Where to Place Bonsai Trees For Optimal Growth?

The continued survival of every species is dependent on its ability to adapt to constantly changing environments. The capacity to manage changes in food supply, climatic conditions, light availability, access to water, humidity levels, and strong defensive mechanisms all contribute to their ongoing existence.

Bonsai trees manifest a plant’s survival ability in dramatically altered but managed environments. The tree, now removed from its natural habitat, depends on the gardener’s skills to ensure its continued survival. That includes where it is placed.

Knowing the optimal environment for your Bonsai tree placement can be challenging as you must consider all the factors mentioned. The starting point is understanding the natural preferences of the tree species and whether they can be grown outdoors or require a managed indoor environment.

The Best Place to Put Your Bonsai For Optimal Growth
The Best Place to Put Your Bonsai For Optimal Growth

Housekeeping

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Factors to Consider for Positioning Your Bonsai

The aim is to provide your plant with a growing environment replicating the specific species’ natural habitat. Bonsai trees and shrubs are especially affected by the following factors:

Light

Your Bonsai’s food production process (photosynthesis) entails converting water and CO2 into sugars, starches, and other needed substances using light energy. Light, therefore, is an essential element for the plant’s well-being.

Plants are generally divided into high, medium, and low light requirement groups measured in footcandles or lux. Further, plant groups have unique photoperiodism requirements (the amount of dark required). Plants have either long-day, short-day, or day-neutral photoperiod requirements.

Specifications for light requirements (see sample table below) are generally related to sun and shade, like this:

  • Low Light: Less than 2 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Dappled Shade: For plants that generally grow beneath a canopy of other plants and can grow in the shade but with light levels above 30 lux. It varies according to the plant species and their natural habitat.
  • Partial Shade: Plants need between 2 and 6 hours of sunlight daily. Generally, this excludes
  • Full Sun: The plant requires a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
Consider the Amount of Light Your Bonsai Requires
Consider the Amount of Light Your Bonsai Requires

Factors to Consider for Indoor Lighting:

  • Light intensity is generally measured in foot-candle, lumens, or lux.  
  • Distance from the light source, typically 12 – 24 inches for foliage houseplants.
  • Light quality – grow lights tend to be labeled as blue, red, or white/balanced light. 
  • Light duration

Humidity
While misting is commonly believed to be a solution to low humidity levels, relative humidity is the air’s ability to hold water vapor at a given temperature. Hence, adding water droplets serves little purpose. Misting also increases the likelihood of foliar leaf spot diseases.

A better option is to invest in a room humidifier. Note that alternative methods of clumping plants together and placing water in trays filled with LECA make little difference to plants requiring a humidity level above 60% RH.

Watering

Watering is plant-specific, as seen from the table at the end of this post. Also, watering is influenced the growing medium’s composition, which influences water management capacities (drainage and retention).

Evaporation levels are higher in direct sunlight and at higher temperatures, so make the necessary adjustments. Organic matter in soils increases the cation exchange capacity (CEC), i.e., the soil’s ability to attract and retain moisture and nutrients.

Temperature

Tropical tree species require year-round temperatures roughly equivalent to the ambient temperature in your living room. Subtropical bonsai trees can tolerate slightly lower temperatures and typically flourish in winter months when the temperature is significantly below that of a typical room.

USDA Hardiness Zones

Table of the USDA Hardiness Zones
USDA Hardiness Zones

Examples of Plant-Specific Requirements and Their Style Potential

PlantUSDA Hardiness ZonesLight RequirementsSoil RequirementsBonsai Style Potential
Japanese Fir (Abies firma)6b – 9aFull sunGood drainage, moist, occasionally wetKabudachi Clump
Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum)5a to 9aFull sunGood drainage, moist, occasionally dry, occasionally wetSekijoju Root over Rock
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)5b -8aDappled lightGood drainage, moistYose-ue Forest
Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)6b – 8aFull sunGood drainage, moistKengai Full Cascade
Chinese Hackberry (Celtis sinensis)7a – 9bFull sun to partial shadeGood drainage, moist, occasionally dry, occasionally wetChocan Formal Upright
Robust Green Juniper (Juniperus chinensis  ‘Robusta Green’)4a – 9bFull sunGood drainageKengai Semi-Cascade
Sargent’s Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii)4a – 9bFull sunGood drainage, moist, occasionally dryMoyogi Informal Upright
Olive (Olea europaea)8b – 10aFull sun >6 hrs a dayGood drainage, moistBunjin Literati
Dragon’s-eye Pine (Pinus densiflora  ‘Oculus-draconis’)4a – 7bFull sunGood drainageIkadabuki Raft
Black Pine (Pinus rigida)4a – 7bFull sun or partial shadeGood drainage, moist, occasionally drySokan Double Trunk
Higan Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella)4a – 8bFull sunGood drainage, moistWeeping
Hiryu Azalea (Rhododendron ponticum)6a – 9bPartial Shade (2 – 6 hours sun)Good drainage, moistNeagari Exposed Root
Korean Lilac (Syringa oblata)4a – 7bFull sun or partial shadeGood drainage, moistShakan Slanting
Chinese Elm (Ulmus × elegantissima)5b – 8aFull sunGood drainage, moistHokidashi Broom

Frequently Asked Questions

Should Bonsai be in direct sunlight?

It depends on the bonsai plant. Plants such as the popular Dragon’s Eye Pine, Olive, and Trident Maple require full sun, and the Hiryu Azalea needs partial shade (2 – 6 hours of sunlight).

Where should I keep a bonsai?

Most Bonsai do well outdoors – depending on the specific plant’s light requirements and temperature tolerances. Light-loving plants should be kept near South-facing windows in the Northern hemisphere for maximum light exposure.

Should I mist my bonsai tree?

If you’re misting your plants, that is needed, but misting to create humidity is ineffective. To boost humidity levels above 60% RH, invest in a humidifier.

Should I rotate my bonsai tree?

The purpose of plant rotation is to expose the different facets of the plant to light equally. If you don’t rotate a plant exposed to a single light source on the side, this side will grow faster and create an imbalance.

Conclusion on Bonsai Positioning

Saying that Bonsai must be positioned at any given place is like saying people like soup – it just isn’t true for everybody. Regarding Bonsai, where your plant is placed depends on the species and their evolved needs.

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