Spring Watering Tips—

Once again let’s wade into the deep waters of writing about the basics of bonsai. This time, watering. Of course, there are many methods of watering…


This method seems a bit erratic. Watering bonsai should be more uniform, with the timing less related to our own needs. The rule of thumb we are taught is that we want to wait until the soil dries out a bit before watering again. And in rough strokes, this is accurate.

But let’s refine that idea a bit. To start with, those trees we’ve recently repotted:

  • A tree you’ve repotted that has a dense root mass—such as a well-established bonsai—will likely dry out very rapidly. Keep a careful eye on the interior, that solid root mass that you put back in the pot (which should be showing a little bit on the surface, so you can see it). You may end up watering those very often.
  • When we repot a tree with a sparse root system, you’ll notice that it tends to take a while to dry out. A tree with only a few roots may not establish very well if we’re watering very frequently, with the same cycle as those above. You might want to wait a bit longer to water these trees—and how much longer is what skill with watering is all about.

Sometimes ‘wait a bit longer’ means waiting a few hours longer. Sometimes it’s waiting a few days longer. That’s the part we can’t talk about online, that part has to be learned in person.

Be very alert to a tree that suddenly needs very little water. If the soil stays wet it maybe one of several things:

  1. You may have a tree that’s simply stopped it’s spring growth cycle, and you’ll find that you’ll water about half as often. This is normal.
  2. Another situation with wet soil is a tree that has a drainage problem—some containers need extra holes drilled for good drainage; others need to be tipped so that excess water drains out and to help the tree establish after repotting.
  3. You may have a tree with a root problem if the soil stays wet. The way we get root rot is if it dries out completely having missed a few waterings, killing some roots, then it’s watered frequently—this makes the dead roots rot.
  4. Look up to see if it’s raining.
  5. Make sure your kid has his shorts on.

When we do water a healthy tree, pass over it with water at least twice. Deeper containers and more compacted root systems may need a third or fourth pass before it’s soaked.

There are many goals to watering, and many things to keep a look out for—we water differently according to health, training goals, the species, the specimen, the season, the soil—and that’s where words again begin to fail us, and learning on site is best.

Weak trees with very poor root systems need extra care. Greenhouse the tree if possible, make sure the soil is not soggy, and don’t soak these trees when watering. Keep it lightly damp. Mist the foliage. And explain to your child that you’re handling the watering. He’ll think you’re very cool.


  1. Andy says:

    All girls here…

    I find it difficult to gauge how wet soil is that drains really well and has mostly pumice/lava so these get watered every day unless it rains. Any tips here?

  2. dick benbow says:

    good way to get attention for what seemingly could be something easily overlooked. an important art, watering. thanks for adding a little fun to the blog!

  3. Rafael Najmanovich says:

    I am surpassed that training goals could affect in any way watering. Could you comment a bit on that?

    • crataegus says:

      Training of Single Flush pines, like Japanese White pine on its own roots, Limber Pine, Ponderosa, all these are potentially overwatered, resulting in very long needles. I don’t often talk about this outside of my classes here, as people tend to misinterpret and when I say you water them a little less than a Multiple Flush pine, like a Black Pine, I’m talking about hours less and not days less. Plenty of problems—created by myself and other well-meaning people—are misunderstood and then someone’s idea of a little less is a week. And the tree loses branches or dies. So…yes, there are training goals we might have that can shift our watering, sure. Good question.

  1. […] read it, I recommend checking out Hagedorn’s Spring Watering Tip as well as his 2013 post, Spring Watering Tips, for more information about the art of […]

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