Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I start?
Opinion 1) Get as many books as you can. Read them..look at the pictures. Look in your local phone book and see if there is a bonsai club in your area. Talk to local Nursery operators and see if they know of any clubs in your area. Select a tree that has some of the basic design that you'd like to have in your final tree, and buy it..use the info you got from reading, and from the local club/nursery owner (if he knows what bonsai is!).
Opinion 2) Indoors: Remember that immature plants should not be treated as bonsai, they must be treated as the houseplants they are. Give them plenty of soil to grow in and don't use too little fertilizer, or they won't develop branches and leaves when you cut them and the trunk won't grow in thickness.
Q: As a beginner, should I purchase a mature or partially trained bonsai, or start from scratch?
Opinion 1) I think you should start from scratch. Your first attempts may never be 'show quality', but you can make a few mistakes without damaging a tree you paid for. It may take a bit longer to arrive at something that looks the way you want it to, but bonsai is (usually) not one of those instant gratification hobbies. If you get the proper book and some guidance, starting with some inexpensive nursery stock may yield some 'instant bonsai' which allows the beginner to learn, while allowing you to own something that looks like a 'real bonsai'. Stay away from trees labeled 'Bonsai' in MOST discount stores. Numerous people have seen some discount chains with dead or dying seedlings planted in shallow trays with a solid mat of pebbles glued down over the soil. The trees had not been watered, and even if they were, the water couldn't penetrate the ground-cover. They were marked $10.00...
Opinion 2) The question should really be: Should I start from scratch with a small seedling, or with a plant that is larger. Neither will give you "instant bonsai". The larger will have a thicker trunk from the beginning, and thus will look "almost like a tree" sooner. A younger plant gives you greater freedom in which shape to train it into. You get to use different methods on them, the larger lends itself to cutting down, the smaller to cutting away to encourage other growth.
(And by al means, if you see a shaped tree you really want, the price is right, it looks healthy and undamaged, and is of a species you know is hardy or of a sort you already have, and therefore know you can take care of -- it _is_ OK to buy it.)
Q: Is there a list of which plants that are accepted as 'good' to start a bonsai? (Latin names, and if to be in- or out-doors)
Ficus benjamina Indoors
Fast grower, hardy. Easy to get the leaves small. Suitable for many different shapes.
Ficus retusa Indoors
Similar to benjamina, leaves grow in a different pattern.
Ficus pumila Indoors
If you want a cascade, this is the way to go. Cut often to prevent it from going long and thin. May die if the roots dry out totally.
Schefflera arboricola Indoors
Schefflera actinophylla Indoors
Can be cut down enormously, buy a 50cm plant and cut it down to 10cm! Must be shaped completely without wiring. Takes correct treatment to get the leaves small.
Crassula argentea Indoors
Portulacaria afra Indoors
Succulents with small leaves, branch easily.
Malpighia cocciera Indoors
Murraya paniculata Indoors
Slow grower. Gets beautiful structured bark when still young.
Myrthus communis cool winters
Must be kept at around +10C in the winter.
Q: I assume that the time & # of times to prune the trees/roots vary with the latitude. Anyone have data on that?
The answer to this is a bit more complex than it would seem. It isn't just a case of latitude. Localized climatic conditions can and do play a much larger role in when to perform the common bonsai activities such as pruning, and repotting, than the latitude. For instance, in the US, the Great Lakes have a climatic effect in a strip around them that extends from about 10 miles to well over 50 miles in width depending on if you measure on the eastern or western edge of the lakes. What you need is the USDA zone map and a chart comparing the climate of some of the cities in Japan for min. winter temp, earliest frost, last frost, avg. precipitation. etc. Unfortunately I've seen a lot of people try to do this and come to the conclusion that the climate (at least in the US) has no parallel to that of Japan.
Main Page - What is Bonsai? - Dictionary of Japanese bonsai terms - Dictionary of Latin Botanical Terms
Frequently Asked Questions - Soil - Clubs and Asociations