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Care tips for bonsai

Q. I received a bonsai as a gift. How do I take care of it?

A. Bonsai are small specimens of regular trees or shrubs trained in pots to grow into beautiful shapes. This is an ancient horticultural art form and a number of plants are appropriate for use as bonsai. Traditionally, each bonsai is grown to a clearly defined style. In order for us to give appropriate care instructions, the plant will first need to be identified.

If your bonsai is a juniper, these instructions apply. Because junipers (whether they are bonsai or not) are hardy woody plants, they need to be grown outdoors. However, it would be far too much of a shock to put your bonsai outside without a slow period of acclimatization. The best procedure now would be to place it in your sunniest window, water when the soil is dry (this may be quite frequently if we have a sunny February) and raise the humidity around the plant by using a humidifier or pebble tray. As we approach the warmer days of March, put the plant outside for an hour or two each day so it gets used to outdoor conditions. Gradually increase this time until May, when you can safely leave it permanently outdoors. From this point on, the juniper should grow outside year-round. Around Thanksgiving, begin to winterize it by placing it in a window well or another protected spot close to the house and covering it with shredded mulch. Do not place it on a concrete slab that will conduct cold directly to the roots. Some bonsai gardeners spray their evergreens with an anti-dessicant to help prevent winter burning. As the warmer days of spring approach, gradually remove the mulch and place the plant in a spot where it receives appropriate sun and water.