How to Make Bonsai Trees

When someone asks how to make bonsai trees, there are many answers.  Bonsai are created from many types of plants. Any way you can propagate a plant, you can start a bonsai. One of the fastest ways is to begin with fully grown nursery plant. 

You can learn techniques on your own from many wonderful bonsai books, videos and experience.  However, 'hands-on' bonsai instructions from a teacher, will likely get you started faster and more likely in the right direction.  Private lessons from an experienced teacher are especially valuable.

Where to Find Teachers

There are many clubs and societies throughout the world. They are a good place to start.

Most groups welcome beginners and are happy to answer questions about how to make bonsai.

Some hold "how-to lessons."  Bonsai dealers, shops and nurseries often offer bonsai classes too.  Many have highly qualified instructors.

There is also a huge amount of bonsai information online. (Some legitimate, some not.If you want to learn traditional bonsai, be wary of online new, easy and unique ways

Ways to Start
Making Bonsai

Bonsai Kits

Beginners learning how to make bonsai, often start with a 'bonsai kit.'  Kits usually include a small bonsai pot, a little bag of soil and either "bonsai seeds" or a very small plant.  They sometimes include shears. 

For the most part these kits are a fun way for the novice to get started.  Especially good for youngsters with a desire to have their own bonsai.  When buying online, read descriptions carefully.

If you are anxious to have a more advanced bonsai tree, consider trying to work with a nursery plant.

Nursery Plants

Bonsai starter trees are often ordinary nursery stock from garden centers.

Remember, these starter plants do not necessarily have to be actual trees.  Shrubs, vines and even some succulents can work as good bonsai starters.  Look for plants with thick trunks and lots of branches. 

How to Make Bonsai
with "Pre-Bonsai"

Many bonsai dealers often offer what is called pre-bonsai.  When you are first learning how to make bonsai, this is a great option. 

A "pre-bonsai" is a plant that someone else discovered as having good bonsai potential.  They are more than a nursery plant. They should already be slightly trimmed and/or root pruned to get you started.  

Dig Your Own!

Once you have some experience growing bonsai, another way to get a 'head start,' is to dig up a tree in the wild or your neighbor's yard (with permission, of course.)  

"Yamadori" is the Japanese word for collecting plants from the mountains.  You can find plants growing wild that make good bonsai (without climbing mountains.)  Yamadori bonsai, of many species, are some of the oldest and most beautiful bonsai seen throughout the world.

Working with Your Plant

Once you get your starter plant, remove a little of the top soil, see if it has more “nebari” than you thought.

(Mentioned on the 'Basic Things to Look For' List.)

Set your tree on a turntable. 

The turntable doesn't have to be expensive. My first bonsai turntable was an old $1. garage sale lazysusan!   I admit the “real” bonsai turntable that came later was very nice to have.

Keep turning your plant. Study it.

Try to imagine it as a bonsai tree. Find the front. Observe the branch placement.

If you are just learning how to make bonsai, in order to prune properly you must have a plan.  If you have a good teacher or read a good book, you probably have a plan.

The first thing to cut, is what you know you don't want!  

Prune off long new shoots, growth that is going straight up or down and remove any branches below your choice of a first branch. Now look again.

Are you beginning to see a future in your little tree? 

Root Pruning

Root Pruning instructions can be very different from one species to another. The amount of roots to be removed, where you live and the proper time of year are vital questions.

Don't be over-anxious to get your starter plant into a bonsai pot.  Do not prune roots without advice!

Many thanks to the Buffalo, NY Bonsai Society for use of all the bonsai tree pictures on this page.

Where to Go From Here

Have you considered buying a bonsai tree?

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