How to Get Started Growing Bonsai Trees

Bonsai trees (miniature replicas of larger trees) have been a source of beauty and awe in private gardens and public arboretums for decades. There was always such variety in sizes and styles that the miniature trees had me hooked by the age of ten. But creating my own trees seemed unattainable until I started looking for information and learning what it takes to create my own tree. Computers and the Internet make access to information on Bonsai trees easy to locate, but talking to someone (in online forums or locally) who has done it before is the best way to learn. Before, creating or starting your own Bonsai, you should read and obtain more information about the following.


Although the term Bonsai tree is used as a broad sweeping term for all miniature trees, several other cultures have similar traditions. China has a similar tradition in penjing and Vietnam has the tradition of miniature living landscapes known as hon non ba>>(TM). Bonsai is the Japanese term and loosely translates has tray (bon) growing or planting (sai). The intent of Bonsai is for contemplation and decoration and finished products are considered a form of art. There is a long history of container (tray) grown trees and learning this rich history will provide a prospective on what Bonsai tree is traditionally and how you can apply it to your own decor or life style.

Plant Selection

Where you get your source material for your Bonsai tree is important. Growing your tree from seed (not the normal practice) is seldom due to the time it takes to reach a mature or aged look to the plant. Another aspect of specimen selection is the environment the plant will be grown. Ideally, any source material used will be indigenous to the location where the tree will be displayed. This applies mostly to trees intended for outdoor display but should be kept in mind for indoor display. However, Bonsai tree can be created from any woody plants the final selection has to fit the creative palette of the grower. I would recommend looking at or talking to the local nursery for starter material for the first tree and after understanding the growing/training process you can find your own source material.

Containers Style and Size

The container is an essential aspect for the display of the final Bonsai tree. Any container used should have holes in the bottom to allow water to flow through. The size of the final display container should match the aesthetics of what you see in the final product. In addition, training containers should be used while growing or training the plants to attain the final desired form. Training containers can be large and hold several plants that are being trained but should have a larger volume of soil per plant than the final display container. The larger volume of soil allows the roots to grow more freely during the training phase and creates as healthier root system for the tree. If you are only growing one Bonsai tree, the final display container and training container can be the same.

Pruning Tools and Training/Pruning the Trees

Generally come in sets and can be found locally. Buy a starter kit and add the tools you need as your knowledge and skill increase. Pruning or training/shaping of any Bonsai tree is essential in the care and development of the tree. The basic pruning techniques are leave trimming, pruning of the roots, trunk and branches, wiring and clamping. Root pruning does require re-potting of the tree and is essential in creating the overall Bonsai aesthetic. The tools you will eventually use are important to make each technique as productive and easy as possible.

Buying vs. Growing your Own Bonsai Tree

The biggest, single drawback to buying a ready for display Bonsai tree is the care. If you buy a completed Bonsai tree, you will not have developed the skill set (pruning, trimming, replanting, etc…) to maintain the tree. You can always pay to have the tree maintained, but the enjoyment for me was always in the work and sense of accomplishment. Growing/training a tree requires patience and commitment to a long term goal. Years can be spent training and eventually maintaining your Bonsai tree, but it is time well spent.

So, learn everything you can and you may find a hobby for a lifetime.