March 1, 2013 nick 0Comment

When people find out that my favorite hobby is growing Bonsai trees the most common question I’m asked is “How do you make a Bonsai?” To be honest, that’s sometimes a tough question to answer because there are a variety of answers that you can give. Probably the shortest and quickest answer would be this, any way in which you can propagate a plant you can start a Bonsai. This means that you can use seeds, cuttings, air layers, stock from your local nursery, growing them in the ground. You can even start them by using trees growing out in the wild.

Sometimes I tell beginners that often the best way to start is to find someone who can teach you how to do it. There are all kinds of clubs and societies all over that offer training for just such a thing. Most groups that work with Bonsai trees are more than happy to welcome in beginners and are more than happy to answer questions about how you make a Bonsai, some of them even offer “How to lessons.” You can also go to Bonsai dealers, shops and nurseries and find out if they hold Bonsai classes. You can also find a lot information online that will help too.

Here are a few ways that some people have begun their hobby of Bonsai trees:

Bonsai Kits

I often recommend that as a beginner you start with a starter kit. These kits will usually include one small plastic Bonsai pot, a small bag of soil and either seeds for a Bonsai or even a Small plant to get you started.

Don’t be worried about how they look because often the starters are nothing more than some rooted cuttings or just seedlings. I will admit however, that these starter kits are extremely slow way to begin your Bonsai hobby.

Starter Trees

Another way you can get started is by going to your local nursery and buy yourself a starter tree and this is quite often just some ordinary nursery stock from any garden center. Remember, you really don’t need your starter plant to be an actual tree you can use shrubs, vines and there are even some succlents that can work pretty good as a Bonsai starter.

Another way in which you can get started is by going out in the wild somewhere that’s not a national or state park and dig up your own small tree. These make excellent starter Bonsai trees.

There are several starter trees that are ideal for the beginner:

•    Juniper Bonsai as stated before this is the most popular one for beginners.
•    Ficus Bonsai is an ideal indoor Bonsai tree if given plenty of light and is becoming more popular with beginners. In more tropical climates they grown outside.
•    Chines Elm Bonsai they are easily trimmed and restyled.
•    Dwarf Schefflera is the favorite indoor Bonsai for beginners and is very well known as an every day houseplant that can be easily used as a Bonsai.
•    Jade Bonsai Tree comes from the traditional jade plant and often beginners will use this to start off with. This is an African succulent that is a great indoor plant but it needs tons of light and likes to be on the dry side.

After you decide which starter plant you want you are going to want to know just how you start working with your lovely little plant. So here are a few things you should know about working with your very first Bonsai.

Here’s what you need to be looking for when you buy your very first Bonsai tree:

•    Make sure the plant is healthy. You can figure this out by how green the leaves or needles are, if the plant is stable in its pot and if there are a lack of pests. An evergreen that is yellowing or if a plant is wobbly in its pot or it has misshapen leaves points to an unhealthy plant.
•    Make sure that your first Bonsai has a trunk that already has a good healthy start. It’s important that it has a heavy trunk.
•    The trunk should have a good taper which means that it’s nicely wider at the bottom and gets more narrow toward the top.
•    The leaves, fruit and or flowers all need to be in scale with it’s final height. If you are going for a Bonsai you want to stay small then any big leaves are going to take away from it being a small tree, make sure everything is in proportion for a small tree.
•    Be aware of the nebari, this the Japanese word that is referring to those surface roots that tend to flair out from the base of the trees trunk. This flare is very valuable and it adds to the look of age, which is what one wants in a Bonsai.
•    Find the first branch. This is important. You usually will find the first branch about one third of the way up the tree. It should also be the heaviest branch on the tree. If you find that most of the heavy branches are at the top, you may not want that plant.
•    Find a plant that has lots and lots of branches because in the end you are going to want to make your very own Bonsai look and you will need a lot of branches to work with in order to get the desired look you want.

Now, after you have your plant remove a little bit of the top soil to check the “nebari” remember the more flare there is the better. Once you have done that you really should have a turntable for your Bonsai. You can use a lazy susan or you can simply go out and buy a special Bonsai turntable if you wish. After you have put your plant on your turntable it’s a good idea to turn your plant around over and over so you can study it. This is when you try to imagine it already being your special Bonsai tree. However, if you bought one that was an already finished you won’t need to study it as much all you will want to do is to keep it the way it is.

When starting to shape your Bonsai it’s always best to start by cutting what you absolutely know that you don’t want. You can start by pruning off the longer new shoots, any growth that might be going straight up or straight down and then go ahead and remove any of the branches that might be under what you have decided is your first branch. Once you’ve done that, step back and take a look at the tree again. What you just might see is the beginning of your little tree.

Nick

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