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Some container basics

In growing bonsai, the relationship between man and nature is a very common underlying theme, as is the element of individual freedom of expression. Proper combination of species, styling and container is essential in creating a marvelous work of art that will stand the test of time. It is the harmonization of these elements that makes for a good bonsai showpiece.

Color, material, and above all, shape and size are considered when matching the right pot to a given tree. Given the variety of tastes in the world, there are no agreed upon rigid rules, but tradition and a sense of symmetry heavily influence the choice. Each is selected to complement the other, giving balance to the overall design.

So what are the factors to consider in choosing a container or pot for a bonsai tree?

Size

The size of the pot should be able to accommodate the weight of the soil, tree and other added visual accessories like rocks or figurines. If the species of tree chosen has a large sized trunk by nature, and also has heavy inner heartwood, the container should be chosen with this in mind. You should have an outline picture of the tree in a couple of years time from the moment you buy the container itself.

Watering also increases weight drastically, so make sure the container/pot is strong enough to withstand all that for years to come. Bonsai are typically displayed on a stand, bench, or shelf and, being small, are easily tipped over if the pot is too small and light, or the tree is out of balance.

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Bonsai style

The style of your bonsai tree is definitely going to play a big part in your choice of container. Aesthetics of various styles in bonsai, such as in the case of the cascade (kengai) and semi-cascade (han-kengai), necessitate a large, deep and preferably square container, because the trunk and branches will travel out from the “box” of the container. They are also planted “off center” leading to an imbalance of gravitational stability.

As a result of this style, a too small pot – which holds less soil and provides a smaller base – will put the tree and pot at risk of falling off the display. Bonsai are fragile and years of effort can be lost by a simple accident.

Also, the pot must hold enough soil to accommodate the roots with ample space for growth of two years or so. Normally, a bonsai tree will be repotted after that time, in order to refresh the soil, trim the roots and possibly increase the size of the tree.

Drainage

A hole with a mesh screen needs to be present at the bottom of the container or pot to facilitate proper drainage. The mesh screen should be of a proper size, as too small a mesh will result in clogging, and too large a mesh size will permit soil leakage to occur. Also, there must be a tray underneath the container/pot to allow for any overflow during and after watering.

Avoid using bottom trays that are too shallow or narrow. Among the most common mistakes beginners make are under-watering and over-watering. At the very least, a bottom tray will serve as a spillover holder, should you over-water your bonsai tree.

Species

Although there is no such thing as a specific pot or container made for a specific species, there are certain factors to consider as well. For example, flowering and fruiting trees require more water, and therefore need heavier or more regular watering. The weight they carry will be considerable. Then again, there are species that do not require so much moisture, like conifers. White pine, for example, do better with a drying period between each watering. Thus, a pot that is too heavy and designed for heavy loads, will be burdensome to manage, when all you need is a lighter, smaller one.

Finally, the design and color of the pot needs to fit with your tree. This requires some artistic judgment. Try to go for colors that suit your tree, especially when it flowers. Simple, earth tone, pastel colors are the best. At the end of the day, the container should not detract attention from your bonsai tree. The purpose of the container or pot is just to provide a placeholder for your bonsai to reside in. Keep that is mind, and you can’t go wrong.

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