Bonsai is an art that is a thousand years old and there are bonsai trees that are hundreds of years old. It is an art and hobby that is very much unlike most others. It takes time and patience but it can be very rewarding as a hobby or pursuit. All you need is a few basic materials and some basic tools. You don't even have to buy an "official bonsai tree" because there reallly is no such thing! Bonsai isn't a particular type of tree. It is the art of taking any type of tree or shrub and growing it and trimming it in ways so that it remains small yet has the proportions and uncanny look of its larger counter parts.
What is Bonsai?
It is the art of growing trees or shrubs in a way that stunts their growth. (They stay small) Usually 1-2 feet in height. It is also a whole art and system of trimming and pruning the tree into interesting shapes. These shapes can vary from upright to windswept and more. There are several varations of bonsai including growing them as two or more trees in the same pot which can add a lot of interesting shapes and layouts.
One of the important things to note about this is that Bonsai is not a type of tree. It is an art and practice for handling and caring for a tree and there are many types of trees that are suitable for the art.
Some tips on getting started
Some Decisions You Should Make before you start the hobby:
- Do you want your bonsai to be indoor or outdoor? This is important because it will affect which type of tree or seed you buy.
- Once decided on indoor/outdoor which type of tree do you want to start with. Can choose by what kind of tree looks appealing to you but I do have some recommendations for beginners.
- You can purchase full grown bonsai that are usually 3-5 years old. This is the easiest and fastest way to get started.
- You can also grow your own bonsai from seed which can be very rewarding. But it will take 3-5 years before it starts to look like a bonsai.
- The most important thing you can do is to research your exact type of bonsai tree so you can care for it appropriately. Although there are some useful rules of thumb that apply to most bonsai.
- Watering is critical - You have to watch the moisture in the soil on a daily basis. The soil should not be allowed to dry out. With older plants there is a lot of root and very little soil in the pot so it will not retain much water. This is why watering is critical. And sometimes you should water a mature bonsai by totally submerging the pot in a couple of inches of water allowing it to thorougly soak the soil through the drainage holes.
- feeding and fertilizing - Typically you do not use a common house plant fertilizer to feed bonsai. You should use a water additive fertilizer that is specifically formulated for bonsai and use it every two weeks. There are also some nice pellet based fertilizers that can be used once a month. You only fertilize during the growing season. Never fertilize during winter.
- Wintering your bonsai - Some types of bonsai (deciduous) will lose their leaves and go dormant for winter. You should simulate this by keeping them in a cool place or sheltered outdoors for the winter season. But you must insure the rootball does not get ice or frost. You can do this by wrapping the whole pot and trunk in burlap or by sinking the pot and rootball into a larger pot with soil in it.
- Trimming and wiring your bonsai - at different periods of the year you will trim back the branches and leaves of your bonsai. This is where the art comes in. Each type of tree will have times of the year that you can do this. Wiring is the art of using wires to form the shape of your tree. There are certain times of year that you apply the wires then remove them.
- Repotting - every two to three years you should repot your bonsai into a dish or container that is about one inch larger than the previous container.
What you will do in the hobby
- As a hobby bonsai is great because to get started the care and work is minimum and the appreciation is maximum!
- You will monitor your tree every day and potentially water every day. Sometimes every other day. This is throughout the growing season. In the winter season you will monitor and water much less.
- At certain times of the year, usually spring you will trim your bonsai to cut it back to achieve size and shape desired.
- You will also wire your bonsai to get it to form to certain desirable shapes. This wiring also usually occurs in December or late winter.
- Every two to three years you will repot your bonsai by removing it from the pot, trimming the root ball then replanting it into a pot that is about one inch larger than the previous pot.
Cost of the Hobby
This is a very inexpensive hobby and you can actually get started for free. To do this you can harvest seeds from trees near where you live. You can buy a small bonsai already 3-5 years old in a wide variety of prices ranging from ten dollars for a basic juniper to fifty dollars or more for the more exotic species. You will also need to buy a few trimming and wiring tools. A basic tool kit will run you about 50 to 100 dollars and ten dollars worth of bonsai wire will last you many years.
Buy trees or start from seeds?
The choice is totally up to you. My Choice? I really like to grow bonsai from seed. There is something special about starting from the absolute beginning. And you can get some pretty exotic seeds for a dollar or two. The picture at left is a chinese elm that I am growing form seed. It is about a month old in the picture.
Bonsai and Seeds for sale
Juniper Procumbens "nana". This dwarf Juniper bonsai tree from Japan is the most popular evergreen in the U.S. When we think of a traditional bonsai tree and what it should look like, we think of a "Juniper Procumbens Nana." It is very hardy, long-lived, and tolerates many adverse conditions. This is an excellent tree for the beginner. This tree is grown with care at Bonsai Boy of New York Nurseries. Watch out for imitations.
