Starting a Bonsai

Starting a Bonsai

Bonsai is a Japanese expression (Bon – shallow tray, sai – plant) now used worldwide. It is the name given to an art form, originally Chinese, which is based on a study of trees growing in the wild. Bonsai re-creates nature in an idealized miniature landscape. Now we are Starting a Bonsai.

Bbonsai Tree

What To Look For a Starting a Bonsai

Certain types of tree or shrub are suitable for bonsai. Consider the following characteristics when making your choice:

  • An interesting trunk with a good arrangement of branches 44
  • Attractive bark color
  • Compact, fine-textured foliage, with small leaves, flowers, and fruit (if you want to include them in the design).

Buying Ready Made

The simplest way to acquire a bonsai is to buy one ready-made. For a good variety, try visiting a nursery that specializes in bonsai. Otherwise, look carefully around garden centers and general nurseries. The advantages of
buying are that you will have less effort in training and styling, and no lengthy wait to see the final product. The drawbacks are that most ready-made bonsai are expensive, and some trees sold are not true bonsai at all.



The advantages of this method are: you will have a wide range of species to choose from at prices that are reasonable, you can prune the material to shape quickly, and you can decide the form your bonsai will take. The disadvantage is that the stock is usually grown for garden use, and so may be unsuitable (or adapting to bonsai)



Rescuing Castaways

Rescuing Castaways
Rescuing Castaways

Another inexpensive way to acquire plants is to collect shrubs that other gardeners no longer want or have room for. These could be mature trees or bushes that have outgrown their welcome. This discarded stump grew freely for two years. It was then reported, and eventually the new growth was pruned and wired. Many dwarf plants will adapt to bonsai cultivation, e.g., cotoneaster, quince, and pyracantha.

Collecting From The Wild

Collecting From The Wild
Collecting From The Wild

Often in nature trees become naturally dwarfed due to climatic or other adverse conditions. You can sometimes lift these out and grow them in containers. Of course, this is appropriate only where the plant life would otherwise be lost, and with permission of the landowner. The drawback is that it takes a lot of time and effort to find and transport such trees, and even then they may not reestablish. EUROPEAN BEECH This 14-year-old tree, trained as an informal upright style, was originally part of a beech hedge.

Growing From Seed

seedThis is inexpensive but time-consuming since some seeds take two years to germinate, and then may not germinate well. The main disadvantages of this method are:

■ It takes a long time for the tree to develop suitable characteristics for styling as a bonsai.

■ The tree may not be true to an exact replica of the parent plant.

A 6-YEAR-OLD TREE After a few years in open ground the tree is strong and mature enough for pruning and training to begin. Plant it in a container that complements the design.

10-YEAR-OLD TREE This Japanese Larch has matured, and with pruning and training has developed an interesting shape. The tree continua to be grown in a container.

Growing From Cuttings

CuttingsThere are many advantages to this method of cultivation. It is a cheap and easy way to start off a tree, it is true to the parent plant, it can root within six weeks, and in six months it will grow to the same size as a three-year-old plant grown from seed. The only drawback is that there are some species that are difficult to grow this way.

Dwarf Honeysuckles The 6 year-old trees in this group planting were grown from cuttings.

Grafting & Air-Layering

These are two other ways of parent plant. The disadvantage of propagating that produce results these methods is that they require a much more quickly than growing high level of dexterity and skill from seed and also carry forward and therefore are not ideal for the the correct characteristics of the beginning bonsai gardeners.
This branch will form the new tree

This is a way of producing another tree by encasing a section of caned-out branch in moss or in a plastic pot. After new roots have developed, you sever the branch stem at the base of the pot and have two plants instead of one

A Grafting

A young branch is attached to older rootstock in order to grow a new plant with the maturity of the old (see p. 57).

Design principles

Root Spread

Root SpreadAn interesting formation of exposed roots adds to the impression of the tree’s character and maturity.This is one of the most interesting features of bonsai, giving an air of age and stability. For the most pleasing visual effect the roots should extend from the trunk in many different directions, either flowing away from it or providing the trunk with a firm buttress or anchor.


The most important feature of the trunk is a good taper (narrow toward the tip). Thickness at the base adds maturity, but a perfectly vertical trunk line destroys the balance of the design. Whatever the angle of the trunk, it is vital to have a good view of the trunk line. Look for bark with texture and color as these add character, and an aged, weathered appearance is attractive. Avoid scarred bark.


Branches form the basic structure of the tree’s silhouette. You can alter this by pruning and wiring, but still watch for certain basic features when choosing a tree or shrub. Aim for an arrangement that flows up and around the tree
like a spiral staircase, forming a balanced pattern around the trunk. The first and heaviest branch level should be a third of the way up the trunk, and each branch should taper away from the trunk and narrow out toward its end.

Which Viewpoint


Always design a bonsai with one preferred viewing angle, called a “front view.” This should display the most graceful angle and taper of the trunk, an attractive view of the root structure, and the most pleasing arrangement of branches. Your eye-level should correspond to a point halfway up the trunk of the tree.back side

Size & Scale

 Sizse and Scale
Size & Scale

Most bonsai are between 6 in (15 cm) and 2 ft (60 cm) in height.The small-leaved trees are more adaptable in terms of scale, and dwarf tree forms are excellent for styling on rock. Group plantings offer more possibilities for a sense of scale because the trees relate to one another and to other elements of the design, such as rocks and groundcover.

Tree & Container

Tree and Container
Tree & Container

Consider the size and proportion of the pot in relation to the tree, the overall character of the design, and the position of the tree within the container. The pot must be in scale with the tree, enhancing the balance of the tree’s height and spread. Match the texture and type of container to the style of the tree. Elegant trees need dainty containers; rugged trees usually demand plain, heavy pots.

What To Avoid

Certain types of branch growth do not make good design elements. Prune these out. Avoid branches that cross, spread out from the same point on the trunk, or grow directly opposite one another at the same level on the trunk. You can adjust the direction of these branches with wiring techniques. large leaves, coarse foliage, and twigs are also difficult to work with.

 Bonsai Style:

With bonsai, you can re-create the sense of perspective, strength, and durability of full-size trees on a scale that is manageable. The most important principle of bonsai styling is to be sure all specimens are based on the ways trees grow in nature. There are five basic styles that describe the angle of the trunk: formal upright, informal upright, semicascade, cascade, and slanting styles. The styles described here represent the full range of bonsai design in single-trunk, multiple trunk, and group plantings.


This technique recreates a form of natural growth seen with the exposed roots of trees in rocky or mountainous areas.


The exposed roots of a Silver Birch grip the rock as they search for nourishment and water from the soil.

Literati Style

Literati Style

This style (also called bunjin) is seen at the seashore or in areas where trees grow up reaching for the light. The trunk line flows or twists through several curves and the trees have an air of refined elegance. The style takes its inspiration from the paintings of Chinese scholars called wenjen, translated by the Japanese as bunjin. The word literati (derived from the Latin for “literate people”) is used as an equivalent term. Recommended species are conifers and deciduous trees like hawthorn (Crataegus.)

Slanting  Style

Slanting  Style

In nature trees grow in this way when reaching out for light or away from buffeting winds. The trunk can be curved or straight but it must lean at a definite angle from base to tip (usually to a maximum of 45° from the vertical). The roots act as anchorage, growing out away from the leaning tree and compressed beneath it on the opposite side. Most species suit this style.

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