What to look for when buying garden centre plants to make into a bonsai tree
Buying garden centre plants to make into a bonsai tree is an easy and satisfying way to make your own bonsai trees.
Collecting trees from the wild comes with the twin problems of trying to get permission from the landowner and lifting the tree without killing it. While the endeavour is well worth the effort, an easier alternative is to seek out raw bonsai material from garden centres and nurseries.
There are two types of plants to search for. Young plants can be trained from an early stage or planted into a growing bed for further growing on. Larger, mature plants can be cut back and reduced in height. Bonsai people sometimes call the two methods “growing up” and “growing down”.
When selecting young plants to plant and grow on, the chief consideration is that the plants are healthy. What I would mention here is about grafted trees. Many of the more unusable varieties of a species are grafted onto a common root stock. This is very often true of Japanese Maples for example. Where the tree is grafted, the graft union (the point at which the scion, the cutting, is attached to the root stock) can often swell and become quite unattractive over time. This often results in Inverse-Taper (where the trunk is fatter as you move up the trunk.) Other than that, just make sure the plants are healthy.
When hunting for plants to cut back, the initial height isn’t too important as you will be reducing the height down. Even large standard ,the kind of thing seen in parks and gardens can be used, though you might want to reduce the height down in stages. It is worth searching for plants that have some movement in the lowest part of the trunk, as this is the part that you will be keeping. If there is any curving, taper, movement, it is all the better, as this takes time to grow into the tree. Try to avoid trees that are lodge pole straight if possible. It is also helpful if the plants have some horizontally spreading surface roots, rather than all the roots simply heading straight down. This will help you create a good Nebari (view of the surface roots)
Some common garden centre plants which are good to make into a bonsai tree include Cotoneaster, Japanese Maple, Mugo Pine, Azalea, Juniper and Cryptomeria.
Dont forget – our bonsai workshops can help you get confident with creating your own bonsai trees from plants found in garden centres!