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How to Make Bonsai Trees

When someone asks how to make bonsai trees, I take a deep breath. There are many answers to this question! The short answer is ...  any way you can propagate a plant, you can start a bonsai. 

Seeds, cuttings, air layers, nursery stock, growing in the ground and “pre-bonsai” can all be “how to” beginnings.

Another way to get started is by using trees out of the wild.

You can learn 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".

In addition, clubs can help you find sources of bonsai supplies.

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

Bonsai Kits

Beginners often start with a 'how to make bonsai starter kit.'  Kits usually include a small plastic bonsai pot, a little bag of soil and either "bonsai seeds" or a very small plant. (These seeds are no different than common seeds.)

Many are nothing more than rooted cuttings or young seedlings. Kits of this type are a very slow  way to begin.

Especially if you're buying online ... read descriptions carefully.

How to Make Bonsai with
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.


When you are first learning how to make bonsai, many bonsai dealers often offer what is called “pre-bonsai.”

A good pre-bonsai plant is one that someone else discovered as having good bonsai potential and, it should be slightly trimmed and/or root pruned to get you started. 

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 lazy susan. 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 root prune roots without advice!

A Note from BonsaiMary - It's impossible to teach bonsai on one page. This page gives some very basic bonsai instructions to encourage your pursuit of bonsai as a hobby.

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 throughout the world.

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

Where to Go From Here

 Be sure to see creating Bonsai Tree Tips!

Have you considered buying a bonsai tree?

Types of Bonsai Trees

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