Introduction and questions regarding my first bonsai tree

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Introduction and questions regarding my first bonsai tree

Post  Tiger Oak on Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:00 am


This is my first post, so I want to take a minute to introduce myself, and then tap everyone's knowledge with some questions! I've loved trees all my life, and I have a special fondness for oak trees, hence my screen name! Wink I'm in San Diego, CA, in what the Sunset Western Garden Book identifies as Zone 21.

I toured a local Bonsai exhibit a few months back, and became toying with the idea of creating a bonsai tree. Since then, I've purchased a few books, and have really enjoyed reading them. Now that I am more seriously considering the idea of bonsai trees, I am trying to decide what I should choose as my first tree.

Initially, I was planning to buy an established bonsai tree, but lately I have been thinking about buying something from nursery stock and turning it into a bonsai tree. I saw three trees (each was in a one gallon container) on a recent trip to a nursery that piqued my interest. They were:

Black Dragon Japanese Cedar (cryptomeria japonica)
Japanese Boxwood (buxus japonica)
Coast Live Oak (quercus agrifolia)

The Sunset book says all three of them are suited for my growing zone, but would any of these make a good candidate for a bonsai tree? More to the point, would any of them be a good tree for a beginner to start with? If not, what would be some recommendations for a good beginner tree? In addition, would it be better for me to try to find something locally, or would a tree purchased over the Internet be a safe bet?

Thanks for the help!

Tiger Oak

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Re: Introduction and questions regarding my first bonsai tree

Post  drgonzo on Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:18 am

welcome to the forum and the hobby.

My first tree was a Chinese Elm, but If I had to recommend a good beginners tree I'd go with a Willow Leaf Ficus. Easy to grow, resilient, will thrive in your lovely zone 21, and is a very rewarding tree to work with from roots to branches.


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Re: Introduction and questions regarding my first bonsai tree

Post  Poink88 on Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:15 am

Post deleted.

Last edited by Poink88 on Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:48 am; edited 1 time in total


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Re: Introduction and questions regarding my first bonsai tree

Post  JimLewis on Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:30 pm

To directly answer your question, the Cryptomeria is a fairly common plant used for bonsai. I do not know the specific cultivar you mention, and as I have never worked with one do not know its suitability for a beginner.

Boxwood of almost any type make very nice bonsai, though it often is difficult to find one at a nursery that is suited to convert into a miniature tree.

I know that many of the California coast live oaks have been turned into bonsai, but I do have to caution that oaks in general are not the tree type most suited for beginners.

Of the three you name, the boxwood would be best. However, finding one with a suitable large single trunk at a nursery -- especially from one-gallon plants -- will be very difficult. It's not uncommon for us to visit a nursery, study dozens of plants, and leave empty handed. Your chances go up -- slightly -- if you move up to 3- or 5-gallon plants.

I would suggest you visit and join the San Diego bonsai club. I believe it meets somewhere in Balboa park. A visit to the American Bonsai Society website -- -- will give you the time and place and probably the name of a contact. Members of the group can certainly help you choose what species to work with, and you may even get an experienced member to go with you to visit a nursery or two.

As mentioned, perhaps your best bet would be to find a Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia). They have small leaves, are easy growers, very resilient to bonsai techniques, and can make excellent bonsai.

Jim Lewis - - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician


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