The Bonsai-en by Bob Richards

By Bob Richards

Having had various types of bonsai stands over a period of twenty years with varying degrees of failure and success, I believe I may be qualified to express an opinion on what is best in this area - so aptly named the Cape of Storms.


It is automatic that they must be approximately level but have you not gone around visiting other Bonsai-en's and seen trees reclining at a more than-acceptable slant, shedding almost as much water out of the pot as they are given.

My preference for stands is corrugated asbestos roofing sheets supported by rounded poles (treated of course) giving a pleasant rustic effect. These sheets should be slanted 5° for water run-off. On top of the sheets I spread 7.5cm lay of 3mm quarried stone gravel. This gravel layer serves several purposes:

  1. It is easy to weed
  2. Cuttings propagate well in it
  3. It holds moisture and thus assures a reasonable humidity level so necessary in our dry summers
  4. Bonsai pots bed down very easily into it thus ensuring stability and a level position


These are probably the very best for displaying individual trees and should be reserved for the best specimens. Grade these stumps into high ( 0.75m - 1m tall) and low (0. 3m - 0.6m) . Place the high stumps around the edge of the lawn and the low stumps on top of your stands along the back edge so that they stand proud above the bonsai which are resting on the gravel in front.

Trees on stumps need to be tethered in this our Cape of Storms. They won't last the first gale unless held down. Use two fish hooks and strong nylon line. The hooks are placed on either side over the lip of the pot and the line is passed either below the base of the stump or around two nails on either side of the stump.

Do NOT tie the line so tight that you can't lift the hooks off from the lip of the pot. Tie them reasonably loosely and then turn the pot through 10°- 15° to tighten the line.


  1. Have them at viewing height - about 1m high - the same height as our trestle tables at the Kirstenbosch Show.
  2. There should be a space of 1m - 1.5m away from a wall or hedge at the rear of the stand. Without this freedom you will not be able to get at the rear trees for attention or weeding, and additionally your rear branches suffer from being up against an obstruction.
  3. Do not place your bonsais within 0.5m of a reflective surface. The sun's spectrum comprises 7 rays from red through to violet. Other rays at both ends (the infra-reds and the ultra-violets) also affect us. Nearly all of them penetrate solids to varying degrees, but those at and near the violet and ultraviolet do not. They reflect especially the ultra. These reflected rays change their frequency and burn and will destroy vegetation within 0.25 of the reflective surface. So beware of glass, high gloss surfaces and metal etc.,
  4. Avoid positioning bonsai over concrete. The bonsai we possess require a minimum of 40-50% humidity (preferably 60% or more). Dry concrete in our hot summer sun will exude 0-10% moisture with the result that foliage withers and the tree can eventually die.
  5. If some of your bonsai require shade, the shade source should be more than 2m above the foliage. Remember that sunlight keeps leaves small. Absence of sunlight enlarges them.
  6. Shelter your bonsais from the prevailing North West and South East gales. Shade netting or Pine weave fencing on the windward sides are excellent. Or a high hedge.


There are three established methods of irrigation:

  1. By hand - use a very fine spray
  2. The drip method
  3. Overhead. - This should be 2m above the stand with individual micro jets at 1m intervals. This will ensure sufficient overlap for all parts to receive water plus of course the surrounding terrain and this extra-territorial watering assists with the humidity level too. Remember when installing the overhead plastic piping not to fix the pipe to your overhead support for 24 hours. The reason for this is that plastic has a memory and when the pipe is uncurled and straightened overhead, there is a built-in torque effect. So place it in position overhead loosely and wait 24 hours before tightening the positioning wires. If possible the pipes should either be protected from strong sunshine by their positioning, or should be covered, or you will kill your trees with boiling water.

And lastly, plant mint and ground cover at the drainage end of each of your stands (remember the 5° tilt?).