Bonsai pot selection
Put simply, a bonsai is a tree in a pot. This means that both the bonsai tree and the bonsai pot contribute significantly to the overall composition and the selection of the right bonsai pot has an extremely important influence on the effect of a bonsai.
A suitable bonsai pot significantly enhances a bonsai but without the right pot a bonsai will not be able to exploit its potential. An unsuitable bonsai pot can downright spoil the visual impression of a good bonsai.
The selection of the bonsai pot is an often neglected aspect of the bonsai styling. Admittedly, finding the right bonsai pot is not easy. But - choosing the wrong one is expensive, as the right pot has to be bought again later.
It is very difficult to establish universal rules for choosing a bonsai pot. Many elements play a role. We would like to try to give at least a few basic pointers here.
What should be considered when choosing the right bonsai pot ?
1. State of development of a bonsai: Prebonsai (= bonsai blanks) should only be potted in a ceramic bonsai pot when the development of the bonsai is well advanced. A plastic bonsai pot can be used as a transition. It is significantly cheaper and the price is better suited to a prebonsai.
2. Size of the root ball: If the root ball is too big for the correct pot, then a larger pot should not be chosen. It is better to reduce the root ball in the next few years by repotting the bonsai with root pruning so that it fits into the optimal bonsai pot.
3. Dimensions: The outer dimensions (usually the length of the bonsai pot) and the visible shape of the bonsai pot should match the bonsai tree.
4. Color of the bonsai pot: The color of the pot should emphasize the charisma of the bonsai tree discreetly in the background. A pot with a dominant color can spoil the overall picture of our bonsai design.
5. Structure of the pot surface: A bonsai with a coarse bark fits best in a pot with a strongly structured surface. Conversely, in many cases a tree with smooth bark fits into a bonsai pot with a smooth surface.
6. Glaze: Certain tree species such as conifer bonsai are best potted in an unglazed bonsai pot. Deciduous tree species, especially flowering bonsai, fit well in glazed bonsai pots.
7. Shape of the bonsai pot: For a "coarse" tree marked by life, a rectangular bonsai pot is usually better than an oval or round pot.
Selection criteria for bonsai pots in detail:
The information given here is based primarily on aesthetic considerations. For plant-physiological reasons, it may be the case that some bonsai tree species have to deviate from the "ideal". E.g. bonsai with strongly growing roots (elm bonsai, maple bonsai) or also flowering bonsai (azalea bonsai) and fruit-bearing tree species (apple bonsai) often need deeper bonsai pots.
Development status of the bonsai tree
A bonsai should not be potted into a final bonsai pot until the tree has essentially finished the developing to a bonsai. The development of a good trunk approach, a corresponding trunk thickness and the formation of the main branches should be largely completed. Often a bonsai is taken out of the field or the large container and potted far too early. The further development of the bonsai proceeds slowly after potting. Results that can be achieved in the field or in a large plastic growing pot in a year will often not be achieved in a bonsai pot in 4-5 years. The attempt to shape the unfinished tree to fit a pot usually fails or takes much longer than in a nursery pot or field.
Size of the root ball
The size of the bonsai pot depends on the size of the bonsai - not on the size of the root ball. If the root ball is too big, it should and must be reduced. If the bonsai is repotted regularly with root pruning, the size of the root ball is no problem when choosing the right bonsai pot.
Bonsai have to be repotted every 3-5 years, depending on the tree species. With a healthy deciduous tree, repotting the bonsai with a root cut is easy at the right time.
And the root cut is important. If this is not done, the root ball of rapidly growing tree species (e.g. elm bonsai, maple bonsai) will soon no longer fit into the correct pot and the proportion of fine roots will decrease constantly. At some point the bonsai will have problems. It will get weaker.
In addition, the bonsai will eventually look strange in larger and larger pots. The proportions of tree and pot soon no longer match.
⧉ White pine bonsai - bonsai pot is too large
Dimensions of the bonsai pot
When customers buy a pot, we are often asked how much a new pot needs to be larger. Our answer is usually astonishing: If the bonsai has not grown significantly larger since the last potting, you don't need a larger pot.
How big should an optimal bonsai pot be ?
For bonsai that are significantly higher than wide, the length of the bonsai pots (oval and rectangular) should be about 2/3 the height of the tree. In the case of very wide trees, the starting point for estimating the length of the pot is the width of the bonsai instead of the height. The value of 2/3 corresponds to the "golden ratio". The golden ratio is found very often in nature and has a harmonious effect on the observer (who has got used to these proportions all his life).
In most bonsai pots, the width of the bonsai pot is related to the length of the pot. The pot width for the oval and rectangular pots is approx. 70-85% of the pot length. This means that you only need to look for a particularly wide bonsai pot if the tree has a very wide root ball. Normally, since it is given, it is of no importance for the selection.
⧉ Apple bonsai with matching bonsai pots
The height of a bonsai pot harmonizes particularly well with the tree if the height of the pot corresponds to the thickness of the trunk just above the roots.
It becomes difficult with young trees with a slender trunk. Often you cannot pot them in a matching, flat pot. There are only two long-term solutions. The root ball can be made flatter over the years by repotting with root pruning or the trunk has to be thicker (e.g. by thickening with sacrificial branches or sacrificial branches) so that it harmonizes with a suitable pot.
Bonsai in the semi-cascade shape and especially trees designed in the cascade style are potted in significantly higher pots.
Color of the bonsai pot
Before a bonsai tree is potted, it must be considered which (especially color) changes the bonsai undergoes during a growing season. It is mostly potted before budding. When choosing the pot, the leaf color during the growing season or the flower color, for example, cannot be seen at this point.
