You can always associate patience with a bonsai plant. Looking at the plant will make you think of all the processes that it went through to see the miniature, visually pleasant output. This age-old plant growing technique finds its roots in Asia, and it represents aesthetics and forbearance.
Generally, woody plants are being used to make a bonsai. However, one can also make a succulent bonsai plant without much of the hassle. The reason for this is the fact that most succulent plants are hardy and small. They also don’t mind being trimmed at all. Therefore, succulents that are naturally smaller in size are often considered the most eligible for bonsais. And there may be many small-sized succulents that can be used for bonsai; however, the jade plant is the most commonly used.
Bonsai plants are usually planted and groomed in shallow dishes where their roots have very little room to grow and spread. The roots need to be pruned to keep them small. However, this is not the case with succulents bonsai. They don’t need to prune their roots to keep them small, making them easier to care for than other classic bonsai.
What Is Bonsai
Bonsai are ordinary shrubs and trees specifically dwarfed using pruning branches and roots while training the former to form certain lines and shapes with wires. Though this plant raising and beautification technique originated in China 1,000 years ago, it was developed and pursued by the Japanese. In fact, the first-ever dwarfed Takashina Takakane photographed trees that were put in a pot in 1309.
Bonsai masters drew inspiration from nature to create their masterpieces. For example, they try to make miniature versions of trees in rocky portions of the mountain or those overhanging cliffs – Japanese bonsai masters associated the philosophical concept of the mutability of things in their masterpieces.
Why Are Succulents Ideal for Bonsai
Succulents are generally ideal for making bonsai plants because, first and foremost, a vast majority of them are naturally small. They share this characteristic with other non-succulent bonsai plants. It won’t be tedious to trim them now and then. Plus, they also have smaller roots that don’t need pruning to keep the plant size small.
Aside from these, succulents are naturally hardy to challenging environmental situations like drought, neglect, frost, and soft shade. Though some varieties exhibit signs of deterioration when exposed and kept in less-than-ideal environments, they are generally tenacious and unwavering in these harsh climates. These made them ideal for bonsai making.
How Does Succulent Bonsai Work
The key to transforming your succulent into a great-looking bonsai plant is their health and condition before turning them into a bonsai. First, choose healthy and stable succulents with thick foliage. If your chosen succulent has lesser spaces between its leaves and stems, you won’t have a hard time forming them into the shape you have in mind. Then, you can trim them without the plant looking sparse.
You also have to ensure that you’re using a shallow dish with an excellent drainage capacity. It has to be shallow to help you culture the growth and spreading of the roots. If it spreads as it usually should, you can also expect your succulent plant to grow as big as its roots. Since you’re making a bonsai succulent, size, line, and shape are essential. You can control all of these elements by limiting their root size.
You should still use a better-draining pot to keep the roots from rotting and decaying. And since its appearance is crucial to the overall appeal of the plant, you can also decorate the topmost layer of the pot with colorful stones and pebbles. These stones can also keep the water or soil moisture in, keeping your plant healthy.
When trimming your succulent bonsai, think of the shape you’re aiming for. If you have a clear mental picture of the images you want to achieve, it’s easier for you to trim the plant accordingly.
Pros and Cons of Succulent Bonsai
- A succulent bonsai has an unparalleled aesthetic value by itself — and it can beautify any room or space by its mere presence.
- The process of making bonsai plants is calming and builds one’s patience and character.
- The process allows you to be more artistic as you trim and cut the stems to form the shape you’re aiming for.
- Succulents are naturally hardy and small, so you won’t have difficulty forming them into the shape you have in mind.
- You need to have a lot of technical know-how when making succulent bonsais — you have to know which succulent variety to use, learn how to transform them into bonsais, and be artistic enough to form them into your visualized shape.
- It also takes a lot of patience before you can fully enjoy the fruits of your labor. This may seem counterintuitive for people growing succulents since these plants are preferred for their neglect-resistant nature.
Methods to Make Succulent Bonsai
Pruning is the strategic cutting of unwieldy branches with the use of pruners. You need to prune large leaves in succulent bonsais to let the light shine on its inner stems. You also need to flush your pruning cuts with the main branch to allow them to form small callus. You need to trim your plant once or twice per week to leave its density and size down to a controllable level.
Wiring succulents to make a bonsai involves the use of stiff wires to wrap around certain parts of the plant to allow them to grow into your desired shape. Do this in stages to keep your plant from getting stressed.
Just like in watering succulents, you need to be careful in watering your bonsai succulents. Setting a proper watering schedule will do wonders for your plant. The trick here is to find a balance between making the soil moist enough to keep the plant healthy but dry enough to keep excess moisture from rotting the roots and let the plants grow bigger. The cardinal rule in watering succulents is checking if the soil is already dried up. When it is, that’s the right time to water them.
