When caring for a bonsai tree or garden, people often focus on the tools and methods for shaping and arranging, with little consideration given to watering and managing soil. But once a garden is in place, water or moisture is one of the only things that will keep it thriving. Managing the hydration levels of the plants and soil is essential to keep the environment from getting too dry or too saturated. Too much or too little water can kill the foliage quickly.
There are a variety of factors that will help the gardener determine how often and how much to water their bonsai trees. There is no regular routine watering. A gardener has to have all of the facts relevant to the bonsai tree’s moisture needs. The type of tree is very important, as is the size of the tree. The time of year and local climate (inside and out) will affect the watering amount and schedule. The type of soil is also a pivotal consideration. Once all of these have been addressed, then it is up to the gardener to pay close attention to his foliage and its individual patterns and needs. The most basic tenet is to know when the soil is dry and water it accordingly. Part of the meditative aspect of Bonsai is using your attentiveness and thoughtfulness as an essential tool for your garden in addition to all of the tangible necessities. Paying quiet attention to the tree’s needs will let the bonsai gardener know when it needs moisture.
One of the most important investments for a bonsai gardener to make to properly control the water levels is a humidity or drip tray. This is mainly for a small to medium bonsai garden, anything still in a pot and not planted in the ground, which requires other methods of irrigation. All bonsai pots, regardless of size, have holes in the bottom. So, a humidity or drip tray is important to protect the surfaces of whatever the pot is placed upon. It is also helpful to make the optimum environment for the tree to thrive. Leaving at least some of the water in the drip tray allows for evaporation that will result in increased humidity in the air.
In addition to preventing water damage, the tray promotes conservation. Any liquid that stays in the tray, which will depend on the tray size you choose, can be used to water the tree in place rather than carting the tree to water or water to the tree. To do this effectively, the water from the tray is poured directly on top of the pebbles until it re-saturates and soil. It works best with larger trees, when both the tree and the tray can be difficult or tedious to move about.
There are trays to fit every type of pot, size, material and style to fit the space where the bonsai garden is. Trays come in a wide variety of shapes as well. They can be ceramic, plastic and even marble. Oval, rectangular, square and round are all popular shapes for the drip trays. The sizes range from as small as 6 or 7” in diameter, to as big as 2’. They can be selected practically to contain and distribute water or aesthetically to make the bonsai garden look more distinct.