Bonsai pots are almost as varied as the trees themselves! Selecting the right pot for the right specimen can make an ordinary bonsai extraordinary.
HOW TO SELECT A BONSAI POT
Select a pot that compliments your tree without detracting from it. Generally unglazed or earth colors will give you the most options for a good match. As far as color and shape, there are lots of guidelines to go by but a quick google image search will show these rules broken often in every class of bonsai.
Certain pot colors may bring out subtle shades in the bark or set off the new growth on the tips of needles or leaves or call attention to a tree in winter colors.
A pot color may boldly contrast with flowers or show off special features of a tree such as fruits, cones or the dead wood of an ancient looking trunk.
BONSAI POT SHAPES
Straight hard lines and shapes are considered masculine while soft and curved shapes are considered feminine. There are pots with combinations of these such as rectangular pots with rounded corners or oval pots with bold straight lines. These features can be matched to your tree's branch structure or overall appearance.
Don't get too caught up with all of the rules to the point it takes the fun out of bonsai though. They are just guide lines. For the most part, simply choose a pot that you think “goes” with the tree.
BONSAI POT SIZING
The size of the pot needs to be in scale with the size of the tree. As a guideline, the width of the pot (from one side to the other) should be ⅔ to ¾ the height of the tree. The depth (from front to back) is less important because a bonsai is meant to be viewed from the front but around ½ the height of the tree is the ideal depth. And the height of the pot is matched to the thickness of the base of the trunk which will become a more practical guideline as the tree matures.
There are some exceptions though.
For group plantings and landscapes such as saikei or penjing you will want to use a very shallow pot or tray. This creates the illusion and feeling of a larger expanse of land and sea.
Cascade bonsai are often potted in tall narrow pots.
Semi cascade bonsai are potted in medium height pots and usually a bit wider than that of a cascade.
Glaze on inside of a bonsai pot is subject to a lot of opinions, mine is that when the searcher roots come in contact with the rougher surface of an unglazed pot they will stop searching and branch into more desirable feeder roots which not only increases the vigor of the tree but it also reduces repotting and helps the tree better anchor itself in it’s pot.
A quality bonsai pot will be high fired which makes it more dense allowing less water to enter the clay reducing the chance of breaking or popping the glaze off during a freeze. You can see the difference between a low fired pot and a quality high fired pot by simply placing a drop of water on it and observing the rate of absorption. The slower the water soaks in the higher it was fired.
The low fired pot is of course, still suitable for indoor environments or frost free areas.
If you’re purchasing a pot online, ask the seller if it’s been high fired or not.
The larger holes in the pot are for drainage to allow water to dampen the soil and then exit the pot to prevent root rot and other diseases caused by too much water or wet feet.
Make sure any pots you purchase have a flat bottom or one that slopes toward the drain holes. Otherwise water will always sit in the bottom and over saturate the lower levels of soil.
The drainage holes need to be covered with screens
The screens purpose is simply to keep the soil in and let the excess water out so you don’t need expensive purpose made potting screens. It just needs to be non-corrosive and rust proof. I use a large roll of vinyl screen purchased from a big box store. It’s inexpensive and can easily be cut to the size needed for the particular hole.
WIRE CLIPS & SECURING WIRES
The drainage screens are held on by wire clips. A wire clip is just two opposing loops with a length in between to match the width of the hole in the pot. The ends can be cut on a steep angle rather than flat making a sharp and deadly little ninja spear tip to more easily pass through the pot screen.
It is important to secure your tree to the pot for stability. Some pots have securing wire holes in addition to the drainage holes.
Wire is fed through the holes in the bottom of the pot and around the root ball which is placed on top of a thin layer of soil. Then the ends are twisted together being careful not to snap the wire by overtightening. Bend the sharp ends downward and add the rest of your bonsai soil.
Pots with two drainage holes do not need additional tree securing wire holes as the drainage holes can accommodate the securing wire. Just be sure to feed the wire through the screen tight to the edge of the hole where the pressure will be when tightened. Two wires can be used to go around both sides of the rootball.
On single hole pots, the clip can be installed on the bottom to create an anchor point to secure the tree with it’s tie wire. Just insert the ends of your tree securing wire on opposite sides of the wire clip where it crosses the hole.This works well with smaller pots however it becomes less and less effective as the size of pot increases.
In fact, once you go beyond the mame size pots, I think it’s worth it to drill your own wire holes.
I’ve found a sharp point carbide glass and tile bit works best. You can get a small set for 10. to 15. It’s definitely faster to drill (as you would with steel) all the way through with the smallest bit and expand it with increasing sized bits until it’s large enough to accommodate your wire. Of course the speed of the cut is relative to the individual pot and how it was fired. Keep the bit cool with lots of water and apply firm even pressure until just before it breaks through at which point you want to just apply very light pressure so as not to break the last thin layer out inside the pot.
POTTED GROWTH RATE
Before you ever pot your tree, you need to be happy with it’s size because once it’s placed in a bonsai pot it will develop much more slowly. In fact if you're wanting to develop a larger bonsai or thicker trunk, the best way to do that is to use a method called field growing, which is to plant your tree directly in the ground. But that’s a subject for another article.
If you find a bonsai pot you really like that has a bit of cost to it, it may be well worth the money if it has all of the desirable features of a quality pot. With proper care it can last a lifetime as a favorite part of your growing collection and become a home too many of your best trees as they go through the necessary repotting process.
Japanese Toknoname Bonsai Pots
Tokoname, the pottery capital of Japan. You won’t find a poor quality bonsai pot made in Tokoname with its artisans producing top quality pottery for 900 years. Here is the largest selection of Tokoname pots available with the exception of taking a trip to Japan!