The importance of selecting the right pot to plant your Bonsai is often underestimated. The vase (as well as additions such as grasses, mosses, stones, figurines and a bonsai table) are important elements of the composition and should be chosen carefully to display the tree.
Vases for Bonsai; Guidelines
Bonsai are planted in small pots, often imported from Japan or China. Japanese pottery is known for its high quality and is often quite expensive, elegant, natural and unglazed, while Chinese pottery is generally cheaper (though the quality is gradually improving) and often glazed with an intense glow. An exception, however, is the ancient Chinese vases, which are invaluable and very rare.
Size of Bonsai Vases
Trees that are still being trained should be placed in very large containers, giving the roots enough space for them to develop and helping the tree handle the intense training techniques applied, such as styling pruning. Older trees have a more compact root system and can be planted in smaller Bonsai pots, aesthetic considerations are more important in this case.
Vases for Bonsai; Aesthetics
Choosing a vase that is actually suitable for the tree is difficult since different variables (such as shape, the choice between glazed / unglazed and color) need to be taken into account. Some basic guidelines can be used to select the correct vessel (these should not be taken as rigid rules; aesthetic considerations tend to be highly personal!):
Use unglazed vases for conifers and pines.
For deciduous trees you can use both vitrified and non-vitrified Bonsai pots; do not use a shiny nail, unless the tree has flowers or fruit.
Use a vase about 2/3 of the height of the tree.
The depth of the vessel should be 1-2 times the thickness of the trunk at its base.
For ‘male’ trees use angular vessels, while for ‘female’ trees, with softer shapes, use rounded vessels.
Finally, it is more important to choose a container that is large enough for the tree to sustain its health, and to use a vase that is, in terms of design, subordinate to the tree (simplicity is often essential). For inspiration, take a look at the trees and their vases in the Bonsai gallery.