Ultimate Bonsai Plant Care Guide: Expert Tips and Benefits of Grow Lights

Ultimate Bonsai Plant Care Guide: Expert Tips and Benefits of Grow Lights

Welcome to your comprehensive Bonsai Care Guide. This guide is designed to help you grow and maintain beautiful Bonsai trees, whether you are a beginner or an experienced gardener. Follow along and enjoy the ancient art of Bonsai. 

Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees in containers, reflecting natural forms and landscapes. Originating from Japan, Bonsai trees require bright, indirect sunlight or LED grow lights for 12-14 hours daily. They thrive in well-draining soil kept consistently moist but not waterlogged. Optimal conditions include temperatures of 60°F to 75°F and moderate humidity levels (40%-60%). Gradual acclimatization is necessary for transitioning Bonsai from indoor to outdoor environments. Common pests include aphids and spider mites. For indoor growth, the Bloomer 2 and Nurser 3 grow light set provides full-spectrum, energy-efficient lighting. Regular pruning and careful watering are essential for maintaining health and promoting aesthetic form. Bonsai trees offer a unique blend of horticulture and artistry, enhancing both indoor and outdoor spaces.

by Jille Kuipers

Bonsai plant care infographic

Table of Contents

Bonsai means tray plant

Introduction to Bonsai

Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees in containers, creating a scaled-down version of full-size trees. The word "Bonsai" comes from the Japanese words "bon" (tray or pot) and "sai" (plant). This practice has been around for over a thousand years and offers a fulfilling and meditative experience for gardeners of all levels. The goal is to create a miniaturized tree that mimics the shape and scale of full-size trees, capturing the essence of nature in a small container.

Bonsai Varieties

Bonsai trees come in a wide range of varieties, each offering unique characteristics and aesthetic appeal. Commonly used species include Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), known for its vibrant seasonal color changes and delicate leaves, and Juniper (Juniperus spp.), which is popular for its hardy nature and suitability for various styles, such as cascade and windswept. Ficus (Ficus retusa) is favored for indoor Bonsai due to its adaptability to lower light conditions and its thick, attractive trunk. Pine (Pinus spp.) species, such as Japanese Black Pine and Scots Pine, are cherished for their rugged bark and long needles, often used in traditional, formal upright styles. Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is another favorite, offering small leaves, a graceful form, and resilience, making it a great choice for beginners. Each variety brings its own set of care requirements and visual characteristics, allowing Bonsai enthusiasts to create diverse and captivating miniature landscapes. 

Bonsai Care Basics


Thorough watering is recommended every one to three days in the spring, summer, and fall; less in the winter. Ensure the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot, while underwatering can dry out the plant. It's crucial to understand the specific water needs of your Bonsai species. Some trees prefer a drier soil, while others need more constant moisture. Always use room-temperature water and check the soil moisture regularly.

Bonsai plant care watering

Placement & Light

Bonsai trees need the right amount of sunlight and airflow:

  • First three days: No direct sunlight.
  • After that: Gradually introduce to sunlight, ensuring they receive adequate light without getting scorched. Indoor Bonsai should be placed near a window with plenty of indirect light. Outdoor Bonsai should be positioned in a sheltered spot, free from strong winds but with good air circulation.
Bonsai plant care lighting requirements

Lighting Requirements for Bonsai

Lighting is a critical factor in Bonsai care. Bonsai trees require bright, indirect sunlight to thrive. Direct sunlight can be too intense, especially during the hottest parts of the day, potentially causing leaf burn. Different species have varying light needs, but in general:

  • Indoor Bonsai: Place near a south-facing window where they can receive bright, indirect light. If natural light is insufficient, use grow lights to provide the necessary intensity.
  • Artificial Lighting: If natural light is insufficient, use grow lights designed for plants. LED grow lights that provide a full spectrum of light are ideal. Position them about 30cm or 12 inches above the Bonsai and set them on a timer for 12 hours a day.
  • Outdoor Bonsai: Position them to receive morning sunlight and afternoon shade to prevent leaf burn. During winter, protect them from frost by moving them to a sheltered area or using a cold frame.
  • Indoor Bonsai Rack or Shelf Setup: If you're growing your Bonsai on a rack or shelf, consider using Nurser 3 lights. Install these lights at a height of about 40 cm above the top of the tree. This setup will provide approximately 40 micromoles of light on the top of the tree, which is suitable for healthy growth.
  • Indoor Bonsai Single Grow Light Option: If you prefer a single grow light, the Bloomer 2 is an excellent choice. This light has an E27 fitting and should be installed at a distance of 20 cm to 30 cm from the tree. This placement ensures adequate light intensity for your indoor Bonsai.
Bonsai loves bright indirect light

