The art of Bonsai captures the appearance of ancient, weathered trees in a small size. Probably, the first bonsai trees were probably dug up and taken down from high altitude sites in the mountains, and put into pots to enjoy in the home. Trimming of the foliage and roots induces the plant to grow its trunk larger. Pruning removes the branches that time and weathering naturally select to eliminate.
I can break this down in a way that gives you a more simple view of how they are made and the things you need to create or maintain & improve a bonsai tree. If you are new to the bonsai tree art form…take the time to consider whether you want outdoor or tropical plant material (or both). Some plants need to go through the cold season or they die. Those are considered outdoor material. You can just plant them in your yard for the winter.
Outdoor plant? Don’t worry!
If you live in a climate where the cold season gets too cold for the plant that you love…don’t worry…you can leave it in the changing weather until it safely goes dormant. Then store it someplace sheltered and cool with low light until Spring. In the dormant state, you water them less. This location could be an unheated garage with windows or a cold frame. Leaves will change color, but may take quite a while to die and drop from the plant.
The thing that you need to really remember when you do this, however, is that a potted plant is far more vulnerable to cold. You don’t want to leave your potted plant outside in freezing temperatures that can freeze the roots and kill it. Adapt accordingly for a plant in a pot. If they are in the ground, they are more protected. You can cover the base with mulch or put a cover over the entire plant when the temperatures drop.
You can also take your tropicals in to be indoor plants in your house during the winter season and help them avoid cold weather altogether. This additional greenery is uplifting in wintertime, but you may not want to overcrowd your living space with these plants…like I do.
In this case, you may want to consider getting grow lights for your plants. They can be put on a timer to keep things simple. It is up to you what type of bulbs you want to use, but be sure not to place lights that get hot close to your plants. That will very likely damage them.
First I will show you some of the professionally started bonsai trees… then I will give you a feel for how to create your own tree “from scratch”
I wanted to have a bonsai tree “someday”. Then I had a friend who had the same interest, who pushed me to just jump in and start. It does seem intimidating… until you understand the basics. I would like to help you to see what you need to jump in and get started. My wish is to take down barriers for you that may be holding you back… Start where you like… find the tools to learn more as you go.
Start in what ever way you want
I think that once you look through this list, you can get an idea of basic and additional bonsai resources and their cost. You will see that it is not really an expensive hobby. I have found the core, quality items that are also reasonably priced. You can get a great start with the items here. These are resources that even the experienced bonsai artist will appreciate.
Very affordable bonsai trees – both professionally started and material for you to start your own
Juniper bonsai tree with pond area included in the pot – 3 years, 7″ glazed pot.
Broom style (Hokidachi) tree, but excellent material for building into another style you may like. What makes this one particularly attractive and special is that it has this pond area included in the pot that makes it more fun. When and if your tree outgrows this pot, you can start a bonsai of your own in this unique and attractive environment.
I have chosen well established trees…these are the most attractive for the price that you will find in each bonsai material category
You can find cheaper versions…but these are the trees that have been trained by professionals for many years and are truly great bonsai specimens. These are worth buying for any enthusiast from beginner to advanced. They will be healthy trees that survive transport stress easily. These are not just a small plant placed in a bonsai pot. You will not be disappointed by the appearance or hardiness of these trees.
Brussel’s Nursery is a bonsai resource supplier that has a well-known, great reputation. You can get younger and cheaper plant material and style them to what you want yourself…these can be great examples to inspire you in doing that. This is the tree that you admire and look at every day and strive towards in your own work… Any level experience artist will be very happy with what they are when they first arrive on your doorstep.
Well established Green Mound Juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) bonsai – 7 years, 16″ tall.
The Green Mound Juniper is the best pine category material for the beginning artist to make a fast bonsai for themselves. It truly is a mound of greenery to trim to what you want. This was done by a professional and grown into a healthy tree over many years.
Hawaiian Umbrella (Schefflera aboricola ‘Luseane’) Tree bonsai from Brussel’s – 8 years and about 15″.
It is broom style (Hokidachi). This tree can easily grow aerial roots (roots from branches to the ground) with use of a humidity tent. Many of these have wonderful aerial roots already.