⧉ Color wheel
⧉ Japanese maple with a dominant bonsai pot
In any case, the color should not be too dominant so that the charisma of the bonsai does not fade into the background.
In the case of bonsai with conspicuous colors, the color of the bonsai pot should not be identical to the tree. In many cases, pots in the complementary color of the color wheel shown work best. That means orange fruits (e.g. from firethorn bonsai) go well with a blue bonsai pot or green pots are well suited for the red leaves of some varieties of Japanese maple bonsai.
The color wheel is a good basic guide, but should not be used too strictly. If the complementary color is too conspicuous, the adjacent color, for example, can also be selected.
If the color of a glazed bonsai pot is too intense, you can also look for an unglazed pot in the desired clay color. The colors of unglazed bonsai pots are mostly closer to the earth, more subtle.
The choice of pot color can also influence the energy that a bonsai design emits. Warm colors (in the color wheel from yellow to red to violet) give the bonsai warmth and balance, cold colors (remaining colors in the color wheel) convey robustness and freshness.
⧉ Structure of bonsai pots coarse vs. smooth
Structure of the bonsai pot surface
The structure of the pot surface should be selected to match the structure of the bark of the bonsai tree. I.e. the coarser the bark, the coarser the structure of the surface of the bonsai pot should be so that the pot underlines the "wildness" of the bonsai.
The overall appearance of the bonsai also plays a role here. A tree marked by life with a lot of dead wood is best potted in a coarsely structured bonsai pot. A smooth surface would weaken the character of such a bonsai.
Glazed or unglazed bonsai pots
Basically, glazed bonsai pots are particularly suitable for deciduous trees and unglazed pots for conifers. Conifers don't look good in conspicuously glazed pots. Likewise, an azalea bonsai with its splendor of flowers in an inconspicuous, unglazed pot would not come into its own.
This does not mean that an unglazed bonsai pot is not suitable for a deciduous tree. If, for example, no suitable, pale glazed pot can be found, a good, hand-made pot in a suitable clay color can significantly enhance a deciduous tree bonsai.
Conifer bonsai in glazed pots are less common. If a glazed pot is available here, the glaze should be pale.
Shape of the bonsai pot
The shape of the bonsai pot largely determines the overall composition. Before you decide on a pot shape you should think about the character of the bonsai tree or the overall composition.
Usually the appearance of a bonsai is divided into female and male. You could also call it softer and more angular.
Since many bonsai trees combine both sides, this decision is often very difficult. For some bonsai enthusiasts a tree is more feminine, for others the same bonsai is more masculine. In the end, you as the designer have to make the decision. It is important here: A rather female tree will not really come into its own in an angular, rectangular pot and a male bonsai with a lot of dead wood does not really fit into a lovely bonsai pot with soft curves.
Which characteristics point towards "male" or "female" ?
- Massive, strongly tapering trunk
- Coarse, highly structured bark
- Larger areas of dead wood (Jin = dead branches, Shari = dead trunk section), thorns on the trunk and branches
- Very dense crown with straighter branches
- Lovely, delicate appearance with a slightly curved trunk and only slight tapering
- Smooth bark
- No or only very inconspicuous areas of dead wood, preferably no thorns
- Lighter crown with slightly curved branches
The character traits "male" and "female" are also attributed to the bonsai pots.
- Rectangular and square bonsai pots
- Deep pots
- Solid, stable pot feet
- Thick-walled bonsai pots
- Oval, round and lotus-shaped bonsai pots
- Flat pots
- Playful, delicate pot feet
- Thin-walled pots
When choosing the shape of the pot, one tries to bring these fundamental characteristics of the bonsai and pot together. Since the division into "male" and "female" is very fluid for both the tree and the pot, choosing the right pairing is not easy.
But here, too, there are a few guidelines that provide a basic orientation:
- Conifer species, especially those with a strong and strongly tapering trunk, fit well in rectangular, deep and unglazed bonsai pots. These underline the strength of the tree
- Many deciduous tree species are well kept in oval, thin-walled, glazed bonsai pots, which emphasize the tenderness
- Flat, oval bonsai pots are well suited for forest designs, especially when the individual trees are not slightly tapered
- Bonsai in literary style are perfect candidates for flat, round, often matt glazed pots due to the barely tapering trunk
- "Male" deciduous trees tend to look good in rectangular pots with rounded corners
- Cascade style bonsai are potted in very tall bonsai pots. The pot is often twice to three times as high as it is wide. The cascade pots are round, square, hexagonal or octagonal, rarely shaped differently
- Half-cascade-style designs are potted in round, square, hexagonal or octagonal bonsai pots. Usually the height and width of the pots are comparable
Feet of the bonsai pots
The main purpose of the feet of bonsai pots is to enable good drainage (the excess water can run out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots). They also allow air to circulate. The pot can dry off after watering and roots growing out of the drainage hole dry up outside the pot.
The feet of a bonsai pot also influence its appearance. The feet of bonsai pots can be fine, decorative or subtle and barely visible, but they can also be robust, solid, even really clunky.
The appearance of the feet should be taken into account and can also be used to influence the overall impression. Large, massive pot feet convey stability and strength, whereas the appearance of delicate feet has the opposite effect. It conveys lightness.
The information given above can only provide a basic orientation. If you take the selection tips into account, you avoid bad purchases.
But - rule or not - the important thing is that you have to like the design as a whole. Choosing the right bonsai pot is very subjective. If you stand in front of your tree with a smile and everything fits you - then you have made a good choice.