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Ever since watching the Karate Kid many, many moons ago, I’ve been obsessed with bonsai trees and so having recently started the hobby I can honestly say the journey so far has been incredibly rewarding. That being said, like any hobby, there are some significant disadvantages that I’ve come to know.
The major disadvantages of bonsai plants are that they require constant care and attention, need watering daily, can be expensive, and have been linked with increased insect infestations. Bonsai plants cannot be left for weeks on end by themselves compared to other plant hobbies.
So which of these are the biggest disadvantage? And should any of these put you off from getting started in the art of Bonsai? Keep reading to find out more.
Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here.
Bonsais are a lot of work
Easily the biggest disadvantage to getting started with bonsai plants is the amount of time and investment they take to truly need.
Whilst you might not need to prune bonsai plants as often as you might think (typically about once every two months for a thirty-minute session should be good enough for most plant breeds)
Bonsais require a lot of work in other areas such as watering which needs to be done daily or even twice daily in some instances.
Also, be prepared for a lot of trial and error when you get started with your first few designs not likely to look very good especially if you are learning bonsai by yourself – it’s not uncommon to spend hours trying to trim your first bonsai only for it to look like a Frankenstein version of the design you had in your head.
On top of this, the journey is never complete and your bonsai will never be at a stage where you will be happy with it – part of the charm is that your project will never be finished so be prepared to invest a lot of time and hours in your new-found hobby – which is definitely concerning if you don’t have a lot of free time!
Bonsai is not beginner-friendly
Don’t get me wrong, with a few weeks of practice and a few (failed) attempts you can get pretty good at doing bonsai, but like anything in life, to get any real level of skill takes time.
Whilst there are plenty of fantastic tutorials and guides online to help you get started realistically, in my opinion, the best bet would be to sign up for a bonsai course for a few hours per week.
A lot of stuff can get easily misheard online and so having someone you can directly interact with answering the basic questions can go a long way.
On top of this, expect your first few attempts in bonsai to be pretty bad, especially if you are starting with a fresh plant that you would like to make – so definitely be prepared to have a few plants die in your first few attempts.
I think a good place to start in your first day in bonsai is to start with a smaller plant that has already been grown for some years just to get you ready with the idea of cutting and pruning and wandering, you can then expand to try to start making your own – it’s how I started and heck look at me – I’m not a complete failure!
It takes a while to get good at
Similar to the point above then, the art of bonsai takes a while to get good at and is one of the reasons why a few months after starting the hobby, so many people drop off with plants that need recovery.
By going into bonsai with realistic expectations that it takes some bonsai masters years if not decades of experience to have beautiful bonsai gardens means that you will not get frustrated when things start to get tough.
One of the ways I’ve gotten around this then as a beginner is to set myself a schedule where I dedicated 15-30 minutes every day on all things bonsai – this can cover things like watering, pruning, and most importantly when you first getting started, understanding the basics.
Need constant watering
Cactus plant bonsai trees are not!
Possibly the biggest problems for a lot of us living in the west and the biggest disadvantages that bonsai plants have is that they need constant watering.
Bonsai trees need watering at least once per day, especially if you live in an environment with dry air. Immerse the soil in water until wet and ensure that you also spray to leaves to ensure they get moisture too.
Some bonsai plants even need to be watered twice per day (depending on the species) – this typically happens if you keep plants indoors which usually have their one mini climate.
This will add up to an extra cost every month with all the additional water use so ensure you can afford the costs – speaking of which.
Now one item that has been argued both for and against helping manage the humidity of your bonsai has been using humidity trays – to read up more on these check out my post on that here.
Bonsai plants can be expensive
When first starting out bonsai plants and trees can be affordable – typically costing between $20 – $50 for a small Chinese elm, sooner or later however the costs soon add up.
First of all, if you start a collection then expect to pay this a few times when starting adding to your collection.
On top of this, larger more professional bonsai plants and trees that have been grown by others for years can be expensive with some going as high as $1000 – $2000 depending on the complexity.
To add to this, you will likely need some type of training course which can add up to around $30 – $100 depending on the price of a session that lasts a few hours.
To hell explain some of the costs I’ve put together a table below:
|Small Bonsai (like a Chinese elm)||$20 – $60|
|Large Bonsai||$100 – $1000|
|Premium Bonsai||$500 – $1500|
|In-person training courses||$30 – $100|
|Online training courses||$30|
If you start from scratch they take a while
One of the biggest misconceptions I had, when I first started bonsai, was that I could make my own, just plant a few seeds wait a year and I would have a blooming bonsai that would be the envy of many.
Could I have been more wrong?
Bonsai trees like the one you will likely have seen in many garden stores take years to grow and perfect with some taking 20 to 30 years to truly get the full design established.
If you are thinking of creating your bonsai from scratch, be prepared that you’ll be in this for the long haul.
If you live in a tropical country with a lot of sunlight for most of the months of the year then you can skip right past this.
For the rest of living in cooler climates, we need to understand that bonsai plants require a lot of light.
Whilst some breeds require more light than others, all bonsais need more light than you might have anticipated.
This is because a lot of bonsais come from countries like Japan, China, and Israel, all countries which have a lot of humidity and light.
