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How do I repot and root prune my bonsai tree?

Re-potting indoor bonsai trees

A bonsai will need re-potting when the root ball is solid and firm or if the pot is aesthetically too small, causing the bonsai to look top heavy and out of proportion with the pot.
Additionally, it is important when you repot a bonsai to ensure that the pot and the tree look balanced.

Also, it is quite amazing how different the bonsai can look depending upon the pot you choose.
Below are 4 images of ‘Angus’ the Chinese Elm bonsai in 4 different pots. Each of the four pots is the correct size, so this is an aesthetic choice.

Which pot would you choose?

Choosing a bonsai pot

In fact, we asked our Google+ and Facebook followers which pot they preferred and the genral consensus was Pot D.
This is a good choice, the pot is in harmony with the bonsai and is the correct size but not over-powering; it does not detract from the bonsai but adds to the overall composition.

We now follow Holly as she re-pots ‘Angus the Chinese Elm’ into this beautiful oval olive-green ceramic bonsai pot.

1. Firstly, carefully remove the bonsai from the old pot. Holly is using a bonsai spatula to help ease the root ball from the pot.

Take the bonsai out of the pot

2. Once removed from the pot, use an old chopstick to gently tease the long straggly roots round the edge of the root ball. The aim is to loosen the soil all the way round the edge of the root ball so that you can root prune your bonsai tree.

Teasing out the roots

3. As you can see, Holly has simply loosened the roots around the edge. The rest of the root ball remains intact. Another point to add, only loosen the outer 1/5 of the root ball.

Loosen the roots of the bonsai

4. Using a sharp pair of bonsai pruning shears Holly removes the straggly lose ends of the roots around the root ball.

How do I root prune my bonsai tree?

5. Holly has prepared the new pot with mesh to cover the drainage holes and an anchor wire is in position.

pot prepartion 2

6. She has covered the base on the pot in a layer of bonsai potting soil (in these photos we are using a quality Japanese Bonsai soil called Akadama, which is great for drainage but also encourages the growth of the fine feeder roots).

Fill the pot with academia

7. Holly now positions the bonsai into the new pot making sure that it is balanced and that the base of the trunk sits level with the rim of the pot. Ultimately the soil level will be just below the rim of the pot to aid watering.

Placing the bonsai in the new pot

8. Holly now secures the root ball to the pot using the anchor wire. This prevents the bonsai from wobbling whilst the new roots are growing.

9. Next, Holly adds the soil evenly around the root ball using a soil scoop.

10. She works the Akadama carefully around the roots using a chopstick, ensuring there are no air pockets.
Using chopstick

11. Once she has worked the soil in and made it neat (using a coir brush), Holly soaks the bonsai in water for 10 minutes, so that the soil is saturated. She then lets it drain.

allow to drain

12. Lastly, please meet ‘Angus’ the Chinese Elm bonsai in his new pot.

The final picture
Bonsai re-potting tutorial by Lloyd Noall from Bonsai Direct

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4 replies

  1. Hi,
    I’ve recently got a Fukien tea tree and it looks a little top heavy. I really can’t decide how to prune it and know I don’t have the experience yet to determine which branch to cut back but I want to do it now whilst the branches are still very fine and less tricky to trim back and less likely to leave scarring.
    Would I be able to send photos of this for your opinion on the direction I should take with the tree?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Susan,
      Kindly add photos to the link below – if you could also add your order number please as we are relatively short staffed at the moment (due to social distancing measures) so we are trying to prioritise enquires regarding bonsai purchased from our own store.
      with thanks
      Bonsai Direct

  2. Do you have smaller bags of Akadama? Thanks.

    1. Hi Dennis
      The 2 litre bag is very small:
      I hope this helps
      kind regards Bonsai Direct

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