Possible bonsai pot alternatives?

Something I like to do is repurpose items. Today I was cruising Lowe’s to see if I could find bonsai pot alternatives. Unlike most ppl my trees are not quite worthy of a 3 figure pot. :cry: With a diamond tip drill bit and some elbow grease I wonder if these could make decent alternatives.


So centuries of trial and error have gone into the containers made for bonsai. The drainage holes and tie down holes are critical to keep the roots healthy and the tree stationary. The species of tree that can tolerate a glazed pot that does not allow water or air to penetrate is an important question to ask when you select a container. If the trees you work on are only temporary playthings then any pot will do. If the trees are valuable to you then put them into a container that will allow them to thrive and grow well to speed up the process of development and refinement. My trees in development are often in inexpensive grow pots that are often plastic resin or mica pots. They are beneficial because I can easily drill additional drainage or tie downs with a regular wood drill bit. I will usually add drainage with a 1 inch bit and put tie down holes where I want them, as well as drill small holes in the corners to prevent water retention if I tilt the pot during development. So check out plastic resin and mica pots before you spend a lot of money on ceramic drill bits. They are found in big box stores online or Amazon and Ebay.
BUT… if you wanna drill the pots from a garden center know that you have reduced the life span of the pot.
Have fun, learn lots, share with others. :thinking:


I completely agree with what @Bonsai_bob said regarding mica pots and the amount of purpose that goes into a bonsai container. That being said, here’s 3 trees that I’ve put into drainage trays that have done very well.

Jade in a 6" tray. Photo is from last year.

Ficus in 10" tray. Might change the pot again. Not in love with the cream color.

Here’s a photo of an 18" tray used on a root over rock ficus.

Final potting. Tray was a cheap option for learning and for my first time practicing the root over rock technique.

Tips? Avoid glazed trays, as they tend to chip a lot when you drill them. They also kill your drill bit fast. Watch the water on terra cotta, because it will pull some moisture from the soil, but not a huge amount.

I looked at a bunch of photos of similarly sized pots to get the location and size of drainage and tie holes right. Definitely use mica if you can, but I can also say I’ve had success with trays, if only as a temporary option. A carefully selected, cheap, mass produced bonsai pot will make your tree look leagues better than the nicest tray you’ll find.


Oh man, while I do like to experiment and learn by having various species I in no way have ever thought of my trees to be disposable toys. I love each and every one of them. I just also acknowledge that not all of them are ready for a traditional bonsai pot and for some reason I’ve always viewed mica pots as being below even standard nursery pots. :man_shrugging:t5: I have a few mass produced pots from Amazon, but they’re all rectangular. Been looking for some round alternatives.

I guess the primary goal of my post is to start a discussion around pot choices and what have ppl done outside of the “traditional” realm of bonsai pot design. That said, any pot I purchased would be drilled with at least one 1" primary drain hole plus wire holes as needed. I’m in no way looking for shortcuts. Just looking for ways to tinker around a bit.

80% of the trees that I have that are in very early development and will either go into the ground in a grow bag, into a pond basket, into a root maker pot or into a relatively large (when compared to the tree) standard nursery pot. All of which, save for the root maker, would be planted on top of some sort of barrier to encourage nebari development. Some trees can start their “bonsai pot training” though. Sorry for the novel lol.

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I in no way meant to insult you.

I have friends that keep trees as ornaments to be part of their décor and have no intention of bringing them to their potential. I have known several local bonsai hobbyists that have tried to drill either pots or vases or trays. They have not had good results but it is a small sample, so I am interested in other peoples experience and results. I do not pretend to know all the answers. My post is my humble opinion and we each have our own tested method to develop and bring trees to refinement. The 30 years of experience trying to take shortcuts has taught me that I do not want to reinvent the vessel that works well. I love slabs and stone for containers, but the increased care involved has pushed me to use artificial stone or ceramic slabs that give the appearance of natural material. Advances in art and science are made by asking questions and the willingness to experiment outside of the norm.
So again, accept my apology if I offended you.

