If you are a fan of bonsai trees, you have probably noticed that they are always grown in very shallow pots, and that may have left you wondering why. After all, most plants require lots of space within the pot, and will not be healthy if they are grown in a small container. So, why are bonsai pots shallow?
Bonsai pots are shallow for a few reasons, and they pretty much all relate to maintaining the desired shape of the tree. If you grow your bonsai in a normal pot it is much harder to maintain its shape. In a shallow pot, its growth will be restricted and it will be much easier to keep it as a bonsai. It will also look considerably better!
Why Are Bonsai Pots Shallow?
A bonsai that is grown in a large, deep pot will very quickly start to spread its roots, and this will lead to undesired growth because the tree will have room to expand. Even a “finished bonsai” (one that you consider to have reached the optimal shape and size) will need to be grown in a shallow pot.
So, what does a shallow container do?
1) Keeps A Growing Tree Small
Firstly, when your bonsai is small and still growing, a shallow pot is very important, because it helps to constrict the plant’s roots and prevents it from growing too quickly. This makes the tree easier to maintain and helps you to stay on top of its growth.
If you grow a young bonsai in a deep pot, it will quickly get out of control and may not work as a bonsai. A shallow container is a must so that its roots cannot keep spreading and expanding, or it may get too big to handle.
A shallow container also restricts the amount of soil and nutrients that the tree has access to, which is important for keeping its growth rate steady. When you use a small pot to plant your bonsai in, you have far more control over its growing environment, and that’s crucial to growing a healthy, beautifully balanced tree.
2) Keeps An Established Tree In Control
Even once your tree has grown to a good size and you aren’t looking to let it get much larger, a shallow container is important because it helps to keep the tree to this size.
You don’t want to give your bonsai tree’s roots room to spread out, or the tree’s growth will accelerate and it will start to get much larger. This is true even of established trees that have always been grown in a small pot.
If you suddenly give your tree more space and more nutrients, you will find that its roots start to spread and that once its roots have spread, its branches will spread too. It will grow more quickly, which means you will have to put more time and effort into trimming and maintaining its shape.
You don’t want an established or a juvenile bonsai in a deep pot because it becomes much harder to handle them!
3) It Looks Right
Most of the magic of bonsai trees lies in how they look, and a shallow pot is key to the illusion of miniaturization that they create. If you grow your bonsai tree in a large pot, you will spoil the aesthetic, and create an unbalanced look that leaves the tree looking completely out of scale with its growing environment.
Instead, you should choose a shallow, small container that perfectly balances with your bonsai tree. This will help to further the perfection of the tiny world and make the tree look beautiful. A shallow container also ensures that the eye is drawn to the tree, not the pot that it stands in, so it is better for the overall aesthetic.
You will rarely see bonsai trees grown in deep pots because it simply doesn’t look right to use a deep pot with a small tree. Shallow pots also make trunks look thicker, which enhances the “tree” illusion.
What Are The Disadvantages Of A Shallow Pot?
There are a couple of reasons that you might not want to use a shallow pot for growing your bonsai tree, but the biggest is that shallow pots tend to dry out more quickly. They don’t have the depth to hold a lot of water, and they can therefore be annoying to maintain, especially if you are going on vacation.
This is countered by the fact that shallow pots will dry out more evenly, which can make it much easier to balance the watering of your tree, and reduces the chance of it getting root rot as a result of improper watering.
How Do I Know How Big The Pot Should Be?
Choosing the right size container for your bonsai is crucial, and many people use a rule of thumb that says you should aim for the smallest container possible. That is not a hard and fast rule, but it will help to guide you toward the right size container, and you can use it to start narrowing down the selection.
Although there are no actual “rules” to how to bonsai a tree correctly, a good guide is that the width of a circular pot should be about a third as wide as your tree is tall. If you are using an oval or rectangular pot, it should be about two-thirds as wide as your tree is tall.
Of course, if you are creating a short tree with a particularly wide spread, this rule won’t work – but you can simply apply it to the canopy instead of the tree’s height. This should create a good sense of balance that will make your bonsai look “right” in its pot.
When looking at the depth of the container, you can also use the size of your tree as a guide. Look at the width of your tree’s trunk where it meets the soil (usually its widest point). You do not want your container to be deeper than this, or at least not much deeper.
If the foliage of your tree is particularly dense or the tree will bear fruits or lots of flowers, choose a somewhat deeper pot. This will help to ensure the balance is maintained and the tree looks right in its container. You can easily buy a bonsai pot that suits you on Amazon.
Does It Make A Difference If The Pot Is “Masculine” Or “Feminine”?
You may have heard of masculine vs feminine pots when it comes to planting your bonsai tree. Again, these are just notions that can guide you if you are interested in help when learning to create bonsai trees. You do not have to obey or use this information if you prefer to do things your way.
A feminine pot is thought of as one that is made up of rounded edges and smooth curves. It may be oval or circular, and it could be embellished or have decorative designs to make it pretty. Usually, the color will be light or bright, in pastel shades or white. These pots bring their own flavor and color to the aesthetic of your bonsai.
A masculine pot is one that is square or rectangular or has sharp angles like the one from the picture above. These lend the tree a more mathematical, logical look, and they are usually plain, with earthy colors and a heavy sort of look. Often, the material will look weighty even if it isn’t.
These pots tend to be paired with heavier trunks, dead wood, and sharp angles that the tree has been trained into. They can be very effective and beautiful and are suitable for the “heavier” bonsai trees.
Feminine pots are usually paired with flowery trees, thin and delicate trunks, and interweaving, slender branches. The bark is usually light and smooth.
You can break these “rules” as much as you like with your tree, but they don’t usually affect the depth of the pot that growers opt to use. Whether you go for a masculine or feminine pot (or something in between), it is still important to balance it with the size of your tree and the style in which you are growing it.
It may be easier to get away with a deep pot for a masculine option because the aesthetic is aimed at being heavier and weightier, but neither style should lead you to choose a very deep pot. Bonsai trees are best grown in shallow pots for both aesthetic and practical reasons, and you should stick to this.
Bonsai trees are grown in shallow pots because it makes it easier to maintain them, it improves their growth, it ensures even watering, and it makes them look better because it furthers the sense of scale.
Of course, art is all about breaking the rules, so if you think your bonsai would look better in a deep pot, do the experiment! Just don’t let the tree grow so big that you cannot maintain and trim it effectively, or you may have to start again with a new bonsai tree.