Starting A Collection

When choosing plants for Bonsai there are some general requirements to consider.

As a guide, look for plants that naturally have
• Small leaves •
• Small flowers •
• The ability to be trained in a tree-like shape •
• Woody bark characteristics •

There are several ways to obtain plants - either from seeds, cuttings, layerings or alternatively by converting nursery stock. Some of the most desirable bonsai are produced from specimen found growing in the wild. If you do find specimen growing in the wild you must obtain permission from the land owner before they are taken.

The following lists plants that are considered suitable for bonsai.

Trident Maple
Japanese Maple
Chinese Elm
Crab Apple
English Elm
White Pine
Black pine
Scots Pine
Silver Birch
Winter Jasmine

For flowering species you should select varieties with small flowers as although it is possible to reduce the leaf size, you cannot reduce the flowers.

Growing From Seed
Growing a bonsai from seed is probably the best way to produce a really fine specimen as you have complete control from the beginning. Do not let the trunk of a seedling grow straight up, it is better to start shaping it as soon as possible.

The first step is to prune the tap root. As soon as the cotyledons (seed leaves) have dropped off, uproot the seedling and prune the tap root and any roots that have grown too long.

The next step is shaping the trunk. Unless you wish to develop a formal upright, prune the top of the seedling to stimulate the growth of side shoots. Of these new shoots, one will be the first side branch and the other will be the continuation of the main trunk, now curved. Continue this process to develop further branches up the trunk. You can also wire but you must leave the wire loose to allow for the trunk thickening as it grows.

Do not keep your seedlings in the shade. After the cotyledons have fallen off you should begin to accustom them to full sun. However protect them from the mid summer sun when the heat will be too much for them.

Five days after the cotyledons have fallen off you can also begin fertilizing your seedlings.

As seedlings take time, in some cases many years to become bonsai, starting this way is for the young.

Growing From Cuttings
Growing from cuttings bypasses the seed and seedling stages, but still provides most of the advantages. With cuttings you know what you are going to get, unlike seeds that can revert (may not grow true to type). Many woody plants can be propagated from pieces of stem, leaf or root. For bonsai, stem cuttings are the best.

At the time of making the cutting it is important to make an angled cut on one or opposite sides. The objective is to expose as much of the cambium layer as possible. If you cut straight across, roots may not emerge at all. Cutting at an angle on both sides, the roots will emerge from several places and form better surface roots on the finished bonsai.

Growing From Layerings
Layering works well and is very simple. Layering is essentially growing roots on a cutting before you sever it from the parent plant. The timing of the layering will influence the success of the layer. The best time is mid spring to the beginning of summer, but for beeches the best time is winter.

The basic steps to layering are as follows:
Select the point where you are going to make the layering and remove all unwanted side branches and buds.
Cut away a ring of bark, quite wide just below where you wish to grow roots. Moisten this area and dust with rooting hormone powder.
Cover the area with damp sphagnum moss.
Wrap this moss with clear polythene and tie tightly above and below. (This allows you to inspect the root growth)
Wrap a further layer of black polythene around to exclude light.  (This can be removed occasionally to check for root growth)
When roots do appear carefully unwrap and remove some of the moss taking care not to snap the new roots.
With sharp cutters sever from the parent plant just below the new roots.
Plant the layering in a tray or box of sufficient size, in an open compost incorporating peat for softness, gently spreading the roots to form a radial pattern.
Tie the layering securely in the box to prevent it from rocking, this is very important.
Water well with a fine rose and protect from wind and harsh sunlight.
Treat as newly potted plant and repot after 12 months lightly pruning the roots at this time otherwise they will not divide and continue to grow straight
Train as necessary.
Instead of ring barking as above, a wire can be tightened around the bark where you wish to have roots. They will grow above the wire and you then cover with moss in the same way.

Growing From Converted Nursery Stock
When purchasing nursery stock, the tree should be healthy with many branches and have a definite trunk as opposed to a bush with many trunks growing from the same root system. Vigorous trees with long straight branches should be avoided until you have gained some experience in styling.

© The National Bonsai Society