From: tmkelly@shootist.EBay.Sun.COM (Tk) Newsgroups: alt.bonsai Subject: How to get started (long) Date: 1 Apr 1993 00:10:38 GMT
Source: Bonsai Today Magazine #6 pg 24-25 (no author listed) Reprinted *without* permission
How to Start a Bonsai Collection
When bonsai suddenly bursts into your life, you are greeted, perhaps inundated, with new horticultural concepts, Eastern and Western aesthetics, and lots of advice, some of it seemingly contradictory. Add a dash of plant names in Latin and design concepts in Japanese, and just the thought of jumping into bonsai can be almost over whelming.
People find bonsai to be of interest for many reasons. «reasons deleted by Tk»
Regardless of from which direction you approach bonsai, there is always the question of how to get started.
The first thing that you should realize is that interest in bonsai implies a profound respect and love for Nature. One does not start out into bonsai by collecting trees that are growing in the wild. Although you may follow the bonsai manuals on digging practice to the letter, you probably do not yet know how to even water your new acquisition, how to fertilize it, or how to preserve or enhance its original form. In many instances, a tree similar to the one you have just collected could have been bought for very little money at any nursery. Growing bonsai from seeds is an alternative, but this takes an awfully long time; it may take 10 years for an experienced enthusiast to produce an attractive bonsai.
The same is true for cuttings. This method is used by enthusiasts who wish to reproduce specific varieties that are difficult to obtain by any other method.
Layering is a good way to obtain fine bonsai stock. It is however a fairly advanced technique, and is really a better method for completing and improving your collection, rather than starting it.
The quickest way is to start out with a bonsai that you have purchased from a nursery. Talk to the nurseryman and learn all you can about how best to take care of your new little tree.
After you have gotten over the initial awe, it is time to be objective. Study your tree, compare it with the fine bonsai that you may see in books or magazines that have a similar design. Look for its flaws, and strong points. Realize that inexpensive bonsai may be sometimes little more than nursery trees that have been planted in a bonsai pot with little or no styling. Do not feel that you will in some way be violating the tree's artistic integrity by changing the its design: it is your artistic judgement that is most important.
Perhaps a better way to get started with bonsai is to purchase a nursery plant that has been grown in a pot for ornamental purposes. If you pick one that has fairly dense growth, you will be able to shape it very quickly into almost any form you like.
In a well stocked nursery, you will be able to find almost any variety. The majority of them will be well suited to your climate and location. In addition, working with a nursery tree allows you, without too great an expenditure, to begin to learn and practice those techniques that you must know to become a true bonsai enthusiast: branch pruning, wiring, root pruning, transplanting, pinching back, etc.
To get started, you will need only some pruning cutters, scissors, wire cutters, some chop sticks, 1,2,3 and 4 mm copper or coated aluminum wire, bonsai soil, and a training pot.
Do not start out with complicated material: look for a plant with a single trunk, many branches and one that is not too tall. Look, too, for a forgiving species that will survive in spite of what you are about to do to it: junipers are ideal species for beginners.
Next do some searching around a nursery. Locate a tree or shrub that you think may have promise, and purchase it. Now only one more thing is left to do: style it.
Look through all the bonsai books and magazines you can find; look at the photographs of fine bonsai for a design that can be adapted to your pre-bonsai. Then look your tree over, assessing its qualities and its defects. You are not yet Kimura , but the essential techniques only require practice and a little imagination.
A bonsai is viewed from only one direction, call the front of the tree. Look at the tree from many directions until you find what you feel is a pleasing trunk line. This will be the front. Push a small stick in the soil in line with the front as a reminder. Then decide which of the branches should be removed before you do any actual pruning: you can mark then with a piece of string. To get an idea what the tree might look like with a specific branch removed, take a sheet of paper or paper towel and cover the branch.
From then on, work slowly; look over the articles on design and wiring and then begin to shape your first future bonsai. If you use a juniper, the result will be immediately apparent and if you ant not completely pleased with it, plant it in the yard and try again with another. Bonsai is a learn-by-doing experience: there is no other way.
After the tree has been styled to your satisfaction, it should be planted in a bonsai pot. A bonsai is not a bonsai until it is planted in a proper pot. Remove the tree from its plastic pot and prune the roots so it will fit in your bonsai pot. If you have removed half of the branches, then the tree really only needs about half of the roots it originally had.
From one of your bonsai references you can learn the details of root pruning, drainage, and potting soil suitable for bonsai, and how and when to transplant your little tree into a bonsai pot.
Then sit back and enjoy your new creation for a few moments. You will find yourself trimming a little here and there, perhaps moving a branch to a better position. You are on your way.
There are many things yet to learn, foremost of which is how to keep your bonsai alive and vigorous. So read everything you can and learn by observing how your plant responds to sun and shade, watering frequency, fertilizing, pruning, pinching, and so on.
Join a club if there is one nearby.
To sum up, practice and observation are the essentials fro developing bonsai skills and building a collection of Bonsai.