Chinese Elm bonsai from Brussel’s – 5 years and about 9″ tall.
This is an Informal Upright bonsai (Moyogi), and a very attractive traditional tree variety.
Golden Gate Ficus bonsai from Brussel’s – 4 years old and about 9″ tall.
An Informal Upright style (Moyogi) that can easily grow aerial roots (roots from branches to the ground) with use of a humidity tent.
Golden Gate Ficus bonsai from Brussel’s – 7 years old and about 13″ tall.
This tree is Informal Upright style (Moyogi) and can easily grow aerial roots (roots from branches to the ground) with use of a humidity tent.
Gensing grafted or Elephant foot ficus (Ficus microcarpa ‘Gensing’) – 16 years, 16″ tall.
The Elephant foot ficus have very unique looking and massive roots (which inspire the Elephant foot name). Being a ficus, they are very hardy and easy care material in the tropical plant category. You can grow aerial roots with the use of a humidity tent.
These are the plants that will have beautiful showy flowers as well…what’s not to love? Most come as broom style bonsai because that maximizes the flower volume of the plant. You can style this to many other bonsai styles if you desire.
SERISSA BONSAI NOTE: If you are looking at Serissa bonsai, let me warn you that they can be very difficult. This bush has shiny, dark, small leaves and grows very dense foliage easily. Serissa come in many flower styles, the multiple layer flowers look just like teeny tiny white roses. They are incredibly beautiful and truly irresistible. I have never done well with them and have seen them ruin bonsai for many people. They are not easy to keep alive for most of us.
If you decide Serrisa are a plant that you want, keep this in mind. Please do not make this your only bonsai tree, or let yourself be discourage if it dies. I do not have them in this list and I highly recommend the Fukien Tea as the better alternative to this material.
Fukien Tea (also called Fujian Tea) bonsai – 6 years, 11″ tall.
This is the classic indoor bonsai material. It is extremely popular for the Upright Informal style like this one. They will have tiny white flowers and the leaves have a wonderful texture and some get an interesting trilobe tip. The best part is that they are very hardy and easy care.
Satzuki Azalea – 5 years, 8″ tall, Pink, White, or Red flowers.
This is the Japanese plant that is a traditional and cherished material for bonsai trees.
If you get an Azalea bonsai, I recommend the acid fertilizer for bringing out it’s best listed below.
Gardenia bonsai – 4 years, 6″ to 8″ tall
Japanese Red Quince- red flowers 3 years old 10″ to 12″ tall.
These plants are beautiful and hardy and easily produces double petal flowers.
Pyracantha or Firethorn bonsai “Red Cushion”- 5 years, 13″ tall and will grow red berries.
This is material that is thorny, but it is extremely popular bonsai material for good reason. The plant will have small white flowers, followed by particularly showy red berries that give it this name. You will want to have this plant outside for pollination by insects in order to get these spectacular berries.
The Firethorn berries are wide spread clusters that are very showy.
This section is material for the person who is a beginner who wants to start that tree themselves! (Good for you!)
There is a ficus variety called Benjamina ficus or Weeping fig. These are easily found at any garden center or even sometimes office supply places. They are just OUTSTANDING tropical material for beginning bonsai. Ficus are flexible, hardy, fast growing, and can be easily encouraged to grow aerial roots or recover from a shock with a humidity tent.
The other great material to start out is the Green Mound Juniper. Truly a mound of foliage that is soft needle and very hardy. Since they are used as landscaping material, they are fairly easy to come by. They are not expensive either, so you can get one and style it into any bonsai type you like. If you don’t like the results, just get another and try again. Hey, just try out any plant material that can get a woody base.
The standout in the Benjamina ficus group is the Wiandi. It has naturally curvy growth habit that is a show stopper. You can easily style a gorgeous bonsai with this plant. It will grow fast and become a stunning bonsai tree in time… not even a long amount of time. Sadly, the one on Amazon is ridiculously priced and already styled by someone. Keep your eye out for this ficus variety. I stumbled upon these at a huge garden center and fell in love instantly.
