How many trees have you killed?

Agriff

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Reddit's /r/bonsai classifies its skill tiers partially by the number of trees one has killed:

  • Beginner: zero to four years experience, owns 1-5 trees, killed a tree in the past
  • Intermediate: four to ten years experience, owns 15+ trees, has been on courses, killed over 10 trees.
  • Experienced/advanced: well over ten years experience, owns 30+ trees, attended multiple courses - may even teach, has exhibited trees, won awards and has killed dozens of trees.
  • Master: probably 15years+ experience but professionally trained, potentially owns or works with hundreds of trees of significant value, probably works professionally in bonsai - lecturing and workshops, may have apprenticeship in bonsai in Japan.
I'm just wondering, how accurate do you all think this is? The reason I ask is that I'm a super new beginner, and wondering if it's common to kill over 10 trees in your first 4-10 years of experience. I'm pretty sure one of my first purchases, a Jaqueline Hillier elm, is on death's door after I bare rooted it last month in a workshop and failed to keep it sufficiently watered. All of its leaves are really crispy and its not pushing out any new growth. I'm having a hard time knowing I could have done more to save it- feels like such a shame and this is probably going to get me laughed at but loss of a beautiful life? I guess I could just use some reassurance that this is all part of the learning process and I'm not totally incompetent.
 

Bonsai Nut

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LOL. :)

First, I think these skill tiers are pretty sketchy. Your skill has nothing to do with years of experience or trees killed. Your skill is indicated wholly by the quality of your work.

Some people can hit a high level of skill quickly, some will take longer, and some will never achieve it. There are large numbers of bonsai practitioners who have been practicing bonsai for years and years... and who have only basic skills.

Starting out you will kill lots of trees due to ignorance. Later on you will kill lots of trees due to challenging yourself, working with difficult material, or attempting difficult techniques. Some people don't care about propagation, but I happen to enjoy it, and I create more trees than I kill - including tons of shimpaku, persimmon, pines and elms grown from seeds, cuttings or air-layers.

The fastest way to improve your skill is to work beneath someone who has a high level of skill - and do EXACTLY what they do. The slow way to improve your skill is to work with people who have high levels of skills, and question, or change, their methods before you master them. The slowest way of all to improve your skills is to just dive in and and start chopping up trees - learning by trial and error what other people have already known for years. There are tons of people with bonsai YouTube videos who have only beginner - or neophyte - levels of skill. It is evident in their work - not in their years of experience.
 
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Fidur

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Zero years experience, own 20 trees , 1 of them with certain value, the remaining just seedlings with no great value. Not killed anyone yet (it's a matter of time I guess).
I have been trying to learn as fast as I can, as I love my trees and would not be happy killing them.
 

ShadyStump

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I guess I could just use some reassurance that this is all part of the learning process and I'm not totally incompetent.
Nothing saying it can't be both. 😉
Lol

My ten-year-old was walking around counting my trees yesterday. Ten pots with sticks.
I told her three are pretty much dead so they don't count, and one has two trees in one pot right now. So nine. Not counting the elm that's still green and limber but has no leaves yet this year.
Now then, <stares blankly while counts on fingers, then backwards on fingers, removes shoes for access to toes for counting...> I've killed in my two years roughly as many trees as I have now, not to get into a dozen or two failed cuttings, or my recent first attempt at air layering which I have high hopes but low expectations for.

Yup!
Totally incompetent... and part of the learning curve.
Is cool, man
 

Agriff

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Nothing saying it can't be both. 😉
Hah! Awesome 😁 thank you

The fastest way to improve your skill is to work beneath someone who has a high level of skill - and do EXACTLY what they do

That's my goal! But I'm finding that bonsai education can be quite the expensive endeavor, barring a decision to uproot one's life and move to Japan for a 6 year apprenticeship. And I think it's a huge privilege to be able to learn bonsai in an age where there are TONS of people to learn from online, but having multiple "masters" can be dizzying to try to keep up with. I suppose all will come with time, though.
 
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HorseloverFat

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! This kind of proves the kind of information that’s out there.... “sketchy” (via @Bonsai Nut ) is quite diplomatic.. and polite)..

