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The continued life of every species depends on its ability to adapt to ever-changing environments. Adapting to changes in the food supply, climatic conditions, light availability, access to water, humidity levels, and effective defense mechanisms all contribute to their continued survival.
Bonsai trees manifest a plant’s survival ability in dramatically altered but managed environments. The tree, now removed from its natural environment, 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 knowing the natural preferences of the tree species and whether they can be grown outdoors or require a managed indoor environment.
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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:
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 wellbeing.
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
Factors to Consider for Indoor Lighting:
- Light intensity is generally measured in foot-candle, lumens, or lux.
- Distance from the light source, generally 12 – 24 inches for foliage houseplants.
- Light quality – grow lights tend to be labeled as blue, red, or white/balanced light.
- Light duration
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, so 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 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.
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
Examples of Plant-Specific Requirements and Their Style Potential
|Plant||USDA Hardiness Zones||Light Requirements||Soil Requirements||Bonsai Style Potential|
|Japanese Fir (Abies firma)||6b – 9a||Full sun||Good drainage, moist, occasionally wet||Kabudachi Clump|
|Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum)||5a to 9a||Full sun||Good drainage, moist, occasionally dry, occasionally wet||Sekijoju Root over Rock|
|Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)||5b -8a||Dappled light||Good drainage, moist||Yose-ue Forest|
|Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)||6b – 8a||Full sun||Good drainage, moist||Kengai Full Cascade|
|Chinese Hackberry (Celtis sinensis)||7a – 9b||Full sun to partial shade||Good drainage, moist, occasionally dry, occasionally wet||Chocan Formal Upright|
|Robust Green Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Robusta Green’)||4a – 9b||Full sun||Good drainage||Kengai Semi-Cascade|
|Sargent’s Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii)||4a – 9b||Full sun||Good drainage, moist, occasionally dry||Moyogi Informal Upright|
|Olive (Olea europaea)||8b – 10a||Full sun >6 hrs a day||Good drainage, moist||Bunjin Literati|
|Dragon’s-eye Pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’)||4a – 7b||Full sun||Good drainage||Ikadabuki Raft|
|Black Pine (Pinus rigida)||4a – 7b||Full sun or partial shade||Good drainage, moist, occasionally dry||Sokan Double Trunk|
|Higan Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella)||4a – 8b||Full sun||Good drainage, moist||Weeping|
|Hiryu Azalea (Rhododendron ponticum)||6a – 9b||Partial Shade (2 – 6 hours sun)||Good drainage, moist||Neagari Exposed Root|
|Korean Lilac (Syringa oblata)||4a – 7b||Full sun or partial shade||Good drainage, moist||Shakan Slanting|
|Chinese Elm (Ulmus × elegantissima)||5b – 8a||Full sun||Good drainage, moist||Hokidashi Broom|
Bonsai Basic Fundamentals
Bonsai is an art; to become good at bonsai, you must master the fundamentals. These include the following but are not limited to. Click the links in the table to learn more about each subject.
|Placement||Pruning||Style / Form|
|Repotting||Deadwood||Growing from Cuttings|
|Soil||Surface Roots||Growing from Seed|
Frequently Asked Questions
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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