Potential Lighting Issues with Bonsai

Adaptation to New Lighting Conditions

When you move your Bonsai to a new location with different lighting conditions, it may shed its old leaves and grow new ones better suited to the new environment.

  • Increased Light: If the new location has more light, the tree will transpire more, meaning it will lose water faster. Ensure you adjust your watering schedule to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Decreased Light: If the new location has less light, you might notice slower growth and weaker leaves. This can make the Bonsai more susceptible to pests and diseases. Consider supplementing with artificial light if natural light is insufficient.

Signs of Inadequate Light

  • Leggy Growth: If your Bonsai grows long, light green, weak shoots with large leaves, it’s a sign it’s not getting enough light. Move it to a brighter location or use supplemental lighting.
  • Yellowing Leaves: Leaves may turn yellow and drop if the tree isn’t receiving enough light. Ensure it gets at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light daily.

Hardening Bonsai

Hardening, also known as acclimatization, is a crucial process in Bonsai cultivation that involves gradually exposing the tree to more challenging environmental conditions. This step is essential for transitioning a Bonsai from a controlled indoor environment—where grow lights may have been used—to an outdoor setting or for preparing it to withstand seasonal changes.

Bonsai plant care hardening

Steps to Harden a Bonsai

  1. Gradual Exposure: Begin by placing the Bonsai outdoors for a few hours each day in a shaded, sheltered location. Gradually increase the time spent outside over a period of weeks. If grow lights were used indoors, start by mimicking the same light duration outdoors and gradually increase light exposure.
  2. Sunlight Adjustment: Slowly introduce the tree to more direct sunlight. Start with early morning or late afternoon sun, gradually extending the exposure to midday sun as the tree acclimates. If the Bonsai was accustomed to artificial light, be cautious to avoid sudden intense sunlight that could cause leaf burn. When using growlights increase the light intensity gradually by adding more growlights.
  3. Temperature Adaptation: Expose the Bonsai to varying temperatures gradually. This is especially important in spring and fall when transitioning between indoor grow lights and outdoor environments.
  4. Wind and Humidity: Allow the tree to experience natural wind and humidity gradually. Protect it from strong winds initially and slowly reduce protection as it strengthens. This is particularly important if the Bonsai was kept in a stable indoor environment under grow lights.
  5. Watering Adjustments: As the Bonsai adapts to outdoor conditions, its water needs may change. Monitor the soil moisture closely and adjust watering frequency accordingly. Trees transitioning from grow lights to natural sunlight may require more frequent watering initially.

Benefits of Hardening

  • Enhanced Resilience: Proper hardening helps the Bonsai develop stronger, more resilient structures, making it better equipped to handle environmental stresses such as wind, rain, and temperature fluctuations.
  • Improved Health: Trees that undergo hardening typically exhibit improved overall health, as they can better adapt to natural conditions and resist pests and diseases.
  • Better Growth: Acclimated Bonsai tend to have better growth patterns and more vibrant foliage due to their ability to harness the benefits of natural sunlight and fresh air.

Potential Challenges

  • Overexposure: Be cautious not to expose the Bonsai to harsh conditions too quickly. Sudden changes can lead to leaf burn, dehydration, or shock. This is especially true for trees previously grown under artificial lights.
  • Monitoring Needs: During the hardening process, closely monitor the tree for signs of stress, such as wilting, yellowing leaves, or slowed growth, and adjust the exposure accordingly.

Using grow lights can be an excellent way to support Bonsai growth indoors, but transitioning to outdoor conditions requires careful planning and gradual adjustments. By following these steps, you can ensure your Bonsai adapts smoothly to its new environment, becoming more resilient and healthier in the process.