This ficus is also called a Weeping ficus/fig and is very easy to find! They are in office supply plants and in garden centers. A plant that is flexible, hardy and fast-growing.
4″ pot ficus plants (left is regular leaves, right is variegated leaves)
Green Island Ficus
These have wonderful scale for bonsai trees. They are a hardy ficus plant that has rounded leaves and will easily grow little marble-like figs. A humidity tent will grow aerial roots or figs.
Comes in 5″ bonsai pot.
This a pair of 7″ to 10″ plants.
Gensing or Elephant foot ficus
These are aptly named, the base has massive roots that are textured and colored like elephant legs above ground. The top is usually a mop of leaves. With time they will grow so well that you will be surprised at what they look like… and there is plenty to work with here. They love to grow aerial roots.
Green Mound Juniper
This is a soft needle pine bush that is very attractive. You don’t have to deal with sharp pine needles with this plant, which I find very appealing. It truly is a mound of foliage to work with. No matter what style of bonsai you want to create, the raw material is here and plentiful. The trunk style is very nice looking as well. It is a hardy bush.
This is bonsai material that has a very unique wavy, flowing appearance to the foliage. It is easy to fall in love with this plant material. The picture below is a old, styled bonsai tree to show what I am talking about and the results you can achieve. Plant material here is a young 3 year old tree you can get to make into your own bonsai.
Here is my tutorial on how to make my favorite style bonsai tree – Informal Upright (Moyogi)
This is one of the most familiar bonsai styles… it is one that takes a lot of different processes to make. Once you make this style of tree, you have the skills to create any other style bonsai tree. You can learn advanced skills and do even more tailoring of your bonsai with time. This tree also is Root-Over-Rock, which can be done to most bonsai tree styles. Get a feel how this tree is created.
INFORMAL UPRIGHT BONSAI TREE CREATION YouTube video
Bonsai artist resources
What you need here is up to you! For instance, I would not get the tool called a root hook. Chop sticks from your favorite Chinese restaurant can be re-purposed for this tool. You don’t need to get a branch bender tool. This task can be done through wire-training, tie downs, and use of weights to get the bends where and how you need them. These bends will not be as sharp as what the branch bender tool can do, so it is up to you what is essential. Another consideration in this case is that as the tree gets older, it will harden and not be flexible to these bends.
Professional all-purpose bonsai soil – great price, 2.5 gallons!
This is a great mix, if you need to specialize it for your plant, just add a small amount of the appropriate soil to this mix.
Drainage netting – 5 mesh sheets 4″ X 12″ – this is great for putting in the bottom of the pot to keep the soil from washing away
Fertilizer is a combination of 3 nutrients: N-P-K or Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium – this give the ratio of the nutrient mix.
Do not apply fertilizer to a newly potted or re-potted plant (wait a month) or during dormancy.
In general the N promotes foliage growth, the P promotes the roots, and the K promotes the overall plant health.
Ferilizer for acid loving plants like Azalea and Rhododendron. [30-10-10]
Other plants that would benefit from this fertilizer are: Willow trees, Pin Oak trees, Dogwood trees, Beech trees, Japanese Iris, Orchid, Hydrangea, and Begonia. I love this one because it gets results, but also it is easy to store and keep handy for when you need it. This is a one pound size.
A standard fertilizer for bonsai. It will be equal parts on ingredients like 20-20-20 or 14-14-14
This is the fertilizer for the tropicals and subtropicals year round and most others during Spring and Summer.
Fertilizer to use to get your deciduous and conifer bonsai ready for Fall and Winter, it has no nitogen 0-10-10. This is also the fertilizer to use when you want to promote root growth
The phosphorus and potassium encourage the roots to grow to be more healthy, but the lack of nitrogen discourages the growth that detracts from it.
It is gallon size.
This is an even better choice for phosphorus and potassium the one listed above because they are organic and slow release. They will be effective in their task for several weeks. For root growth… you can mix them into your soil before you pot your plant
The bone meal fertilizer is 3-16-0 and is highly rated
This phosphate fertilizer is 0-3-0 and also very highly rated
Keep in mind that you want the height of the pot to match well to the thickness of the trunk…also if the pot is long, you want to place the tree in the pot so that it is close to one end of the long side (not centered).
