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What is a Bonsai Pot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A bonsai pot is a planting container which is specifically designed for use with bonsai, plants which are carefully miniaturized and shaped in accordance with a very old Japanese aesthetic tradition. Bonsai pots can also be used in penjing, the Chinese equivalent of bonsai. Selecting the right pot is critical to a bonsai presentation, as the bonsai pot must blend harmoniously with the plant, complementing it and completing the piece in an elegant way.

There isn't anything particularly special about a bonsai pot, and people could potentially use many ordinary planting containers for bonsai, as long as the containers are small and they have good drainage. Depending on the aesthetic of the bonsai, the pot may be shallow or deep, square or oval, and any number of other shapes. Some gardeners like to purchase bonsai pots from Chinese and Japanese potteries which have been making pots for bonsai for centuries, because many of these firms use traditional glazes and construction methods.

Good bonsai pots have at least two holes for drainage, promoting rapid and efficient drainage so that the roots of the plant do not rot. The pot may come with a matching drainage tray or not, depending on the taste of the artisan. Many bonsai pots are glazed in earth tones, with colors like brown, green, and taupe, but other colors may be used as well, and some pots have glazed patterns or raised relief to add visual interest.

When training bonsai, gardeners start out with large pots, allowing the plant to develop a vigorous root system. Over time, the plant is repeatedly trimmed and repotted in smaller containers, so that it learns to grow a compact root ball. Once the roots and plant have compacted sufficiently, the bonsai can be transferred to a bonsai pot for presentation. One potted, the plant will still need to be routinely pruned and shaped for aesthetics and strength. A bonsai creation can last for decades, with pieces decades or even centuries old or more being exchanged between collectors, museums, and bonsai galleries.

Selecting a bonsai pot must be done with care. The foliage and bark colors of the plant should be considered, along with the color of the planting mix and any ornamental accents such as rocks and sticks. The shape of the pot is also a consideration, as there are a number of ways in which bonsai can be shaped, and therefore an equally diverse assortment of shapes and sizes for bonsai pots.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Spotiche5 — On Jan 13, 2015

@ocelot60- I don't think that it matters how thick the walls of your planting pot are, as long as the bottom has several holes for water drainage. Actually, thicker ceramic is probably going to last much longer than a pot that is made of a thinner material.

A lot of people move their bonsai plants and trees from room to room, or from indoor to outdoor locations. Putting your bonsai tree in a pot that is made of durable, thick ceramic will be suitable for this, because the more you move your pot the more likely you are to damage it.

One thing that you may want to consider before you put your bonsai tree in your favorite, color-matching pot is whether or not it is ready to be planted where it will stay for a long time. It sounds like the pot you described is ideal to keep your bonsai tree in for many years. That is why you should make sure that its root system is ready for long-term planting before you put it in your thick, ceramic pot.

By Ocelot60 — On Jan 12, 2015

I have a pot that is made of thick ceramic, so it is durable and not easily chipped or damaged. It has a nice glaze that would look great with a plant that has reddish-colored leaves. Would this make a good bonsai pot for a Japanese maple tree?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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