Bonsai Plant care Bonsai in a greenhouse

Greenhouses can provide an excellent environment for growing bonsai, as they are able to deliver the bright, consistent light these miniature trees require. The light intensity that bonsai receive in a greenhouse is typically much higher than what they would get in a home environment. This high light level (together with optimal temperature, humidity, nutrients and so forth) is actually ideal for the growth and development of bonsai, as it allows them to thrive in a controlled greenhouse setting.

In contrast, the home environment for bonsai should primarily focus on maintaining their health, rather than maximizing growth. You may have noticed that bonsai often look great when purchased from a flower shop, but then start to decline after being brought home. This is because Bonsai from the flower shop came from the greenhouse, providing the bonsai with optimal lighting conditions for a short period. However, most homes and offices do not offer the same bright, indirect sunlight that bonsai need to truly thrive long-term.

Insufficient light can cause bonsai to become leggy, lose leaves or needles, and fail to maintain their small, sculpted shape. To supplement the natural light available indoors, using a dedicated grow light can be very beneficial for bonsai that don't receive enough direct sun exposure.

The key is understanding the specific light requirements of each bonsai species and providing the right balance of bright, direct light along with some potential shade or protection as needed. This will allow you to keep your bonsai healthy and maintain their signature miniature form, even in a home environment that may not be as ideal as a greenhouse.

Tips for Optimal Bonsai Lighting

Creating a Balanced Environment

  • Avoid Direct Midday Sun: During the summer, protect your Bonsai from the intense midday sun by providing shade or moving it to a location where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Rotate the Tree: If you’re growing behind a window, ensure even growth, rotate your Bonsai regularly so all sides receive equal light exposure.

Lighting in Display Areas with Bonsai

Bonsai can be displayed on stands with frosted glass panels behind each tree. This setup creates a neutral background that highlights the branch structure during the day. At night, lights in the base of the glass panels create a glowing effect, showcasing the Bonsai in stark silhouettes. Front-edge lights shine upwards, adding to the visual appeal.

By paying close attention to your Bonsai’s lighting needs and making necessary adjustments, you can ensure it remains healthy and vibrant, enhancing its beauty and longevity.


Use a well-draining soil mix specifically formulated for Bonsai. The soil should retain enough moisture to keep the roots hydrated but not so much that it becomes waterlogged. A typical Bonsai soil mix includes organic materials such as pine bark, and inorganic components like pumice and akadama. The right soil mix is vital for the health of your Bonsai, influencing water retention, aeration, and nutrient availability.

Temperature & Humidity

Maintain a soil temperature between 70-80°F for optimal germination. Bonsai trees typically thrive in moderate humidity and should be protected from extreme temperatures and drafts. Indoor Bonsai may benefit from a humidity tray or regular misting, especially in dry climates or during winter when heating systems can lower indoor humidity levels.

Planting Your Bonsai from Seed

Preparing the Seeds

  1. Delicately scratch the outer shell of the seeds.
  2. Soak the seeds in room-temperature water for 16-24 hours. Do not exceed 24 hours.

Preparing the Soil

  1. Place the soil discs in a bowl and gradually add water until they expand 6-7 times their original size.
  2. Allow the soil to cool to room temperature and drain excess water by squeezing the soil until moist but not dripping.

Sowing the Seeds

  1. Create seven evenly spaced holes in each pot, about ½ inch deep.
  2. Place one seed in each hole and gently cover with soil without pressing down.
  3. Label the pots and place them on a flat surface that can handle moisture.

Germination and Early Care

Once the seeds are planted, follow these steps to ensure successful germination and early growth:

  1. Cover the Pots: Place a clear plastic cover or plastic wrap over the pots to create a greenhouse effect, maintaining humidity.
  2. Monitor Moisture: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Check daily and mist if needed.
  3. Provide Light: Place the pots in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. A south-facing window or under grow lights is ideal.
  4. Temperature: Maintain a soil temperature of 70-80°F. Use a seedling heat mat if necessary.
  5. Ventilation: Remove the plastic cover for a few hours each day to allow air circulation and prevent mold.

