Bonchi (Pepper Bonsai) care guide
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Trimming your bonchi:
1) Start by removing any leaves, stems, or flowers that are dying, damaged, or otherwise in poor health.
2) Choose crowded stems or leaves next. Remove parts that are overlapping other parts, etc. When choosing between two stems/branches, think about how the branches will continue to grow if left. Remove the one that will grow in an undesired direction.
3) Trimming healthy, uncrowded branches and leaves becomes more difficult. think about the overall direction you want your plant to grow, remove or cutback any stems and branches not growing in that direction. Cut just above a node that is facing in a desired direction. Do not be afraid to make some larger cuts - bonchi grow quickly and will recover from a 'bad haircut'. It is better that your bonchi does not get too large too quickly.
Managing flowers and fruits:
Indoors, peppers need some help pollinating. Use your finger, a small craft paint brush, or a cotton swab to 'tickle' the open flower so simulate pollinator activity. OR, quickly and gently press a vibrating instrument, such as electric toothbrush or milk frother against the stem of the flower to simulate wind. Do this once per day for as long as the flower is open.
Once a flower produces a pepper, manage how many peppers are on your plant. Bonchi are small and cannot support as many peppers as they would have outdoors. Generally, only allow 1-2 peppers per branch; remove any flower buds that continue to grow on this branch. Exceptions include very small peppers, like Thai and chiltepin - more peppers can be maintained on these plants since they are much smaller.
Once the peppers reach full color and have no green, cut them and enjoy! (with the exception of some you may want to eat when green, such as shishito and jalapeno) They generally do not need to be harvested right away. If you don't need to eat it the day it is ripe, don't pick it, it can hang out on the plant for usually around another week. If you don't need it right away it's better that it hangs out on the plant instead of off the plant. Once picked, store in a paper bag in the refrigerator.
Water deeply, but less often. Water your plant slowly from the top, pausing in-between bits of water, to make sure the water is completely absorbed and not simply running past the soil. Continue until water is coming out the bottom. If using a saucer, you can water from the bottom. Fill the saucer and allow the water to absorb. Add a bit more water, and wait for it to absorb. Stop when the water is no longer being absorbed. Unless the plant has grown significantly too large for the pot, watering in this way should only be needed ever 2-4 days.
Your bonchi arrives with a small amount of time-release fertilizer added, but can benefit from an all purpose fertilizer every few weeks such as Miracle Grow indoor food or Foxfarm's grow big and a dose of kelp-blast or other fertilizer containing a high ratio of K once a month. After about 6-8 months, the time-release fertilizer will have worn off and more of your choice can be added, or you can continue with routine houseplant fertilizer more often, adding to the water every two weeks or less. Since they're constantly flowering and fruiting, they use nutrients pretty quickly and may benefit from a cal-mag supplement such as Botanicare's cal mag plus to supplement and help with nutrient absorption. Add this to the water with the fertilizer every few weeks, or if the foliage is looking somewhat yellow.
Peppers are a full-sun plant, so bonchi do need an indoor grow light for best results. We recommend 'regular' base bulbs, either a 200w equivalent LED, or a 100w equivalent LED if you have a good south-facing window as a minimum. Grow light racks and dedicated LED lamps are also good options. Even with a very sunny window, they will not perform as well and will at least need a lower-wattage grow light to supplement the natural light.
Note: Outdoors, pepper plant leaves and flowers can have a high rate of turnover, so don't stress if a few leaves or flowers, or even fruits, drop off the plant. Only be concerned if this seems like it's happening a lot.
"Crystals" on the leaves, curling leaves: this may be edema, which means either the plant is being watered too much, or is not getting enough airflow. Leaves may also develop brown spots and fall off the plant.
Aphids: be on the lookout for these critters; while we make the best effort to keep our bonchi stock clean, these plants spent a season outside and an egg could be hiding. Or, they can come in on clothing or other plants. Smash any ones you see, and treat the plant with a neem solution. If the aphids have already gotten out of hand, blast them away by holding the plant on it's side while washing it with a forceful stream of water, like the sprayer at the kitchen sink, before treating with neem.
"Fruit flies": these are likely fungus gnats, and are actually harmless to your bonchi, but are certainly a nuisance. Control the adults with yellow sticky traps, and control the larvae by sprinkling a small amount of Bt granules (a biocontrol) on the soil. When you stop seeing the adult flies, you can remove the stick traps.
In the late fall/winter, it's time to repot your bonchi. Choose a pot slightly larger than the pot it is currently in. This is easier to do when the soil is mostly dry. Scrape away decorative rocks into a separate container. Carefully grip the base of the stem and remove the soil and roots from the pot. It may be helpful to loosen the soil around the sides of the pot with an implement like a butter knife. Work your fingers through the roots to loosen and shake away the old soil. If some roots break, it's usually not a problem. You may even need to use scissors to cut some roots to be able to loosen them. You can also rinse away some soil with water, but this is not totally necessary. Add some new potting soil to the bottom of the new pot, and arrange the roots and the plant in the new pot. Cover with more soil, alternating between soil and water, so that the water helps the soil move around the roots and occupy all the vacant space. Fill the pot to nearly the brim. If reusing the decorative rocks, clean with water first. You may add a few granules of slow-release houseplant fertilizer, if desired.
Outside when it gets warm?
Bonchi start by growing as a regular pepper plant outside. In the fall, we dig it up, trim it way back, and turn it into an inside plant. Once it 'retires' to inside life, we don't recommend taking it back outside if you want to maintain it as a bonsai. The conditions are different, and this could expose it to pests and diseases that it is not prepared to handle. However, if you've grown tired of maintaining a bonsai, you could turn it back to an outdoor plant. After the last frost, harden the plant off by taking it outside slowly. First for one hour a day for a few days, then two hours, and so on until it's outside full time. Plant in the sunniest spot in your garden or a container with at least 5 gallons of soil.