Levitating bonsai pot – only holds 0.44 lbs, but soooo cool!
This is not necessarily for bonsai purposes, but just fun!
Mica and Poly-resin pots
Mica and Poly-resin pots are better than plastic and look almost as nice as ceramic. These pots do not break or chip easily, they withstand temperature/weather extremes very well.
Poly-resin rectangular pots – set of 3 measuring 6″ X 4″ X 2 1/2″
Poly-resin rectangular pots – set of 3 measuring 7 3/4″ X 5 1/2″ X 2 1/2″
Oval mica bonsai pot – 11 3/8″ x 8 1/8″ x 3 1/4″
Large oval mica – 14″ X 10″ X 4″ (there are 3 larger sizes)
Large round mica – 14″ X 4 3/8″
Large round mica – 11″ X 3 1/2″
Medium round mica – 9 ¼” X 2 5/8″
Large rectangular mica – 14 ¾” X 10 ¾” X 4 3/8″ (there are 2 larger sizes)
Rectangular mica bonsai pot – 12 1/2″ x 9″ x 4″
Medium rectangular mica – 9 ½” X 7″ X 3 3/8″
These are special wood-like appearance bonsai pots
Concrete and ceramic mixture wood log appearance indoor/outdoor pot
4 ½” X 8 ½” X 11 1/2″
Concrete and ceramic mixture bark appearance indoor/outdoor pot
9″ X 6″ X 4 1/2″
These pots are made from a special colorful type of clay from Yixing, China
Purple clay white glazed deep shohin pot – 5″ X 5″ X 2 1/2″
Purple clay unglazed detailed deep bonsai pot – 6 ½” X 6 ½” X 5″
Professional quality concave cutter – the most important bonsai tool for which there are no garden tool substitutes
The concave cutter is used to cut a bowl shaped indent where a branch is removed on most woody plants. This shape will heal to a level, smooth surface that hides the removal location well. These are all 8″ long tools.
Professional grade quality level tools
2 single concave cutters, concave cutter and knob cutter set
Great basic tool sets – all have a concave cutter
Both are Professional 4 pc sets
Branch bender tool
Bending branches for the style you are trying to achieve should be done slowly. You can keep the pressure on them and gradually, slowly increase the bend. This tool is in the medium size range and is adjustable.
These are so handy for doing 360 degree design work on your bonsai tree. You need to keep in mind how you want your tree to look from all sides. The items I have listed are rotating swivel heavy duty turntables.
This one is 10″ diameter and holds up to 65 lbs of weight.
The middle one here is 12″ diameter and holds up to 150 lbs.
This one is 15″ diameter and also holds up to 150 lbs.
Air layering tool
I very much appreciate these! There are 11 in the pack, which comes to around $4 apiece. These are an aid that seems so handy! It takes a year to properly air layer a plant. This item is built to make it easy. I had to put off doing this because my family was making decisions that involved moving. This tool would have made it easy and I would have started the process!
If you are not familiar with the air layering procedure, it is a method of making 2 plants from one. You remove bark and keep the area surrounded with peat moss and moisture to make the pant develop roots. That portion of the plant can then be cut away and planted. This has 2 large, 3 medium and 6 small cutting globes.
AIR LAYERING WITH CUTTING GLOBE YouTube video
Need a Lawn & Garden item that you did not find here?
Look here or email me at the contact below…
These books are my big favorites and I own
A lot of my favorite bonsai books are by Harry Tomlinson!
This book is an awesome resource for guidance and instruction.
I adore the illustrated guide to tree material in this book!
Mine is an older version of this wonderful book about the indoor plants (warm climate plants)… It shows a lot of information about great plant material that is sometimes hard to find.
This beautifully explains the methods and aesthetics of the art in the art of bonsai. Vital to any serious artist.
A great beginner book resource for anyone.
Here are some other highly rated, great choices…
Wouldn’t it be great to keep up on the latest info? Sign up before you go! No others will get the address.