Seedlings will emerge in 2-6 weeks, depending on the species. Once they have a few sets of true leaves, gradually introduce them to more direct sunlight and begin fertilizing with a diluted, balanced fertilizer.

Pruning and Shaping

Pruning is essential to maintaining the desired shape of your Bonsai. Regularly trim back new growth to encourage a compact form. Use sharp, clean tools to make precise cuts and avoid damaging the tree. The primary goal is to remove unwanted branches and leaves, directing the plant's energy towards the main structure.

bonsai plant care pruning

Basic Pruning Techniques

  1. Structural Pruning: Focuses on the primary branches and trunk to establish the main form of the tree.
  2. Maintenance Pruning: Regularly trim new shoots and leaves to maintain the shape and health of the Bonsai.

Wiring Techniques

Wiring is a technique used to shape the branches and trunk of your Bonsai. This involves wrapping wire around the branches and trunk, then gently bending them into the desired position. The wire should be left on the tree for a few months, but not so long that it cuts into the bark.

Steps for Wiring

  1. Select the Right Wire: Use aluminum or copper wire that is about one-third the thickness of the branch.
  2. Wrap the Wire: Starting at the base, wrap the wire around the branch at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Shape the Branch: Gently bend the branch into the desired position.
  4. Monitor the Tree: Regularly check for signs of wire cutting into the bark and remove the wire before it causes damage.

Repotting Your Bonsai

Repotting is necessary every 2-3 years to provide fresh soil and space for root growth. Carefully remove the tree from its pot, prune the roots, and replant in fresh soil. This process helps to refresh the soil, remove old and compacted soil, and provide the plant with new nutrients.

Steps for Repotting

  1. Remove the Tree: Gently remove the Bonsai from its pot, taking care not to damage the roots.
  2. Prune the Roots: Trim back about one-third of the roots, focusing on removing any dead or overly long roots.
  3. Prepare the New Pot: Add a layer of fresh soil to the new pot.
  4. Replant the Tree: Place the tree in the new pot and fill in with fresh soil, ensuring the tree is stable and well-supported.
  5. Water Thoroughly: Water the tree thoroughly to help settle the soil and remove any air pockets.

Seasonal Care

Bonsai care varies with the seasons. Understanding these changes is crucial to maintaining a healthy tree.


  • Watering: Increase watering as the tree begins to grow.
  • Fertilizing: Start fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Repotting: Ideal time for repotting and root pruning.


  • Watering: Water frequently, as the tree will need more moisture.
  • Light: Ensure the tree gets plenty of light but protect from intense midday sun.
  • Pests: Watch for pests and treat promptly.


  • Watering: Gradually reduce watering as the tree's growth slows.
  • Fertilizing: Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer to prepare the tree for dormancy.
  • Pruning: Light pruning can be done to shape the tree.


  • Watering: Water sparingly, keeping the soil slightly moist.
  • Light: Ensure the tree gets enough light if kept indoors.
  • Protection: Protect outdoor Bonsai from frost and extreme cold.

Common Issues and Solutions

  • Yellowing Leaves: Often a sign of overwatering or poor drainage. Check the soil and adjust watering habits.
  • Wilting: May indicate underwatering or root damage. Ensure consistent moisture and check for root health.
  • Pests: Inspect regularly for insects such as aphids, spider mites, and scale. Use appropriate treatments if necessary.

Advanced Bonsai Techniques

For experienced enthusiasts looking to take their Bonsai skills to the next level, here are some advanced techniques:


Grafting involves joining two plants together so they grow as one. This can be used to add new branches or roots to a Bonsai.

  1. Choose the Scion and Rootstock: The scion is the part of the plant you want to graft, and the rootstock is the tree you are grafting onto.
  2. Make a Clean Cut: Ensure both the scion and rootstock have clean, matching cuts.
  3. Join Scion and Rootstock: Carefully align the cambium layers (the growth layers just under the bark) of both parts.
  4. Secure the Graft: Use grafting tape or a rubber band to hold the pieces together.
  5. Seal the Graft: Apply grafting wax to protect the graft from drying out and infections.

