Guide to bonsai

Mr Jack Lee, 41, director of Bonsai Gallery, has these tips for those who want to start cultivating bonsai. The gallery off Sembawang Road was founded in 2005 and is one of the largest retailers of bonsai in Singapore.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPECIES

Many species of plants can be grown as bonsai. But some are hardier than others, given Singapore's tropical climate. For example, wrightia plants are tropical and come mainly from Malaysia. They are well suited to hot and humid weather.

Never buy maples - such as Japanese, Canadian or Trident maples - as these species require a hibernation period of at least a month every year. Unless your air- conditioning can reach 10 deg C, these bonsai will die.

GIVE BONSAI ENOUGH SUNLIGHT

In general, bonsai are outdoor plants and do not cope well indoors. The only time bonsai should be brought indoors is when there are guests and you want to show them off.

You can place bonsai on a window ledge if they get direct sunlight.

If you must keep a bonsai indoors, use a grow light for 10 hours a day. Do not switch it on for longer or it will stress the bonsai.

Only one species - ponamella - can be kept indoors and only for up to six months at a time. It must then be outdoors for a full month.

WATER ONCE A DAY

As a guide, a small bonsai - shorter than 30cm - should be watered with 500ml of water once a day, either in the morning or evening. Do not water the plant when the weather is very hot, as the water in the soil can heat up and "cook" the roots.

Use tap water, filtered or mineral water. Do not use distilled water - it does not have minerals and vitamins, which are needed for plant growth.

DIRECT GROWTH WITH WIRES

Wrap either copper or aluminium wires around the branches of the bonsai to shape the growth. You can bend the branches in any direction.

Do not bend a branch more than 45 degrees at a go or you might break it. Allow the bonsai to adapt for a week or two between bendings.

PRUNE WITH SHARP SCISSORS

In general, bonsai should be pruned every month. You can use household scissors, but ensure that they are sharp. Blunt scissors will not produce a clean cut and might permanently damage the plant.

Also, never break off unwanted branches by hand.

ROTATE BONSAI EVERY TWO WEEKS

If your bonsai plant gets sunlight from only one direction, rotate it to make sure the other side of the plant gets an equal amount of sunlight so that it will look even.

REPOT BONSAI EVERY TWO YEARS

The plant uses minerals from the soil to grow and these minerals get depleted within two years. Use fresh top soil bought from a nursery and shake the old soil off the roots before repotting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Guide to bonsai'. Print Edition | Subscribe