How a Bonsai Tree is Like a Pet
Unlike a typical bush or plant growing in your yard or a houseplant, caring for a bonsai tree is more similar to the relationship you might have with a pet. As a set of techniques that are used to shape a plant into an artistic form, to grow a healthy and beautiful bonsai takes the combined effort of you as the owner and the plant. [Go team bonsai!] Like training a puppy to sit, stay, and roll over, developing and training a bonsai is time-intensive.
Bonsai lovers are always tempted to have at least a few or more trees. Caring for one or a few bonsai is nearly as simple as caring for a guinea pig (with less poop clean-up), but when it comes to increasing numbers, here is a useful analogy:
Caring for 1-10 bonsai is like having a cat. Most cats - and bonsai trees - are relatively comfortable on their own for a day or two. With just one or few trees, you really need only a few minutes per day, and 1-2 hours on the weekend, to water and provide basic plant care. A bonsai tree can be left soaking in water just as you can leave food and water out for your cat if you go on vacation for a week without much worry.
Caring for 11-50 bonsai is more like owning a dog. You need a good dog sitter or puppy hotel for your best friend when you leave for vacation. Similarly, when you're going out of town you need to make arrangements for the care fo your bonsai trees. From a watering system, to a neighbor or family member, you will need to be proactive about tree care.
50+ bonsai is more like your relationship with a parrot. Just like many species of parrots have the potential to be with you for your entire life, an extensive bonsai collection is a lifelong commitment. The day-to-day care of this many trees will take longer, with time-intensive tasks such as fertilization, watering, pruning, and repotting. When you have a large collection of bonsai, you’ll need to be intentional about how you care for them when you’re gone. Find someone who understands bonsai and is just as serious a hobbyist as you are to become your watering buddy. Just as parrots suffer from too much time alone, a significant collection of bonsai will suffer while you're away if you don't have a good caregiver to offer support.
Caring for Bonsai like a Pet
Just like a pet, the more you pay attention to your bonsai the more rewarding it will be in return. Bonsai will thrive when you give them attention - that doesn’t always mean water or pruning, it might just be attending to the amount of sun, checking the soil moisture (but not adding water) or thinking about fertilizer or checking for pests. Whatever it is, daily attention to your tree will enable it to thrive, which will enhance your enjoyment.
Many people treat their pet like a member of the family, taking a sick cat to the vet, stocking up on toys for a busy parrot, putting a older dog in reindeer antlers or a funny sweater. Bonsai may not require expensive surgery, but a little pine looks beautiful dressed up for Christmas! Some parrots can live 70 years - but a bonsai can live longer than the oldest human by a long stretch. Caring for your bonsai today ensures that it can be enjoyed by future generations.