You might hear people talk about using a bonsai training pot and you might be a little unsure about what this actually means.
Bonsai training pots do exactly what you think they might do, they help train a tree into being a bonsai.
The goal of a bonsai is to make a tree look miniature and it also needs to be in a shallow pot. This requires the tree to have a shallow, flat root system.
Using a training pot helps us transition a tree down into a smaller bonsai pot. Its sort of like a stepping stone, helping us gradually decrease the size of the root ball.
What Is A Bonsai Training Pot?
A bonsai training pot is just a pot that looks like a bonsai pot, but is a little larger. They are usually the same shape and just have slightly larger dimensions.
They are often simple in design and colour and usually made form plastics, which actually makes them fairly cheap to buy.
They look pretty ugly compared to a clay bonsai pot, but at the same time, they are pretty neat and tidy and their shape gives your tree that bonsai feel, even if it’s not quite there yet and still needs some development.
How Do Bonsai Training Pots Work?
There is nothing magic about a bonsai training pot, they are just like any other pot.
However, their shape and size allows you to use them to your advantage.
They are a little larger than a bonsai pot, which means the tree still has plenty of space to grow and develop, but they also start to get used to growing in a shallower pot.
They are like a half way house. They allow you to slowly decrease the size of the pot from a normal size pot down to a bonsai pot.
If you take a tree out of the ground its roots are going to be pretty crazy, the same can be said for a tree that has been growing in a deep nursery pot.
It is going to take a while to get these types of trees to have a shallow root ball and trying to put them into a bonsai pot too soon is going to be too difficult for them.
Making the leap from a big pot, into a bonsai pot in one go may be too stressful for a tree, so by gradually decreasing the pot size is going to be the best way, which can be achieved by using a bonsai training pot for a while.
(You can read more information about – Why Do Bonsai Pots Have Drainage Holes?)
Can You Grow Bonsai In A Normal Pot?
The simple answer is yes, you can grow a bonsai in anything really. So long as it has drainage it shouldn’t be an issue.
The only problem you may face is that your roots may get out of control. Using something like a deep flower pot is not going to encourage your roots to not be flat and shallow.
However, this isn’t always bad. At certain stages (especially early on) you might want this type of root growth. When you want to start refining your tree and reducing the root ball and making it shallower, you can start to train the tree.
How you go about this will depend on you root pruning techniques and your pot selection. Eventually you are going to have to use shallower pots, which is where a training pot can help you.
Can A Normal Pot Be A Bonsai Training Pot?
You can use anything as a bonsai training pot, but as I’ve already said, root depth may be an issue if you are using a normal pot.
You can usually solve this problem by cutting the top half of the pot off (if it’s plastic). This makes the pot a lot shallower, so now your roots are going to start getting use to growing in this fashion.
You can also do this the other way round, if your pot is not plastic, or you just don’t want to cut it up.
You can fill the bottom of the pot with large stones, then put some mesh down and fill the rest of the pot up with good soil.
This top layer of good soil is going to be only a portion of the whole pot, so it’s effectively a shallow pot. While the roots can still grow down into the large stones, they are more likely to stay in the shallower, but better soil.
(You can read more about – What Is The Right Size Pot For Your Bonsai?)
Can You Use Other Things As Bonsai Training Pots?
You can really use anything that you have a round the house as a bonsai training pot, so long as it has the shallower shape that you want and plenty of drainage, then it will work just fine.
I am notorious for using old plastic containers from the kitchen, such as ice cream tubs, or sweet tins (that are made from plastic).
They are quite large, so there is plenty of space for my trees to grow and develop, but they are also quite shallow, so trees are learning to grow in a more flat and spread out way, rather than have long deep roots.
I also use washing up bowls which are pretty big, but again, not too deep in comparison to a large plant pot.
You will also find that many people build training pots out of wood, which means you can make them to any size or depth you wish.
This is especially good if you have a large yamdori that has crazy roots. Building a custom wooden pot for it is going to give you a lot of control over how the roots are spaced out and how much extra space it has to grow.
(You can read more about – How To Go From A Large Pot To A Small Bonsai Pot)
Don’t Forget Good Bonsai Soil
I think it’s important to remember that while the pot is important, the soil is probably more important.
Good bonsai soil is going to get you the fine dense rooting that you need for a good root system. You can have a great shaped pot, but if you have bad soil, your tree will not grow well.
On the other hand, you can have an awful shaped pot, but great soil and your tree will probably still start developing a good root spread.
Bonsai is about balancing many things all at once to get the best results, so you should aim to have a good balance between your soil and pot.
(You can read more information about – A General Guide To Bonsai Soil)
Bonsai training pots are pretty useful. They can really help you throughout a trees journey to get its roots into a more compact size and shape.
It doesn’t really matter what you use, so long as you have good soil and plenty of drainage, then your tree will be healthy and you can slowly reduce your pot size over time until you end up with your tree in a nice bonsai pot.
You Might also be interested in reading – What Is The White Crust On My Bonsai Pots?
Hi, I’m Ian. I discovered bonsai in 2014 and I’ve been hooked ever since. I created this site to spread all the knowledge I have acquired over the years. Don’t forget to check out my Youtube videos where I show the progress of my Bonsai