Air Layering

Air layering is used to produce new roots on a branch while it is still attached to the parent plant. This is useful for creating new Bonsai or correcting root problems.

  1. Select a Branch: Choose a healthy branch that you want to root.
  2. Make an Incision: Cut a ring of bark around the branch, about 1-2 inches wide.
  3. Apply Rooting Hormone: Dust the exposed area with rooting hormone to encourage root growth.
  4. Wrap with Moss: Cover the area with moist sphagnum moss.
  5. Wrap in Plastic: Cover the moss with plastic wrap to retain moisture.
  6. Wait for Roots: Roots should develop in a few months. Once they are established, the branch can be cut from the parent tree and planted.


Defoliation involves removing all the leaves from a Bonsai to encourage new growth and reduce leaf size. This technique is typically used on deciduous trees.

  1. Timing: Perform defoliation in early summer when the tree is actively growing.
  2. Remove Leaves: Carefully remove all leaves from the tree using sharp scissors, leaving the leaf stems intact.
  3. Monitor Growth: Water and care for the tree as usual, observing the new, smaller leaves that develop.

Deadwood Techniques (Jin and Shari)


Creating deadwood branches by stripping bark and allowing the branch to dry out:

  1. Choose a Branch: Select a branch to transform into deadwood.
  2. Strip the Bark: Use a sharp knife to carefully strip the bark off the branch.
  3. Shape the Deadwood: Carve and shape the exposed wood as desired.
  4. Preserve the Wood: Apply a lime sulfur solution to bleach and preserve the deadwood.


Creating deadwood areas on the trunk by stripping bark:

  1. Identify the Area: Choose an area on the trunk to expose the wood.
  2. Remove the Bark: Carefully remove the bark in the chosen area.
  3. Shape the Exposed Wood: Use tools to carve and shape the exposed wood.
  4. Apply Lime Sulfur: Treat the exposed wood with lime sulfur for preservation and aesthetics.

Bonsai Styles

Bonsai trees can be styled in a variety of traditional forms, each mimicking the natural shapes found in full-sized trees. Here are some common Bonsai styles:

Formal Upright (Chokkan)

  • Description: The trunk is perfectly straight, with branches evenly spaced.
  • Ideal Species: Japanese Black Pine, Juniper.

Informal Upright (Moyogi)

  • Description: The trunk has gentle curves, but overall grows upright.
  • Ideal Species: Maple, Elm.

Slanting (Shakan)

  • Description: The trunk slants to one side, with branches balanced to create harmony.
  • Ideal Species: Pine, Juniper.

Cascade (Kengai)

  • Description: The trunk cascades down below the base of the pot, resembling a tree growing on a cliff.
  • Ideal Species: Juniper, Cypress.

Semi-Cascade (Han-Kengai)

  • Description: Similar to cascade but the trunk bends downward at an angle, not below the pot's base.
  • Ideal Species: Pine, Juniper.

Windswept (Fukinagashi)

  • Description: The branches and trunk are shaped to look as if they are being blown by the wind.
  • Ideal Species: Pine, Elm.

Forest (Yose-ue)

  • Description: Multiple trees of varying sizes planted together to create a forest scene.
  • Ideal Species: Maple, Beech.

Literati (Bunjin-gi)

  • Description: Features a tall, slender trunk with minimal branches, emphasizing simplicity and elegance.

Ideal Species: : Pine, Juniper.

Broom (Hokidachi)

  • Description: The trunk is straight, with branches radiating in all directions from a single point, forming a rounded crown.
  • Ideal Species: Elm, Zelkova.

Multi-Trunk (Sokan)

  • Description: Two or more trunks grow from one root system, typically with a shared base.
  • Ideal Species: Maple, Beech.

Root Over Rock (Sekijoju)

  • Description: The roots grow over and around a rock, anchoring the tree.
  • Ideal Species: Pine, Juniper.

Raft (Ikadabuki)

  • Description: A single trunk lies horizontally, with branches growing upward like individual trees.
  • Ideal Species: Elm, Willow.

By following this comprehensive guide and utilizing additional resources, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of Bonsai. Enjoy the journey and the serene beauty that these miniature trees bring to your life.

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