Even if succulent bonsais are small, they still grow. So, when you see that your succulent bonsai has outgrown its pot, repot them in a bigger pot with a good draining capacity. Ideally, you only need to repot them once every year.
When you repot your succulent bonsai, take advantage of that time to trim the more extensive roots and cut the smaller ones to make way for new roots.
You can use small and colorful stones and pebbles to decorate your plant. Some succulents enjoy direct sunlight, so if you choose these kinds of succulents and want to better your presentation, expose them to direct sunlight.
How to Make Succulent Bonsai
Step 1 – Choose a succulent variety for bonsai
As mentioned above, it’s best to choose healthy and stable succulents with thick foliage. You can go for premium Haworthia succulents or the world’s best dolphin succulents. If your chosen succulent has lesser spaces between its leaves and stems, you won’t have a hard time forming them into the shape you have in mind. You can trim them without the plant looking sparse.
Step 2 – Use a small dish with a great water-draining capacity
The suitable succulent bonsai dish has to be shallow. This will help you culture the growth and spreading of the roots. If it spreads as it usually should, you can also expect your succulent plant to grow as big as its roots.
Step 3 – Trim the leaves and stems
Before starting your bonsai project, think of a shape you want to achieve for your plant. As you put them in the dish and cover them with potting mix, you can now get ready to start trimming its leaves and steam. With a bonsai with thicker foliage, cutting to form the shape you’re aiming for won’t be a problem.
Step 4 – Decorate them
The bonsai succulent’s appearance is as important as its health and shape. So, take time to decorate the topmost layer of the potting mix with colorful stones and pebbles. These stones can also keep the water or soil moisture in, keeping your plant healthy.
How to Care for Succulent Bonsai
Step 1 – Never overwater them
As you already know, succulents are sensitive to overwatering as they can rot their roots. The same principle applies to bonsai succulents. Overwatering can also force its roots to spread, making the whole plant grow more prominent. To keep this from happening, only water your bonsai succulent once every one to two weeks and only when you see its surface dry.
Step 2 – Repot when necessary
To recapitulate, when you see that your succulent bonsai has outgrown its pot, repot them in a bigger pot with a good draining capacity. Ideally, you only need to repot them once every year. While repotting, take the small roots out and trim the old ones. This will keep your bonsai roots in healthy condition.
Step 3 – Fertilize your succulents
Remember that planting succulents in soil with good drainage will keep them healthy. But you can also make your plant lusher and healthier by applying nutritive succulent fertilizers once in a while. Also, it’s best to ensure keeping succulents away from your pets as this will only defeat the purpose why you’re making them lusher in the first place.
Do’s and Don’ts With Succulent Bonsai
- Take note of the different signs of dying succulents.
- Consider rearranging your succulents before they get sunburnt.
- Widen your collection by adding rare succulents.
- Try growing bunny ear cactus indoor and growing low-light succulents under artificial light.
- Overwater your succulents.
- Forget to repot them when you see them outgrowing their container.
- Refuse to choose the right succulent for bonsai-growing.
FAQ About Succulent Bonsai
Can you bonsai a jade plant?
According to experts, the Jade plant is best as a succulent bonsai specimen because of its distinct appearance and low maintenance nature. Even if you prune them heavily, they will still grow healthy and bloom as bonsai.
Is bonsai cruel?
Although some people claim that bonsai is a cruel practice because it’s akin to crippling the plant, reducing its capacity to grow, the process itself requires a lot of care and patience. You need to water, prune, repot, and fertilize them diligently to keep them in good shape. The answer to the question ‘is bonsai cruel’ depends on how the person sees achieving this dwarfed state.
Can you use bonsai soil to grow succulents?
Yes, you can because bonsai soil also has a good drainage capacity, the same as succulent potting mix.
Where can you buy bonsai succulents?
You can buy bonsai succulents from many places — from online bonsai specialty stores to traditional brick and mortar plant shops. You can also see a few specialty shops in Etsy, Amazon, and other eCommerce stores.
Transforming your favorite succulent plant into a bonsai version takes more than knowledge, skills, and practice. Above all these, you need to have that kind of patience to diligently choose, trim, prune, decorate, and maintain your plant to keep its shape and healthy condition. Consider the tips we shared here when you decide to grow your first succulent bonsai. With dedication and passion for growing the plant, you will surely succeed.
Photos from: RealityImages / depositphotos.com, serejkakovalev / depositphotos.com, Natalia7Savilova / depositphotos.com and eskaparate / depositphotos.com.