The Bonsai Pot Guide


Bonsai pots are not your average plant container. The reason is that bonsai trees and pots complement each other in a harmonious way. Some pots are, by themselves, works of art, others just cover the basic function. However, regardless of which pot you choose for your bonsai, there are some basic rules to need to consider.

A bonsai pot should be both functional and aesthetic, this means that it should be robust enough to hold the bonsai and should simultaneously look beautiful to the eye. Also, it needs to have proper drainage hole(s) to prevent root rotting. Regarding dimensions, the length of the pot should be equivalent to ⅓ or ⅔ of the height of the bonsai. The depth of the pot should be at least the diameter of the trunk at the base of the bonsai. The most popular shapes for bonsai pots are rectangular and round.

But did you know there are specific pot models that vary depending on the bonsai gender? Moreover, there are certain texture and color combinations that will make your bonsai stand out and look better. Which one? Well, stay with us and you’ll learn how to pick the right pot for your tree. 

How to Choose a Bonsai Pot

To choose a bonsai pot you should consider the following aspects:

  • Dimensions: how large and how deep.
  • Bonsai Gender: masculine, femenine or androgynous.
  • Texture: what material is the pot made of.
  • Colors: which colors make your bonsai stand out.
  • Shape: should go with a circular or rectangular shape?

A quick message before moving on: Please take a moment to find out your bonsai’s dimensions. This will be key to determine the right dimensions of the pot, since naturally, the pot contains the tree. 

Measuring a Bonsai

In order to properly measure your tree, let’s start with the height. A  bonsai’s height should be measured (with tape measure) from the base of the trunk (also called nebari) to the top of the foliage. Keep this measurement handy, as it will be useful in the following sections below. 

How deep should a bonsai pot be?

After finding out the height of your tree, the next step is to find out the depth. As a rule of thumb, the pot’s length should be between ⅓ or ⅔ the height of your bonsai. This can vary slightly depending on the shape of the pot:

  • In the case of rectangular or oval containers, the pot’s length should be equivalent to ⅔ of the bonsai’s height.
  • On the other hand, when considering a round-shaped pot, its diameter should be equal to ⅓ of the bonsai’s height.

Also, there are some special considerations with bonsais with very thick trunks, as they will need a narrower but deeper container.

Again, please keep in mind that choosing a pot is a task that involves both the aesthetic and functional properties of a container. 

So if you like a wider pot for a young bonsai, and you think it looks good, the previous guidelines shouldn’t be seen as something compulsory. Trust your gut, and trust your vision. But in any case, you should keep in mind that regardless of the shape and size you choose, your bonsai’s roots need enough space to properly stretch. Our guess is you wouldn’t prioritize aesthetics at the expense of risking your bonsai facing root rotting. 

If you are still unsure about the right size for your leafy friend, you can always refer to the bonsai hands classification.   

The Hands Classification

If you talk to bonsai experts, you will notice that there is some bonsai jargon and measuring systems specifically associated with the pots. The truth is that the “hands classification” is a way to categorize bonsai containers, depending on the number of hands that are needed to hold and move the bonsai. Here is the classification:

NameLenghtHand Measurement
Keshitsubo1-3 inches (3-8 cm)Fingertip bonsai
Shite2-4 inches (5-10 cm)Fingertip bonsai
Mame2-6 inches (5-15 cm)Fingertip bonsai
Shonin5-8 inches (12-20 cm)One-handed bonsai
Komono6-10 inches (15-25 cm)One-handed bonsai
Katade-mochi10-18 inches (25-46 cm)One-handed bonsai
Chui/Chumono16-36 inches (41-91 cm)Two-handed bonsai
Dai/Omono30-48 inches (75-122 cm)Four-handed bonsai
Hachi-uye40-60 inches (102-152 cm)Six-handed bonsai
Imperial60-80 inches (152-203 cm)Eight-handed bonsai
Source: Bonsai: A Bonsai Beginners Guide to Cultivate and Care for Bonsais 

Anatomy of a Bonsai Pot

All bonsai pots have the following elements: a body that will contain the root system and the soil. Some have feet while others will not. 

Anatomy of a Bonsai Pot
Anatomy of a Bonsai Pot – Credits: bonsaitree.co

When bonsai gender comes in

Bonsai tradition indicates that you should determine the gender of your bonsai in order to properly choose a pot. The way to determine your bonsai gender is by its appearance. If you have a tree with curvy branches and a smooth bark, chances are you have a feminine bonsai tree. On the contrary, male bonsais tend to have a dense set of branches, they look tougher and usually have deadwood. It is important to mention that there are bonsais that can have both genders – androgynous bonsai trees.

