i. Getting started in Bonsai: Beginners’ FAQs

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i. Getting started in Bonsai: Beginners’ FAQs

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:45 pm

Index

Overview  
What should I do first as a beginner to bonsai?
Are bonsai a special type of tree?
Bonsai should be kept indoors, right?
What actually are Mallsai?
Can I grow bonsai from seed?
Useful links


Overview
It’s not the intention of this forum to replicate material that exists elsewhere The following articles will give you a great start:

Article 1
Article 2

In the next few sections we aim to help you even more by giving our responses to the most frequently asked questions (and misconceptions) we get on the forum, especially from beginners to bonsai.  There are probably many more but this should give you a good start.


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What should I do first as a beginner to bonsai?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:46 pm

Read Read Read: probably the first thing we’d say to beginners is spend some time reading up on bonsai - books and the internet. You will find a good list of books by clicking HERE The internet is a valuable source of info, but as in many things there are some really good information sources on the internet and some truly awful ones. Don’t believe the first thing you read – always consult two or three sources to make sure your information is good. Beware youtube bonsai “how to” videos unless you recognise the name of the poster from a reputable site like IBC. There are some truly dreadful youtube offerings out there and they will set your learning way back.

In addition to the reading up we’ve suggested, we’d advise you to go along to your local bonsai club. Even if you don’t join, you will come away with a clearer idea of what bonsai is all about. Joining has a big advantage of putting you in touch with people who will have years of experience between them. Most are quite happy to help a newcomer. Some may even offer you trees they no longer want – and that can’t be a bad thing.

We’d also recommend you get along to some bonsai exhibitions, again to see what good bonsai look like. Very often, details of forthcoming shows are announced in our Announcements forum.

Also, try to find out about your local climate and what trees grow well in it. Think about how hot it gets in summer and how cold it gets in winter because trees have their own climate requirements. A walk round your local park is a good start point.

Lastly, try to get some basic horticultural knowledge if you haven’t already got it. Bonsai is a specialised form of horticulture and it really does help to understand plant growth in general terms so that you can then apply it to bonsai


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Are bonsai are special type of tree?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:47 pm

Nope. Bonsai are not special dwarf varieties of trees. They are just common or garden trees or shrubs that have undergone a process which has miniaturised them. Using the correct bonsai techniques it is therefore possible to miniaturise just about any type of tree. Some of course are a lot easier to do and some are downright impossible.

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Bonsai should be kept indoors, right?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:47 pm

This is largely incorrect. As we’ve seen above, bonsai are small versions of large trees. Ask yourself if you’d keep an apple tree in your living room or a horse chestnut in your bedroom. Of course not; quite apart from the size, they need outdoor conditions to thrive and grow. So do bonsai. Sadly, too, bonsai would be badly affected if not killed off by several features of indoor life – most notably the lack of sunlight and our modern heating systems. In essence, our houses are “artificial climates” where natural light levels are low and temperatures are high.

So why do garden centres etc say that their bonsai are “indoor plants”? Many of the trees you get in these places are imported from entirely different climates and the bulk of them are tropical trees. They get called indoor trees as they are sold in areas where the winter temperatures would be too low. I have a few trees that would not survive a Scottish winter so I keep them in a south-facing window over the cold months. They go straight back outside once the threat of frost is past though.

So can I not grow trees indoors at all?
You will find several members of IBC who grow trees indoors all year round. They usually have fairly sophisticated fluorescent etc lighting systems and special "grow areas" which (and this is a very simplistic explanation) act as natural conditions. This allows them to grow plants that perhaps they might not otherwise be able to grow in their local climate, or where perhaps their living accommodation does not give them spce for outdoor growing. Some just enjoy the sheer experimentation and/or technical aspects of growing plants this way. There are people who sniff at this method of growing bonsai but for those who do it, it is very rewarding and is simply another way of growing their trees. The honest ones will tell you that it is far from being an "easy way" and that casualties happen quite regularly just as they do in outdoor growing.


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Is this why it’s so important to understand the climate in my local area?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:47 pm

Absolutely. You need to know if the trees you have will withstand your typical winter. And indeed also if they’ll cope with your summer. For example, I have a bougainvillea which is a Mediterranean tree. It is kept indoors for all but the warmer and frost-free summer months. My junipers, larches, pines etc stay outside all year long. But conversely we have members who live in hot areas – the Philippines, Florida and other US southern states for example - who are unable to grow many of the species I take for granted because their climate is too hot and does not have a real dormant period that so many trees here in the UK need. It’s swings and roundabouts really.

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What actually is meant by Mallsai?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:51 pm

It’s a rather unkind term for the type of trees that get sold very cheaply on garden centres and the garden section of hardware stores. The telltale “clues” are an S-bend in the trunk and a blue glazed pot. They are generally trees that have been grown for the western market and a large part of the problem with them is that they are shipped half way across the world in containers without being looked after particularly well. They’re also grown outdoors in their country of origin but sold as “indoor” trees here. As a result they often die and the poor beginner gets the idea that bonsai are difficult to keep as a result.

Don't be put off by the comments above though. For many of us, mallsai were our introduction to bonsai. And one thing about them is that they're usually quite inexpensive which makes them ideal material to practise your new skills on without worrying about writing off an expensive tree.

They're also quite useful for things like group or forest plantings again because they are relatively cheap. Have fun with them while you are learning and who knows - maybe yours might be the mallsai that breaks the mould and becomes a really good tree.

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Can I grow bonsai from seed?

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:52 pm

Yes of course you can. And those who do, find it very rewarding indeed as they can say that they have created the tree right from scratch.

All we’d remind you of is two things:

First, don’t be fooled by seed sellers that are advertising “Bonsai Seed”. There is nothing special about these seeds – they are just the same as other tree seeds that you can buy. What you should find in the packet, if you get them from a reputable source, is seeds of trees that are suitable for bonsai. But check they are suitable for your local area as well.

Second, remember that growing from seed will be a lengthy process if you want to get a convincing bonsai with a decently thickened trunk. Depending on your climate and the type of tree, you could be talking about not really being able to do much with the tree for at least five years, sometimes more. What many of us do in that situation is have a few older trees to work on while our seeds come through.

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Useful links

Post  fiona on Thu May 10, 2012 8:57 pm

Two of our most recommended internet sites:

UK-based Bonsai4me
US-based Evergreen garden works


Sites which can help you find a local club:

bonsaisite
American Bonsai Society
Federation of British Bonsai Societies

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Re: i. Getting started in Bonsai: Beginners’ FAQs

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