Feeding your bonsai

By October 1, 2017 No Comments


While trees in nature grow in an abundance of soil space and can easily absorb nutrients from the same soil as needed, bonsai trees grows in a small pot with the possibility of having less soil and the type of soil that holds no nutrients, making feeding vital to the bonsai’s health.   Fertiliser helps the bonsai tree to grow vigorously, by offering the essential elements and nutrients needed for the tree’s growth particularly nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and other elements in minor quantities.

Types of fertilisers for bonsai

Feeding bonsai can be divided into three types of fertilisers:

  1. Slow release fertiliser

Slow release granules
  1. Organic fertiliser
Organic fertilisers in the form of pellets
  1. Liquid fertiliser

Liquid fertilsers

Although each type of fertiliser gives the tree nutrients, but each type will works in a different way on the bonsai tree.

Slow release fertilisers

As the name indicates, slow release fertilisers will release nutrients to the bonsai tree in a slow pace.  The slow release fertiliser is a blend of dry soluble granular formula that can easily be spread on the soil surface.  The granules will dissolve by every watering, releasing nutrients to the soil that later will be absorbed by the bonsai tree.  They will keep releasing nutrients until they dissolve completely.  Bonsai trees should be re-fed  every 30 days.  Make sure to sprinkle all over the soil surface but away from the nebari area.  These chemical fertilisers offers a quicker and instant effect on the bonsai trees.

Another method to apply fertiliser to a bonsai pot, is the use of fertiliser baskets.  Slow release fertiliser will be placed inside the baskets and a good number of baskets will be placed all around the pot.  Avoid placing them close to the trunk.

Organic fertilisers

Organic fertilisers is a basically formed from organic animal manure of different animals such as cow manure, horse manure, chicken manure etc.  Fish bone and blood are also used to do different organic fertiliser.  Each type of fertiliser offers different nutrients and other ingredients into the soil.  It also gives away nutrients in different percentages.  This fertiliser is a environmental friendly than chemical slow release fertilisers.  The organic fertiliser works in a longer way, and it will need moisture inside the soil to break down the manure content to give away it’s nutrients.  This means that, the organic fertilizer should never be placed in a fertiliser basket, this will make the bacteria difficult to work in.

Cow manure

Liquid fertilisers

Liquid fertilisers are divided into two types:

  1. Feeding directly into the soil
  2. Feeding through the leaves

Bonsai species like the junipers and the pines get’s their energy through their foliage, and that means that the less foliage a juniper or pine tree has, the less chance to survive, and the more vigorous the foliage the more energy is passing from the leaves to the rooting system and vice versa.  For the conifers, it is vital to feed the bonsai with a liquid fertiliser every now and then, but this also applies to the deciduous trees.

The liquid fertiliser offers and instant supply of energy to the bonsai.


Feeding should be carried out in a regular pace, every week.  Make sure to feed with different type of fertilisers that will give different types of nutrients or micro nutrients.  One basic fertiliser that can be used on bonsai is the ‘Miracle Grow’ .  The only problem with ‘Miracle Grow’ is that it is rich in nitrogen and thus, the tree will tend to enlarge the leaf size.

Another good fertiliser, mostly for bonsai trees which produces flowers is: ‘One’ from Valagro.  This encourages good healthy leaves and encourage flowers to bloom.


NPK is the abbreviation of the macro nutrients, that trees and plants need in bigger quantities.  These elements are always in this order:
  1. Nitrogen:  Help the foliage to grow vigourously.  Yellowish leaves might be the lack of nitrogen.  On the other hand, too much nitrogen will slow down the fruit or flower manufacture. since the energy will goes all towards manufacturing foliage.
  2. Phosphorus:  This is very crucial to the roots, fruit and flowers.  Extra feeding with phosphorus will result in a more blooming flower bonsai.
  3. Potassium:  This important nutrient will makes the internal bonsai structure stronger, while increasing the tree’s resistance to stress and diseases.

NPK Definition

Definition of NPK fertilisers

Normally, and NPK sign carries three numbers: NPK 20-20-20, or NPK 0-10-10. These numbers means the values of how much macro nutrients is included in the mix.  In the first example: NPK 20-20-20, it indicates that there are equal parts of the each macro nutrients: 20% of Nitrogen, 20% of Phosphorus, and 20% of Potassium.  In the second example, there is 0% if Nitrogen while 10% of both Phosphorus and Potassium.

To give a more practical explanation, use NPK 20-20 -20 for conifers, and NPK 0-10-10 on bonsai trees that needs to have restricted leaf sizes but on the other hand, needs root and healthier encouragement.

One should look at each and every bonsai tree and feed in a different way using different kinds of NPK fertilisers, depending upon the tree’s needs.

When not to feed

Never feed a bonsai tree after repotting.  Permit at least one month to feed a newly repotted tree.  Another circumstance that one should not feed is to an unhealthy tree.  Leave the tree to recover, they restart feeding.

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Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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