Bonsai pots compliment the bonsai, kind of like the tie compliments the suit. The pot should not outshine the bonsai and the bonsai should not outshine the pot, but they should work together to harmonize the complete image.
There are all kinds of pots out there for all kinds of bonsai. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There is a pot for every tree, but I would like to think that there is not a tree for every pot.
What is a Bonsai Pot?
I asked someone this very question. “What is a bonsai pot?” The answer I got was, “something that you grow your bonsai tree in.” This is a correct answer, however, it is on the most basic of levels.
A bonsai pot holds the soil that the roots of the tree grow in. It supports the health of the tree by providing the roots enough room to grow. The pot harmonizes the overall composition of the design that the tree is trying to portray.
Some other things that bonsai pots are. They are meadows, lake shores, river banks, hilltops, mountains, steep cliffs and the list goes on.
Sources that are out there tell us that reddish brown colored pots represent a barren landscape or rocky mountains and are a good pot color for Pine or Juniper bonsai. I would say grey colored pots should work with mountain trees such as these as well. Blue represents water. Light blue pots are nice for azaleas and other flowering bonsai. Light green or grey-green colored pots could represent a meadow and would be appropriate for broadleaf species and probably some larch designs could look well in this color. Yellows look good with fall colors.
Bonsai Pot Guidelines
There are guidelines to think about when choosing bonsai pots. Remember though that there are no rules set in stone, just guidelines. Just like the guidelines that are in place for the aesthetics of bonsai, there are guidelines for the aesthetics of the pot.
The general guidelines are that the width of the pot should be a bit more than 2/3 of the larger of the two, height of the tree from its base or the width of the canopy at its widest. If the tree is taller than it is wide then use the height of the tree. If the tree is wider than it is tall then use the width.
The depth of the pot is usually 1 to 2 times the diameter of the trunk.
Now stating the general guidelines about the aesthetic appearance of the bonsai pot you have to remember what the bonsai pot is at its most basic level. Its a place to grow your bonsai. If your bonsai cannot grow in the pot that you choose then it is a dead bonsai and you wasted your time. Some trees need more room for their roots. Pine bonsai would utilize a deeper pot then the 1-2 times diameter of the trunk ratio. Maple bonsai can go in a slightly shallower pot and be fine.
There are styles of bonsai that go completely against the ratio. Cascade styled bonsai need a deep pot. The reason is that the cascading branch would hit the table or stand that it is placed on. The deep pot accomplishes two things. It lifts the branch off of the table and it also gives the allusion of a high or steep cliff where a cascade would naturally grow. Forest plantings are planted in shallow wide pots to represent an expansive area. Literati bonsai are planted in shallow round pots to enhance the delicate elegance of the style.
When choosing a bonsai pot for your tree, make sure you are doing that. Design your bonsai and when it is ready for a pot, choose a pot that suits your tree. You don’t buy a tie and then buy a suit for the tie. You buy your suit and then you buy a tie that goes with your suit.
Think about the bonsai that you have spent time designing. Where does the tree grow naturally? Then choose a pot that represents that area well. If the pot and tree look nice together and the roots have enough room to grow and thrive then you chose right.
The width of pot you need is roughly 2/3rds of the larger number. (The height of the tree or the width of the canopy)
On This Site
Choosing the right pot for your bonsai Harry Harrington
A General Guide to pot Selection Kenneth A. Schultz
Japanese Bonsai Pots Blog Ryan Bell