Oh, none taken. :slight_smile: I’m pretty chill. I just wanted to be sure that I was clear.

I know people that go hunting at thrift stores to find unique containers and a lot of them don’t have holes. So drilling is an option. Maybe not the best option but a good option when needed.


But also, a good pot can elevate a so-so tree. It is worth it.

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Speaking of pots, spent some time this morning trying to pair the pots I won in an auction to my pre-bonsai. Feel free to critique lol. That last one is scary. :fearful:


That’s a very nice prize :grinning:

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So I doubt if that small a pot is a good transition. Need to determine the nebari and reduce roots in a sustainable but esthetic manner. The pot also looks like it curve inward? Any pots like that have broken with freeze and thaw in my climate. Have fun, learn lots, share with others. :heart_eyes:

The nebari is small and would fit. The root reduction is what I’m worried about. This tree was left for dead in a Lowe’s parking lot. I brought it from the brink of death. Just wonder how much of the roots are actually viable. If not many, and with the power being in the foliage, I’m gambling on being able to reduce drastically. :confused: Perhaps I should have a plan B pot.

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i generally would have issues with containers that bulge outward from the lip down. How are you going to remove the tree w/o damage to the roots? Even for normal plants i avoid those as getting anything out later is a tremendous hassle (and as stated before, that does not even factor in the damage done to the root system)


Hmm, good point. :thinking: I guess break it. :man_shrugging:t4:

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I have many of these outwardly bulging pots, with a lip… I love the look. Overly feminine pot for a feminine tree…
Work in progress. The much larger ‘mother’ tree died.
Yes, it is harder to repot; and I cuss when I let then go too long. Knowing you will reduce the side roots anyway, a nice kama or serated knife works wonders. Just be careful of the inside edge.
I have only had one of these break in winter. The pot was allowed to get overly saturated with water when it froze. Unmarked lower fired pot. I plan on using the Japanese gluing technique with gold highlighting the dark blue /black surface; when I get a process that works for me.
As to pot alternatives…
I almost always have my bonsai in bonsai pots. I get them out of black plastic pots at the first opportunity. Otherwise, the are just trees…
A tree in a nursery pot…A tree in the ground, is not a bonsai. Landscape. In process. Shrubery. I have at least 60 of these. Some may never be bonsai. 20 foot Utah Oak and hedge maples…
I see bonsai pots everwhere. Haunt secondhand stores. Flee markets, yard sales. I have, probably, 200 usable bonsai pots. Mostly smaller.
I do have some way cool Japanese chopped (signed) pots. Several very large forest trays. The local club orders in bulk from japanese sources! They ARE not cheep, but worth the price. Online sale places are harder to judge the pot. Be careful what you buy.

You are not going to like what I’m about to say. While I agree with Kurt about getting in a pot quickly, like Bob I also like gradual transition. I think you’re early. My method for most material coming out of nursery containers and nursery soil is to repot in a pond basket with your good 1:1:1 mix or whatever your soil comp is going to be for a year and let it grow wild, let it grow a mass of good new fine roots. You are going to reduce a large amount when they come out of those cans. I have heard Ryan quote Randy before…“I’d rather have a fistful of steel wool, than a bowl full of spaghetti.” So grow some wool. :sheep: Just my .02


I see what you’re saying. Ryan also has a stream dedicated to potting nursery stock straight into a bonsai pot. :man_shrugging:t4: To each their own I guess. I’m actually taking your approach with some of my trees. There are some that are far enough along for me. Some are going into pond baskets. Some are going into the ground.

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This is the first I’ve heard of this, I’m wondering if you know if the technique has a name that I could search further on Mirai?

It has many names. The most popular of which is probably “the Ebihara technique”. That name used to describe a number of things, but the main thing is to plant the tree on top of something like a tile.

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Awesome, thank you very much! I’ll dive in to this topic as I’m using young nursery material and would like to develop the nebari further.

Have you noticed if this has an impact on the overall trunk development or growth of the tree? Is it a compromise nebari vs trunk? Or no impact in your opinion?