After you’ve determined your leafy friends gender, traditional bonsai masters then suggest the following: 

  • Masculine bonsais should go with pots that have clean lines and distinct feet.
  • Feminine bonsais will look better with containers that have subtle feet and low height.
  • If you have an androgynous bonsai, then a round pot should be your choice.

However, these rules are not set in stone. As you will see below, there are multiple combinations of shapes, textures and colors that can match your bonsai gender perfectly.

Choosing a Bonsai Pot Shape

From the image below you can see that there are 6 main types of bonsai pots. Each type has variations mainly in the top edges or feet.

Bonsai pot shapes

The 6 Main Types of Bonsai Pots:

  • Squared pots: ideal if you’re more into flat shapes.
  • Round bonsai pots: they will make your bonsai to look taller than what is in reality.
  • Rectangular pots: they tend to go better with bonsais that aren’t too curved.
  • Ovalled and corner-rounded rectangular pots: they are the opposite of flat rectangular pots, as round corners match perfectly with curved trunks.
  • Wide shallow pots: recommended for multiple bonsais, so you can practically create the sensation of a miniature forest or garden.
  • Lotus shaped pots: they look great on bonsais that have round and populated foliage.

Materials: What are Bonsai Pots Made of?

Pots can be made of a wide range of materials. In general, you will find containers made from plastic, clay, mica, porcelain, stoneware and clay. 

The material you choose for your pot will depend on your budget and what level of quality you want to get. For instance, mass-produced plastic containers can be very practical and cheap, however, they could release some toxins if exposed to high temperatures. 

In addition, plastic tends to lose its shape with time and it will retain more water versus other materials, so you can run a higher risk of overwatering and potentially root rotting. 

On the other hand, there are handcrafted ceramics or porcelain pots that are carefully manufactured and will make your bonsai look absolutely stunning. Naturally, as these are carefully and custom made these types of pots will stand better the test of time and the different weather conditions. But, they will naturally go for a higher price than those mass-produced. 

Bonsai Pot Colors

Colors and tones are the final element to the harmonic equation that you should seek to find in a pot. Since you are looking to compliment your bonsai’s attributes, then you should go with grey-ish or brown-ish colors if your bonsai doesn’t have fruits or flowers on its foliage. Examples of this evergreen tree group could be the Juniper or the Pine.

On the flip side, if you have a fruiting or flowering bonsai, then glazed colors could be a good match. Colors used in pottery like light green to blue tones represent a great add-on to your bonsai’s aura and overall appearance.

Bonsai Pot Textures

You can add an extra touch of customization to your pot if you like patterns. Some materials like clay allow you to add carvings to the exterior walls of your pot. If you google Yamasyou’s work, you will see some cool designs of dragons and mythical creatures that can give your bonsai a pretty badass look. In the end, it will all come down to preference, so choose what vibes with you.

Display versus Training Pots

Many bonsai beginners wonder what is the difference between a display pot and a training pot

In essence, training pots are pots that should be used on younger bonsais as they allow healthier growth by having bigger holes for drainage to avoid waterlogging. These types of pots also give you more flexibility to shape your bonsai into the desired form (trunk thickness, branches curvature, etc). 

In contrast, display pots are usually reserved for mature bonsais that have completed their development, since they play an “exhibition” role. It is important to clarify that display pots tend to be more expensive because they are made of high-end materials like clay or ceramic.

Buying a Bonsai Pot

You can purchase your bonsai pots online on different sites like bonsai outlet or bonsaiboy. Nevertheless, local nurseries are also a good option because there you will get to feel and sense the real pot for real. Moreover, bonsai experts at nurseries can help you to repot your bonsai if you need it to be done. 

How to Make Your Own Bonsai Pot

If you want to go with a DIY option or you have experience crafting pottery, then feel free to get creative. At the end of the day, this could be a special manifestation of love for your bonsai. 

Here’s a cool video that might help you get started.

Conclusion

We hope that you learned everything you need to know in order to choose the right pot for your bonsai. We are aware, it might seem like a lot of rules and guides to follow – we know. However, don’t underestimate or rush this process, as bonsais need special care and attention to thrive, and this includes its aesthetics and the image they project. Find the icing to your cake.

Martin Duran

Hey y'all! My name is Martin Duran and I am from Cali, Colombia. Since 2018 I have been learning about plants and how to take care of them. Here's is my journey... “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir

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