Ulmus Parvifolia. Has small evergreen leaves. Hardy bonsai tree with excellent branching characteristics. Twisted trunk and exposed roots give the appearance of great age.
- Chinese Elm Bonsai 25 Seeds - Ulmus parvifolia (indoor/outdoor)
- Juniperus chinensis: Chinese Juniper Seeds (indoor/outdoor)
- Sacred Budda Fig Tree 10 Seeds/Seed - Ficus religiosa (recommended only as indoor)
- :Bamboo-Leaf Japanese Maple 5 Seeds - RARE (recommended only as outdoor)
- Mugo Pine 25 Seed/Seeds - BONSAI (recommended only as outdoor)
- Japanese Red Maple 20 Seeds - Acer (recommended only as outdoor)
Recommended For Absolute Beginners
This tree is approximately 5 to 6 years old; 7 to 8 inches tall Green Thumb Bonsai possesses many beautiful qualities of a mature, full size tree found in nature. A native to the Tropics, it is both strong and erect in appearance because of its sturdy trunk and the poise of its branches. The tree is aesthetically pleasing, which is improved by its positioning in the well-crafted ceramic pot. It is easy to care for, thrives in an indoor environment, and is not likely to dry out, making it very suitable for beginners. The Green Thumb Bonsai is a perfect gift for a friend who has not cared for bonsais before, or one who has been unsuccessful with them in the past.
Indoor Starter's Bonsai - Mini Indoor Upright Tree Style Bonsai for Home or Office Desk This indoor bonsai plant is unique in several aspects: It can survive in our regular indoor environment with the help of regular plant light, and a very minimum care. It has a special lobster claw-like leaf shape with jade-like color that transforms the spirit and soothes away stress. It may be the smallest tree-like potting on earth and yet it is well styled by resident artists to purposely capture many detailed traits found in nature. It is finished with rock, fresh green moss and ground cover to enhance its detailed layout. Bonsai measures approximately 4" to 5" in height; sitting in 3" container.
Tools and Supplies
An extremely popular selection of tools for the Bonsai Hobbyist. The 6 piece set includes the extremely heavy grade canvas roll up tool holder, 10" Stainless Steel Root Rake, 8" Stainless Steel Curved tipped tweezers, 4 1/8" mini leaf trimmer, 8" Concave Cutter and 8" Long Handled Scissor or Ashinaga Shear. All of these products are - OF COURSE - made in Japan.
This is a highly recommended book for starters.
Breaks down key information on cultivating bonsai into 101 easy-to-grasp tips and gives quick answers to all your questions.
Harry Tomlinson is one of Europe's leading bonsai artists and instructors. He has exhibited and judged bonsai all over the world. He is also the author of several books including DK's The Complete Book of Bonsai.
The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai: The essential step-by-step guide to creating, growing, and displaying bonsai with over 800 photographs This book defines and describes the ancient craft of bonsai. The techniques of this precise art form are clearly described, and provides a stunning and fully comprehensive reference that is ideal for the beginner as well as the more experienced bonsai artist.
Indoor Bonsai for Beginners: Selection Care Training Creating beautiful, healthy bonsai is a wonderful skill that anyone can learn, with a little time, patience, and this all-inclusive manual. With color photos and drawings to illustrate the points, it introduces all the cultivation techniques; offers expert advice on location, soil types, watering, and pest control; and provides intricate instruction on training the bonsai--including pruning, wiring and stretching it. An A-to-Z guide of all the popular species showcases varieties that range from a flowering Camellia Japonica , with its beautiful smooth stem, to an easy-to-care for Olive tree. Each entry gives some background on the plant, and includes suggestions for acquiring the bonsai and directions on how to position it in the room for best results.
SECRET TEACHINGS is by the author of the groundbreaking BONSAI WITH AMERICAN TREES, one of the first books to unveil the secrets of the trade. This time, Masakuni Kawasumi II teams up with his son, Masakuni III, to offer not only the basics for creating perfect bonsai but secret techniques he has developed over years of careful work and observation. Masakuni III, the first qualified tree doctor for bonsai in Japan, adds his unique insights. Between them they offer over eighty years of experience.
Adapts the basic principles and techniques of the Japanese art of dwarfing trees to soil types, weather conditions, fertilizers, and native species found in the United States.
From advice on evaluating and selecting plants, to assessing plant health and troubleshooting, the BONSAI SURVIVAL MANUAL provides the comprehensive information every bonsai gardener needs for success. Includes detailed horticultural profiles of 50 popular commercial varieties, with at-a-glance information on their specific requirements.
Resources and Links
- Guide to Bonsai with lots of information and particularly focused on growing bonsai from tree. Information about specific bonsai trees
- Lots more Bonsai stuff on Amazon.com Here trees, tools, seeds and more.
- Wikipedia page about Bonsai - lots of information here
A Video on how to start out with Bonsai from Seed: