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What and when do I feed my bonsai?

To keep your bonsai in good shape and to maintain healthy growth requires regular feeding at the right time of year with the correct fertilizer. Fertilizer must be continually replenished due to a certain amount being washed out each time the plant is watered.

osmocoteYou can get many different types of fertilizers, in a variety of forms. The most common is pellet-form (such as 'Osmocote'). This is a slow-release fertilizer which will take care of feeding requirements for several weeks at a time and is probably the type of fertilizer most used by bonsai enthusiasts. Soluble powder and liquid feeds are also used for rapid effect over short-term periods. These are applied to the soil with a watering can and are used up relatively quickly.

To understand exactly how your bonsai should be fertilized, you must be able to understand the basic make-up of fertilizers. Most fertilizers contain three basic elements: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K).

Nitrogen is an essential ingredient for leaf and stem growth. Too much nitrogen however will make the tree produce long, stringy growth. Phosphorus encourages healthy root growth and helps the growth of new buds, whilst also protecting against disease and unfavorable winter conditions. Potassium (potash) encourages the formation of flowers and fruit, and is vital in the fight against disease.

As a general rule, feed your bonsai from early spring to late summer. Use a balanced fertilizer with a fairly low nitrogen content year round, and one with as little (or no) nitrogen as possible in autumn to aid the tree (so the tree can retain its energy) through the winter.

Most commercial fertilizers contain all three main nutrients plus some trace elements. One type of fertilizer usually only obtainable from bonsai nurseries has an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) ratio of 0:10:10. This is an autumn feed (containing no nitrogen) which will harden off the current season's growth in readiness for the winter.

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