Best Tree for Beginner

Phillip C

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I asked yesterday at my Bonsai Society's workshop with Ryan Neil and and others piped up without much thought and said Japanese Black Pine. I wanted to run it past you guys and see if you agree and if not, what is the best tree for a beginning with a Bonsai Society's input and help. Hey that sounds like me! I should have asked this question before getting all the material I have collected so far.

Thanks for your input and time. I really appreciate it. Phillip C
 

Brian Van Fleet

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No, elms, maples, and shimpaku junipers are better beginner material. They clearly teach the cause-effect relationship bonsai techniques have on growth.
That understanding needs to be solidified before pines are good subjects, because timing is different and if something goes wrong, the "why" is tougher to determine for a beginner.
For now, learn to care for what you already have, and it may provide you with some good material in the next couple seasons.

Here is a question for all: If anyone out there did start with a pine as a beginner...what was the result?
 
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Dav4

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Honestly, I would never consider a pine to be easy for beginners. I have spent the last 10 years working with them and I am just beginning to feel comfortable with their seasonal care. For me, a good tree for a beginner is a juniper. They are heat and cold tolerant and are very forgiving (to a point) when one might be too aggressive using the techniques like wiring and pruning we apply to our trees. Phillip, I believe that the Atlanta Bonsai Society generally has a beginners workshop in January where the basics of repotting and wiring are discussed. At the workshop I attended several years ago, there were small junipers available for any new person to work on during the meeting. I would look into that, and I would probably try to restrain yourself from obtaining any more material, at least for now. Come to more meeting and listen to the guest artists and the more experienced members. At yesterdays meeting, Ryan Neil was FANTASTIC. He critiqued members trees, which ranged from young, unworked nursery stock, to collected 500 year old material. He discussed styling, proper techniques and horticultural care for specific species in extreme depth, and explained WHY. Everyone there, regardless of experience, came away knowing more then they did previously.
 

Randy

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A theme I keep seeing, and partially because I look for it, is that some beginners may waste their time and money on material that doesn't belong in their climate, that they lack the knowledge to keep healthy and in general will be a waste of time with little gained beyond "that soil kept too much water". I don't necessarily believe all that but a good portion makes sense, I know I have wasted time, money and effort on junk. We have to start somewhere and learn on something but it might be prudent to keep your focus large, your collection small and your wallet fat enough to buy that truly worthy tree you come across later. Just a thought. The timeline in my head tells me, avoid pines until year 2 or 3 of practice, but what do I know.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Chinese elm and / or shimpaku juniper are really the two best trees for beginners. They are easy and you can get good results fast (for early success and to get you excited to try more advanced stock). Pines are not beginner trees. If you want to get a couple of small pines to practice seasonal care on, that's fine. But do NOT buy a nice pine until you have been able to keep a small pine for 3-4 years.
 

jk_lewis

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The timeline in my head tells me, avoid pines until year 2 or 3 of practice, but what do I know.

I waited about 25 years -- and I still just have one small pine, a native.
 

rockm

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If you start with a black pine, you really aren't going to learn much about bonsai per se, as much as you will about the intricacies of BLACK PINE bonsai. Also, it's not a straighforward species to work with. It's not all that fussy IF you know what it's fussy about. Beginner mistakes, overwatering, underwatering, inept top and root pruning will kill a pine much more quickly than an elm...What might be a temporary root or top pruning setback for an elm can be fatal for a pine...
 

Bonsai Nut

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If you start with a black pine, you really aren't going to learn much about bonsai per se, as much as you will about the intricacies of BLACK PINE bonsai. Also, it's not a straighforward species to work with. It's not all that fussy IF you know what it's fussy about. Beginner mistakes, overwatering, underwatering, inept top and root pruning will kill a pine much more quickly than an elm...What might be a temporary root or top pruning setback for an elm can be fatal for a pine...

The other challenge with a pine. It will be dead for two months before you know you have killed it :) By the time it starts looking bad, it is too late.
 

edprocoat

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I once bought a JBP seedling from a nursery, its was just a whip and three years later it still was not much more. I got it in a small bonsai pot and at three years I decided to trim some roots, it had what looked like a fungus in the soil so I removed it and washed the tree roots clean. As mentioned above it took about three months until it started to brown out the needles so I fertilized, which seemed to hurry its demise. I did not try a pine again for another ten years, bought it at a flea market. The guy gave me instructions on when to water it, simple stuff like when the soil dries out etc. It died two months later. I found pines real tough to deal with as I had no one to ask about them as Bonsai and no internet at the time to seek advice on. I think many of tropicals are easy, such as the Ficus retusa, the Fukien tea, the money tree grows easy too problem is now you mostly find them braided trunked which looks odd and not like a tree at all. Jumipers of any variety are good trees to work with too.

ed
 

Vance Wood

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Not that Pines are difficult in and of themselves they are however; incremental in their care and culture. There are a few things that you have to consider, the most significant of which for a beginner is that you may not see the results of your actions until next season, and those actions must be done at the right time in the right way. You could say that they are too complicated for the beginning bonsai grower. It is this more than anything that makes them a less than perfect choice for the beginner. On the other hand the Juniper species' are less a problem, especially if you can get your hands on a Shimpaku Juniper. Most of the Junipers that are in the Chinese Juniper family (which is a lot of trees but not all of them) are relatively easy to work with and will come back from the kind of mistakes a beginner is likely to subject them to.

I would not necessarily suggest the Procumbens Juniper because, for the most part, they are not normally an upright tree and the tendency is always there to make them into a cascade style just because they tend to lay flat on the ground. Not that there is anything wrong with the Cascade style, beginners tend to view the growing portions of the tree in a way that ignores the size and shape of the trunk. Almost without exception a beginner (without supervision) and a Procumbens will go for a Cascade style that looks more like a bow with a bunch of branches growing down. In my opinion the Cascade, when designed properly, is one of the most difficult and demanding forms to achieve without making the tree look like a rabbit trap in the woods.
 
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HotAction

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While this won't really help most of the non-northerners, larch/tamarack (larix laricina) are very easy to work with.

Dave
 

Vance Wood

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While this won't really help most of the non-northerners, larch/tamarack (larix laricina) are very easy to work with.

Dave

I understand that Japanese and European Larch do fairly well in a little less northern latitudes, Laricina does not do well South of a line with Cleveland Ohio.
 
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