How to start a bonsai tree collection

Lots of people want to start a bonsai tree collection but don’t know where to start. Here is the All Things Bonsai recommendations on how to start a bonsai tree collection.

Read up and research how to grow bonsai trees

People have been growing bonsai trees for a long time. Bonsai cultivation certainly dates back a thousand years and it likely goes all the way back to when pottery was first invented. As soon as there were ceramic pots, people used them to grow plants and trees. There is a wealth of knowledge out there. Of all the bonsai books that I’ve collected, my favourites are the first books written by Western authors in the 1950s. A good book or two is a great place to start your bonsai journey.

Location is important

Having the right location to site your bonsai collection is more than useful. Most bonsai trees need to be kept outdoors, and only a few will survive indoors. Even most of the trees which can be grown indoors will do better outside. When you look online and you see giant or expensive trees, these will also certainly be an outdoor tree. I know that when you see bonsai in movies or on TV, they are usually sited on a desk or shelf. Sadly, these have just been stuck there for filming and in reality, bonsai trees will not grow successfully in these spots in the long term. Have a look at our guide on how to go about how to grow outdoor bonsai trees in your garden.

Know your bonsai tree species

Bonsai is not a kind of tree. It is not a species. Bonsai is a technique which is applied to a tree. It is a combination of artistic design and horticulture. There are around 10,000 species of trees in the world. Some are evergreen, some are deciduous. Some come from tropical parts of the world, so cold, frosty weather would certainly kill them. If you want to grow these, you are going to need to protect them in British winters. A greenhouse, conservatory or sunny porch are all options for doing this. With others, you may be able to bring them into the house or keep them in a garage or shed. Some trees are from temperate locations and are very frost-hardy. Knowing which trees you have (or want) will help you to get the location right.

Finding the bonsai trees that you want

A good, specialist bonsai tree nursery should have access to a range of common and unusual bonsai trees. Seek out places with knowledgeable people who are interested in helping you. Regular garden centres, DIY stores and supermarkets sometimes have a few trees however they do not have the knowledge to care for them and the trees may have been neglected before you buy them.

If you are interested in starting a bonsai collection, it is absolutely possible to create your own. Garden centres and plant nurseries sometimes have a number of plants which can be styled into bonsai. It’s also a great idea to buy some young trees and plant them into a growing bed in your garden. Do this during the dormant season (late autumn to early spring) and grow them on for a couple of years. Growers call them transplants or whips, and they are for sale online if you search.

A number of bonsai seed kits are available online. Please note that there is no such thing as bonsai seeds. They are simply tree seeds, so be wary of being over-charged for inexpensive tree seeds in fancy packaging.

Think about day-to-day bonsai tree care

Regular watering is essential. It’s pretty much an everyday task in hot summer weather. Plan for holidays,  get someone to water them for you. Tell them that if in doubt, water them every day. It’s true that too much water can damage bonsai trees (rotting the roots) but this takes a while and won’t happen in a week or fortnight. Better than underwatering, which is lethal far more quickly. Don’t be afraid to prune your trees either. We sometimes get people coming into the centre to see us with a badly overgrown tree that is unhealthy and looks a mess.

Patience is required (but I don’t have any!)

Another thing that people often say to me is that must have a lot of patience to grow bonsai trees. Less polite people tell me that bonsai is boring – all that waiting around for a tree to grow. In reality, I have very little patience a lot of the time. It is true that bonsai trees take time to develop, getting a little better every year. Bonsai growers tend to have a number of projects on the go at any one time. A group of maples, a few Oaks in large planters growing on, a few Hawthorns and Cotoneasters in growing bed. Each of my projects gets a bit of attention every so often. I do a bit of pruning, maybe some wiring, and repot them in the spring every couple of years. You may end up with a display area in your garden for nice-looking trees in ceramic pots and a development area with trees in tubs and plants. Bonsai growers enjoy working on their trees and it arguably is boring if you’re standing there waiting for a tree to grow so that you can style it. The answer is to have lots of projects on the go all at the same time. You can also make bonsai quickly by taking plants from garden centres and styling them in the afternoon.

Still not sure how to start?

If after reading this you’re still not sure how to get started, why not come in to see us at All Things Bonsai and have a chat with myself or Jude? People often tell us that they’ve read up, watched videos and looked online but still don’t know where to start but after a few minutes at the centre, they have a much better idea on how to start a bonsai collection. For contact information and opening hours please click here.

How do you compete? Life as a small bonsai retailer. Bonsai Classes and Workshops Can any tree be a bonsai tree? How much do bonsai trees cost? How to grow outdoor Bonsai Trees in your garden How to start a bonsai tree collection

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