There’s NO way that plant mortality rates directly correlate to experience in this way..

That being said..
My answer.. is many... but NOT many RECENTLY.

🤓
 

HorseloverFat

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Haha.. I’m still in beginner TIME, on that list... my numbers are WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY different.
 

Cadillactaste

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When we look at art in general...there are ones who create masterpieces that hang on walls in galleries to be appreciated...and some who can muster up stick figure drawings by others. Anyone who has had small children have admired their child's stick person art.

Same can be applied to our hobby...No amount of time will make them masterpieces on their bench for those who never make it beyond stick figures.

Key note: At the end of the day...draw stick figures if you find joy in it. Such as the same with the trees we keep.

Grouping ones into categories...never pans out. Some are more artistically inclined and can just draw out amazing things from material. Others...create a nice tree...and some...just want to grow trees in pots. You can have years and never move forward not because lack of desire...but no vision. It doesn't matter...if they bring us joy at the end of the day.

Horticulture care...doesn't make one a master artist. No matter how many years into the hobby...no matter how many trees they did or didn't kill.

At the end of the day...why do we need to try to lump ourselves into categories? I'm just plain vanilla...no category needed for me.
 

HorseloverFat

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When we look at art in general...there are ones who create masterpieces that hang on walls in galleries to be appreciated...and some who can muster up stick figure drawings by others. Anyone who has had small children have admired their child's stick person art.

Same can be applied to our hobby...No amount of time will make them masterpieces on their bench for those who never make it beyond stick figures.

Key note: At the end of the day...draw stick figures if you find joy in it. Such as the same with the trees we keep.

Grouping ones into categories...never pans out. Some are more artistically inclined and can just draw out amazing things from material. Others...create a nice tree...and some...just want to grow trees in pots. You can have years and never move forward not because lack of desire...but no vision. It doesn't matter...if they bring us joy at the end of the day.

Horticulture care...doesn't make one a master artist. No matter how many years into the hobby...no matter how many trees they did or didn't kill.

At the end of the day...why do we need to try to lump ourselves into categories? I'm just plain vanilla...no category needed for me.
YES YES YES!!!
 

LemonBonsai

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Well i havent killed any of my trees. Now in the second year of doing bonsai and I have over 15 of them. (Although one might be starting to die) soo maybe 1 shortly lol
 

Forsoothe!

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Plant materials are perishable, get used to it. If you are going to possess anything better than local weeds, wintering-over will take its toll because weather is highly variable and can be cruel. Then there's bugs. Summers can be cruel, too, and come to think of it we are imperfect husbands, so there are more things that can go wrong than we can fully control. Count on losing 2 to 5% per year, -it's a volume thing.
 

badatusernames

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i haven’t read the rest of this thread yet but i went and threw all of my trees into the garbage

i figure if i get killing them out of the way i’ll be a master in no time

now to take a big sip of coffee and read everyone else’s opinion
 

Gabler

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I started chopping up trees when I was a kid, probably around 2006. I read bonsai books (mostly by Peter Chan), but I was a kid living in a rural area, so I couldn't just ride my bike to a local club to attend workshops, etc. I dug up trees from the woods, stuck them in pots filled with field soil, and pruned and wired them like a maniac, but miraculously, several survived. I have no idea how many hundreds did not. I eventually figured out the importance of proper substrate, and for a while I kept just two trees, my first successful tree from 2006, a boxwood, and a garden center pine tree. When I went away to college, my dad forgot to water, and the pine died. I planted the boxwood in the ground, and I collected a few trees from the woods to put in grow-out boxes, so they would be ready when I finished school. I dabbled around with landscape plantings a bit for my art classes for distribution credits, but otherwise didn't do much. Now that I'm finished with school, I'm getting back into bonsai, and I'm realizing just how much stuff I got wrong. I could say I have 15 years of experience, but that would be misleading. For most of that time, I was a dumb kid chopping up seedlings. It's really only been in the last seven years that I've seen any success, and for most of that time, I've been in school, not actively practicing. I would say I have the functional equivalent of 2 years of experience.
 

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