Skip to Content

What is a Bonchi: Bonsai Your Pepper Plant

Plant enthusiasts and horticulturists have been practicing bonsai for hundreds of years. It’s the practice of growing a small tree in a shallow tray and shaping the plant gradually to look like a miniature version of a larger tree. But can you bonsai other kinds of plants, like pepper plants?

Bonchi is the term for growing a pepper plant using the bonsai technique. Pepper plants work well for bonsai because of their thick, woody stems and abundant foliage, flowers, and fruit. You can easily learn and practice bonsai techniques on pepper plants while also benefiting from the harvest.

Pepper plants grow faster than most deciduous trees, but they respond just as well to the bonsai process. There are thousands of pepper varieties to choose from, so you can make your bonchi plant uniquely yours. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to start practicing bonchi.

Photo of a bonchi plant (bonsai chili pepper plants)
Photo by Jens Jakob Sorensen

Can You Bonsai a Pepper Plant?

In the English-speaking world, we tend to think of bonsai as small trees. However, you can bonsai any plant that will grow in a shallow container and respond well to traditional bonsai pruning and training methods. The goal of most bonsai practices is to create a tiny tree that mimics the shape of a much larger tree.

Plants that grow well indoors are good candidates for bonsai. Peppers work well for the aesthetics of bonsai, too, because of their thick, woody stems. The stems mimic tree trunks and the abundant foliage is easily shaped.

Peppers are perennial plants which means they can last for more than a single growing season. You can continue shaping your pepper plant over time, and you can save the seeds from the pepper pods to grow new bonchi as well.

Which Pepper Plant Varieties are Best for Bochi or Bonsai’ing?

There are thousands of pepper varieties, and you can bonsai any of them. Peppers grow in a wide variety of colors and shapes, so you can select your peppers based on your aesthetic goals. The Bolivian Rainbow and Numex Twilight varieties produce colorful flowers and fruit, so they are popular for bonchi.

The individual plant is more important than the variety, however. A good candidate for bonchi will have a thick stem so it will stand upright. You’ll also want to look at how far down the first branches grow. Your bonchi shouldn’t be more than five times as tall as your bonsai dish, or you risk it toppling over.

The Kilofly Happy Bonsai Mini Glazed Pots is a great set of bonsai dishes to start your bonchi peppers. They’re wide enough for the pepper’s large root ball and are a good depth to prevent your pepper plants from falling over if they grow too tall.

Do Bonchi Pepper Plants Fruit?

Bonchi pepper plants will fruit if they have the right environment. Like any pepper plant, they need at least six to eight hours of sunlight every day, rich soil, and regular water. Bonsai pots are shallow, so there isn’t a lot of soil. This means the pepper plant will use the fertilizer quickly, so you may need to fertilize your bonchi more frequently than a regular pepper plant in order for it to flower and fruit.

Not every type of pepper is suitable for culinary use. This doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t good candidates for bonsai treatment.

The point of bonsai is not to make food, but to make art. Bonsai is primarily a contemplative practice that is meant to please both the viewer and the grower. Colorful flowers and pepper pods can add a beautiful dimension to your bonchi. Edible varieties can fulfill this purpose and provide you with food as a bonus at the end of the growing season. 

Photo of tiny chili pepper plant with a few red peppers
Photo by Ralf Geithe

How to Bonsai a Pepper Plant: Step-by-Step Guide

Growing bonchi is similar to growing pepper plants in your garden at first. However, once the plant has grown a substantial stem, the real bonsai practice begins. The following steps will help you start your bonchi practice.

Grow Any Pepper Plant

The first step is to grow a pepper plant the same way you would if you were growing it exclusively to harvest the fruit. It needs to be in a pot, preferably outdoors. You can start your plant in a bonsai dish, but you won’t get as sturdy a stem as you would if you grow it outdoors first.

Cut Down Your Pepper Plant

The next step is to cut down your pepper plant to a manageable size. Check the stem regularly, and once it is sturdy and the plant is producing thick branches and plenty of foliage, it’s ready to cut.

The first cuts will be severe, and your bonchi will be fairly ugly for a while. You should cut the plant above the first set of branches on the stem. This will help make sure it continues to grow after you’ve cut it.

This stage is about shaping the stem into the trunk of your bonsai. It’s more severe than the pruning you’ll do later, and when you’re done, it will look like a stump.

Trim the Root Ball

Next, you’ll need to remove the entire root ball from the pot. Shake off as much soil as you can. Leave big woody roots intact and fan out the root ball so that it will fit into your shallow bonsai dish.

Trim back the excess roots and clip any that will not fit into your dish. The roots for your bonchi will be wider and shallower than regular pepper plants. This means the pepper will be top-heavy, so try to balance the height of your bonchi with the size of your roots and bonsai dish.

Plant in Bonsai Pot

Once your root ball is small enough for your bonsai dish, transplant your bonchi. Your dish should have drainage holes covered in mesh or gravel to keep the soil in but let the water out. Place the bonchi in the pot, then fill the pot with rich, fertile soil.

Put your bonchi somewhere it will get plenty of sunlight. You can supplement the sunlight with a grow light if you don’t get a full six hours of sunlight a day. It may take a few weeks for your bonchi to start growing new branches and foliage. The transplant process changes every aspect of its environment very quickly, and it will take time to adjust.

Prune and Decorate

As your bonchi grows new branches and foliage, you can prune it back to encourage it to grow in the shape you want. It may seem excessive, but bonsai practice is about patience and carefully cultivating shapes. Continue to fertilize, water, and prune your bonchi throughout its lifecycle.

Once it’s growing nicely, you can add things to the pot as decoration to complete your scene, too. Moss, small rocks, and lichens are common bonsai decorations. The VGOODALL Miniature Garden Ornaments are nice additions to your bonchi to complete the look. This last stage is the part of your bonsai practice where you get to express yourself the most.

Closing Thoughts

Bonchi is an enjoyable way to make your pepper plants decorative. They grow well indoors, and there are thousands of varieties to choose from, so you can make your bonchi uniquely yours. Bonsai takes patience, but the process is just as pleasurable as the results, and with peppers, you can also get a good harvest out of your efforts!