(Left)  Most who grow bonsai outdoors water with a hose.  (Right)  Fuku-Bonsai recommends that those who have a modest number of plants who grow them indoors should water them by weekly soak saturation for  30 minutes.


By John "Jay - The Bonsai Boggy-Man" Boryczko (Farmington Hills, Michigan)

               One of the most difficult techniques to master in bonsai is proper watering.  Water is one of the most important building blocks to a healthy plant, just as it is for humans.  A bonsai also needs light, but it will survive without sun light for a while.  However, a bonsai will not survive long without water.  While under watering is bad, over watering is worse.  For beginners over watering is one of the more common mistakes when trying to learn proper bonsai care.  This article will try to demystify the techniques, to proper watering.

               The first step is to admit you may have a problem, you either over water or under water.  Let's start:

              “Hi, my name is Jay”

              (Group) “Hi Jay”,

              (Me) “I over water”, your turn.    "__________________________"    Do you feel better? 


               Now it's time to work on our issues with proper watering of our bonsai.  There are several techniques or methods for watering bonsai and a few seem obvious.  The "over-the-top method,"  where you just spray water either with a garden hose and nozzle, sink faucet, whatever you use but you spray the plant to water it. 

               All of the methods presented here have their pros and cons. I'm sure David will weigh in, (no pun intended, more on that later).  Over-the-top takes the least amount of time to perform and therefore requires the least effort.  You know the old saying; “you get what you pay for,” it applies here as well.  Requiring the least effort also means it can be the least effective.  Over the top watering leaves opportunities for dry spots, possibly causing portions of your trees roots to dry out and eventually killing your tree.  If you use the over-the-top method, one has to be certain the tree is thoroughly watered and should only be practiced by those with large trees or where large collections makes the next method impractical. 

              The next method is dunking, yes, you guessed it, and you actually submerge the plant up to the pot rim for 30 minutes.  Dunking is by far the most effective at getting every grain of your bonsai soil wet.  This is the preferred method for bonsai watering and the recommended method for watering your Fuku-Bonsai True Indoor Bonsai trees.  



                While dunking is the most effective, it does require the most effort on your part.  Remember you get what you pay for.  This method while being the most effective can be quite cumbersome to those with large trees or large collections.  Pictured here is a large bonsai; it is obvious it is not going to fit into this pot. 

              Now you know the more common methods of watering your bonsai.  It's now time for the most difficult part --- when to water. 




                  There are many techniques used to determine whether your bonsai tree needs water.  I was surprised when I read in the directions to water Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai just once a week.  When I was cutting my teeth, and I am still doing so, in bonsai watering to a schedule was taboo. 


















                  I was trained with the “check daily water when necessary” method.  I used two sophisticated tools to aide me, they are my eyes and my index finger.  I would first look at the top of the soil to see if it was wet, if it was, I do not water and checked again tomorrow.  If the soil looks dry on top.  I would use my magic finger and dig into the soil.  If the soil was wet I would not water and check again tomorrow. With David’s experience, I was shocked to read that I should only water Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai trees once a week.  With my years of experience, I knew my situation was going to be different. 

                  I have a 600-watt metal halide light that is on 10 hours a day. I felt they needed water approximately twice a week.  After a few weeks, I notice my Fuku-Bonsai trees were suffering.  To my surprise, when I followed the directions and only watered the Fuku-Bonsai trees once a week, their health improved dramatically.  On the other hand, my other bonsai trees would be dead in a week on that type of schedule! 


















                               The other method to determine if your trees need water is to weigh them.  You weigh the tree at its driest and weight it every day until you reach the driest weight again then water your tree.  The pictures show a tree at its dry weight and just after watering.  This method is absolute whether to water or not.  The issue with this method is you have to weight all of your trees every day.  This can be rather time consuming if you have a large collection or a tree that surpasses the scales maximum weight limit.

                Now that I have exposed you to the various methods of watering and the methods to determine whether your trees need to be watered, there are a few more variables to consider.  These variables will be second nature when you spend time with your new tree or trees.  Some of the things to consider are:

        1.    Is the foliage mass larger than the tree next to it?    With all other things being equal, it will probably need to be watered more often.  

        2.    The amount of air circulation (wind) or the hours of light.

        3.     Is the plant actively growing?

        4.     Humidity also affects how soon your plant will require watering. 

         5.    Moving indoors from outdoors and vice versa also affects the need for water. 

                     When you spend time observing your trees, you will be able to tell if your trees are happy with their situation.  Are the leaves shiny, or are they drooping?  These are obvious signs that your tree is under stressed.  With all of the variables described above, would it not be easier to follow the cultural sheet that came with your Fuku-Bonsai True Indoor Bonsai than it is to go it alone?

                All of the articles and those who write them for this website spend considerable time experimenting and running studies.  We are just plain excited to help others succeed.  I believe you will find that to be true!

                Mahalo!    Jay --- The Bonsai Boogie-Man!


                SOME THOUGHTS BY DAVID:    MAHALO FOR A GREAT ARTICLE JAY!  I hope everyone takes the time to think about going back to basics and really spend some time to learn to properly water!  That really is the most difficult part of growing Fuku-Bonsai!  We've really made it easy and continually try to make our products "customer-proof!"  But it's almost impossible and frustrating when our instructions are ignored!  Even in beginner classes taught by the "experts"  in traditional outdoor bonsai clubs,  there is a vey high rate of failure because the teachers don't believe our instructions and tell their students to ignore it and to water more often!  So the beginners listen to their instructors and kill their trees by over-watering! 

                We could not believe it!  How can any bonsai expert who only grows traditional outdoor bonsai tell their students to ignore the recommendations of a person who has been growing True Indoor Bonsai since 1962!  We've never had problems and couldn't believe that our customers did! In our family,  Myrtle is the resident expert on our houseplant bonsai growing indoors. Over the years,  she's developed a keen ability to just look at a plant or can tell by the weight just by picking it up. 

                Most of the problems are by customers over-watering and when the plants die, the roots are black and rotted and the trunk is soft and mushy.  Happy plants have white roots!  But if plants are under watered, they desiccate and the trunks and branches shrivel;  leaves hang down.  If you soak such plants in water for 3, 4 or more days, the plants actually rehydrate!  So better to underwater than overwater!  ~~~David  

   ***  Return to the December 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
   ***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation
   ***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
          ©  Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2013