocks, bamboo, grass and the LawnZenGarden logo.

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The ART of BONSAI, Trained for a Container Life
by Carole Schwalm Two bonsai trees sitting between two large, dark rocks on a table.

In Feng Shui, plants stimulate positive Ch’i and bring all good things into your own and your loved one’s lives. What better Ch’i inspiring flora could there be than bonsai! And, wouldn’t this be a wonderful gift to give to someone special.


Your plant’s natural tendency is to grow. The bonsai principle is to keep it small. With that in mind the two of you must work together to ensure that your mini-tree stays happy and healthy. This starts with its living conditions.

It is a tree and it naturally lives outside. Here, you are not only stunting its growth, but forcing it to live where it doesn’t usually grow. (Your plant needs occasional fresh air - but then, you do too!)

Your plant needs light. Think like Mother Nature! An outdoor growing tree needs light. Southern exposure is best. East or west comes in second. Use grow lights if necessary: the light meter exposure should be between 200 to 1000 lux. Artificial light should burn for 10 to 16 hours.

Humidity is important and you can achieve this by placing the container tray on top of gravel. A room fountain is good feng shui with the added bonus of increased humidity levels. Regularly spritzing with water is a lovely spring shower.

Your plant needs water and this should be done before the soil becomes dry. Water slowly and allow it to slowly be absorbed into the soil. Always use near room temperature water. Roots rot if you over-water. Conifers need less water.


Shaped bonsai plant in container A container Bonsai should look like a healthy and natural tree. When pruning, the Zen way is to study the tree to see what it saying about how it wants to grow. However, take the following into consideration because you could have a dysfunctional and confused flora that doesn’t know what it is about.

The trunk of the tree holds much of the plant’s character. The lowest branch should be 1/3 of the way up the tree so you see the lower part. Then the first branch should be the largest. Then the next branch is a little smaller and in the opposite direction. Then repeat, decreasing in size. (When you purchase a 2-3 year old bonsai the expert has given both you and your tree the proper start).

Branches should always grow to the side or to the back, until you reach the top of the tree. Then they should grow forward. Remove downward growing branches. Don’t let branches grow on top of each other, nor should they span across the tree.

Older bonsai plant in container Leaves continue to grow and sometimes get too large. Trim them when they throw the symmetry off balance.

NIPPING IN THE BUD: Your mini-tree grows and pinching back is a continuous exercise. When you ‘nip the buds,’ you encourage side branch development. In this light, you have an opportunity to decide where you want the new growth. Pinch the downward growing buds.


“This all sounds really cool. I want one!“ Okay, what do you want? Do you want an evergreen tree, trees that look old, even when they are young. Or would you enjoy watching your tree (a deciduous one) do its natural thing through the seasons?

If a newbie, you might want to consider starting with hardier types.

Dwarf hemlock
Dwarf pomegranate
Pyracantha or firethorn

If very, very adventurous, but also patient, you can buy seeds. Recommended: ginkgo or buckeye, for example.


There are many beautiful bonsai plants and containers available for under $30.00 and/or as much as you want to spend. The plants are from 2 to 3 years old, are already potted and initially trained by experts.

ZEN: Bonsai is creative. It’s a chance to seek harmony with nature and to observe the never ending cycle of events with light, air, temperature, humidity, day, night, and through the seasons.

Share your bonsai experience or if you'd like more information.