How To Make A Living Aquarium Bonsai Tree
Are These Bonsai Trees Real?
No! All the bonsai trees meant for aquarium use are not real dead bonsai trees. However, they are made from real woods commonly used in the aquarium hobby! Despite being man made, they are 100% aquarium safe and ready for use in your tank. By adding real, living aquarium plants to their branches, we create the closest thing to an actual living underwater tree. One thing to check for when selecting your tree is the presence or absence of a rock bottom. All bonsai trees will initially float if thy are not anchored in some way. We will discuss how to get around this later in the article.
Where To Buy Aquarium Bonsai Trees?
I always suggest checking with your local fish store first. Due to an increase in popularity, chances are they might have a few. If their selection is limited or not what your looking for, all the examples and images below will be linked to online retailers that I work with and trust.
Step 1: Select Your Tree(s) - Style, Size, And Shape
When searching for a traditional looking tree, there are two main types that I've highlighted below. There are a ton of different sizes and general shapes to chose from. Spend some time thinking about what kind of aquascape you'd like to create and make sure you buy enough trees to accomplish your goal. Bonsai trees can be expensive, so make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve before you start off on this project.
Branched Bonsai Tree
Table Top Bonsai Tree
If this is your first time experimenting with bonsai trees, I recommend going with the branched tree. It's easier to plant in my opinion and opens up the plant selection a bit. If you select the table top style of tree you are pretty much limited to rhizome plants like Anubias and Bucephalandra. You will also have to glue or use fishing line to attach these plants. The branched trees are a lot easier to plant and only require you to gently press your plants into place. I'll get more specific later in this article.
Step 2: Waterlog Or Attach To Rocks
Most bonsai trees float! Some bonsai aquarium trees come with a rock base that prevents needing to waterlog prior to adding to the aquarium, but watch out for this and make sure you know what your getting. If your trees do not have a rock base, you have three options.
1.) Place your trees in a bucket of water with a rock on top to hold them under the surface. Wait for an amount of time, typically 1-3 weeks depending on size. When you can remove the rock and the trees do not float up, then your waterlogged and ready to go.
2.) Skip the first option by placing your trees in the aquascape, using some Gel Type Gorilla Glue to fix the bottom of the trees to nearby rocks.
3.) Place a few rocks on top of the roots while its in your aquarium to hold the tree in place until it waterlogs
Do you need to pre-treat or sanitize bonsai trees?
Not really! However, it's always a good idea to rinse them off a bit just to be extra sure nothing from the manufacturing process got left behind. Since these trees did not come from natural sources, they wont have a potential to carry any pests you don't want in your aquarium. You can boil small bonsai trees to help speed up the waterlogging process. Tannins aren't typically an issue with this type of wood.
Step 3: What Plant Is Best For Your Aquarium Tree?
I like to plant my trees outside of the aquarium before I fix them in place like described in option 2 above. You can do the opposite if you wish, that's just my preference. When it comes to plants for your tree, there's several options. Here are a few of my favorites with links to where you can find them online.
1.) Monte Carlo
3.) Moss balls
Above: Monte Carlo is definitely my favorite aquarium plant for making underwater trees. It has a natural weeping effect that I think looks very realistic. I've only been able to achieve this with the use of pressurized CO2 so keep that in mind.
I've found that a small bonsai tree requires 5-8 pots of Monte Carlo to fill out the canopy. This largely depends on how mature the pots are that you receive. If you have the patience, you can always place them in a small seed starter greenhouse and let them grow out for a few weeks before making your tree. There is a YouTube video at the end of this article that will explain more specifics and provide a few extra examples of planting.
Above: 3 months of growth in my branched bonsai tree aquarium.
Step 4: Place Your Trees In Aquarium
Once your tree has been planted, you're ready to place it in the aquarium. If your aquarium is already established and has fish in it, you can always place the tree with a few rocks on top of the roots to hold it down. In a week or two it should be waterlogged and the rocks can be removed. Now its time to sit back and enjoy your new underwater tree!
Unique Bonsai Tree Options
Several types of bonsai driftwood are out there. Not just normal looking or stereotypical trees. Here are just a few examples.
As you can see, lots of choices. Take your time when it comes to selecting your trees and don't forget to have fun. This is one of my favorite types of aquascapes and I think you'll like the result if you decide to go for it.