This is especially important for those of you who keep your bonsai plants indoors so ensure that you keep them in the brightest spot or invest in a LED or UV light with a lot of lumens to ensure that your bonsai gets all the light it needs.
Bonsai plants require patience
For anyone who follows my YouTube channel, you know that I work in sales – not the most stress-free environment.
As such I’m very used to being on the go constantly something which you cannot do with bonsai.
It’s important then that when designing your plant or pruning your bonsai that you are patient, mapping out in your head or on paper what you would like your plant to look like, and taking the time to make the right decision when cutting branches.
Decisions that are made in haste are usually the wrong decision so ensure you take as much time as you need.
This is especially true if you are growing your bonsai from scratch, ensure that you do what you would do for a normal plant ( watering, giving enough light) and you will be rewarded for your patience.
The community can be protective
Probably the most controversial disadvantage on the list.
Whilst the bonsai community of blogs, youtube, stores, and garden centers are on the house fantastic and a nurturing place there are a few who are very protective of the sector.
For example, keeping bonsai plants indoors can be frowned at by some bonsai connoisseurs as well as using plants that are not typical for bonsai.
If you do ever interact with people like this, try not to take it personally and just understand that people get very passionate about bonsai!
Other major issues that can occur with certain types of bonsai are toxic spores and black mold that plants can cause.
Mould gets build up in bonsai trees when dead leaves and branches fall off and mix with wet soil which can release spores that can potentially damage your bonsai.
The best thing to do in this situation is to try and increase the airflow around your bonsai, treating it with an antifungal plant and even using things like a moisture tray to help evenly distribute the moisture.
Cleaning your bonsai pot regularly will also help dramatically so every few days have a look and see debris has been let and be sure to carefully empty this out.
To find out more about how to rid your bonsai of insects and other pests, check out my posts on removing scale here (whilst talking about removing scale it works well for pretty much all kinds of pests)
Regardless of if you keep your bonsai tree indoors or outdoors for some reason, you will have a few bugs.
This is especially apparent in the summer months with the likes of :
- Scarid Flies
- General house flies
All being attracted to your plant.
Whilst these are more a nuisance than anything else (a lot of them do very little to no damage to your bonsai) I appreciate that that can be annoying for some.
The best way to control this if you don’t want added bugs in your house is to spray once a month with insecticide – just be sure that you keep your house ventilated if you do keep your bonsais indoors.
You might also want to consider keeping the soil your bonsai is in as damp as possible which often acts as a natural deterrent.
It can be seen as cruel by some
More an ethical disadvantage than a physical one.
Whilst most of us have no issue with the art of bonsai some people have raised the point that growing things like sacrifice branches can cause damage to the plant and that plants should not be twisted out of shape to make bonsai.
Indoor trees are weaker than outdoor trees
If you do decide to opt to keep your bonsai plant indoors as opposed to outdoors you will have to understand that they will be weaker than outdoor bonsais.
You see, up until the 70s most people kept their bonsai trees outdoors and so keeping any plant indoors is much less likely to be as healthy as an outdoor plant.
If you do decide to keep your bonsai indoors ensure you give it as much alight as possible, grow it regularly, and of course give it ample water that it would typically get outdoors.
Some trees require a lot of space
If you have the money to spend, investing in larger bonsai plants can be worthwhile looking beautiful in pretty much any garden.
That being said investing in a bonsai outdoors can take a lot of space with some bonsai plants growing over one meter.
If you are tight on space you might want to invest in a smaller plant, especially as bonsais typically grow and continue to keep growing for years on end.
You can’t leave them to go on vacation
We talked about this point earlier but because of the water and light requirements for bonsai plants, you will have a hard time keeping them healthy if you leave them for weeks on end by themselves.
Some are even so delicate that they cannot be left a few days alone.
The best thing to do if you plan on going on vacation or a work break is to get someone to look after your bonsai, teach them how to water it and where to keep it when you are away and your plant should be just fine.
They can be allergic to pets
Finally, and this can be one of the most severe disadvantages to owning bonsai is the fact that bonsai plants can be allergic to pets and dogs in particular.
Most bonsai trees are allergic to dogs. Palm and azalea breeds of the plant are particularly poisons to dogs and can even be fatal in some instances. Ensure you do not keep these near your dog should you decide to get a bonsai plant.
As bonsai plants are not one type of plant it is important then that you have a look at the type of plants you are thinking of making your bonsai out of and if it is poisonous to your pet.
“It’s impoprtnat before bringing any plant to your home, regardless of if it will be used for bonsai or not, to double check that your pet is not posionos to the breed”
Should this put you off getting a bonsai plant?
Whilst it might seem like there are a lot of disadvantages to owning a bonsai plant the truth is that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
Starting your journey in bonsai can be one of the most rewarding things you can do teaching you valuable life skills such as patience and causing you to reflect.
On top of this, multiple studies show the benefits including:
- A study by the Univerity of Norway found that keeping plans such as Bonsai helps improve air quality
- In a study by Dr. Leonard Perry, he found that plants helped reduce stress levels amongst employees
- A study by Nasa found that keeping house plants could alleviate some volatile organic compounds (VOC) that surround us.
My top picks for the gear you will need!
So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market.
Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value.
They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon.
Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here.
Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here.
Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.
This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the UK and works in sales.