Species to avoid for bonsai

Bonsai Nut

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I have seen many threads about peoples' favorite bonsai species, but never a thread for beginners about what species to avoid. I'm not talking about species like japanese white pine, which are difficult to care for but very rewarding as bonsai in the long run. I'm talking about species that are almost impossible to make decent bonsai out of, regardless of your skill level, and regardless of the time invested. Of course, I say "almost impossible" because I believe it is possible to make a bonsai out of any tree. However this list would be a "recommended avoidance" list.

For example, consider the arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis). A very common garden center and landscape shrub that would appear to be a great candidate for bonsai. However because of its growth habit, it is almost impossible to maintain a clean design - the best you can hope for is a shaggy tree that people will look at and say "wow - I've never seen anyone make a bonsai out of an arborvitae before". And yet people continue to sell LOADS of arborvitaes as starter plants because of how easy they are to propogate and how fast they grow. However in my years of going to shows, I have NEVER seen an arborvitae at a show, or for that matter, at an advanced level workshop.
 

bonsai barry

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Two species that I've spent wasted time are:

Picea glauca conica. The Alberta Spruce looks like a natural. But beneath that cute holiday shape lays a tree with funky branches and a mind of its own.


Leptospermum. New Zealand tea tree. It didn't take kindly to repotting... sort of like the manzanita in that regard.
 

Jo Ann

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I was just gonna ask how anyone feels about the New Zealand tea tree? I was almosted tempted to buy one the other day from Home Depot (can already hear the snickering) :eek: . It was the first time I've actually ever seen a live one other then pictures. It kinda reminded me of a sage brush with tiny pink flowers. There was 2 varieties a pink flowered one and a red flowered one with reddish leaves. But after looking the plant over I decided It was way over my head. I have no clue as to how one would begine too work on something like this.

Jo Ann
 

gve

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Thanks Bnut for this post. Would be very helpful if it is completed. Why not taking it a step further and doing something on the "prerequisites" for a good stock plant. What would be the advice of the advanced to the beginners. Or is it a different topic altogether? My reason for asking is that you know how beginners are, they see bonsai in everything, but do not have the insight yet to know whether what they are looking at is actually worthwhile.

Gerhard
 

onlyrey

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I have a bonsai managazine (dont remember which) that has a New Zealand Tea Tree on the cover, it looks amazing. Even though the difficulties, the view is something that I believe makes it worth trying. Have one in the ground styling for some day when I have more experience in bonsai.
 

Sandcounty

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I would add Fukien Tea to this list. Way to fussy in dry climates. Mine dropped 75% of it's foliage in the first two weeks I had it, then took 10 weeks to show any new signs of growth. Sand

(Sorry - I guess this would fall under difficult to care for)
 
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Tachigi

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By the criteria that the head nut set. My vote would be eastern white pine. With the caveat that the dwarf varieties not be lumped in. They are not "impossible" to do as I have seen a few. Their needles really don't reduce well, and back budding is tough to achieve.
 

Behr

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Several species are not good bonsai material because they do not adapt well to pot culture, but these fall into a category of 'horticultural' challenges...Obviously, most of the 'nut' species with large compound leaves such as the walnut and pecan, will always be a challenge that is not likely to be conquered design wise...Deciduous trees with long internodes and large leaves that do not reduce, will also remain a challenge...

Some of the named species such as arborvitae and alberta spruce, along with true cedars and true cypress, indeed will usually result in a disappointment to the artist IF they are attempting to create a 'traditional' bonsai...I believe this is one reason they are seldom seen in shows and exhibits...Non-traditional designs are not yet being recognized and accepted by the majority of those in charge of these displays...Perhaps they never will be, and indeed not likely in my lifetime, but I would hope eventually the art will progress to the point that it is no longer a requirement to have the 'popular' pads, triangle shaped canopies, and other conventions that make these species difficult to work with...I have confidence that somewhere in the future scope of time, a tree will be accepted truly as an artist's vision and not judged solely on how well it conforms to the 'standards' of traditional Japanese bonsai...The 'banyan' form ficus, and the 'flat-top' bald cypress form, are two good examples of non-traditional designs that have been at least somewhat adopted as acceptable, and are seen displayed in some exhibits outside of Japan...Were it not for the acceptance of these forms, these species would also be considered 'difficult', although not impossible to work with...

Regards
Behr

:) :) :)
 

Vance Wood

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Any North American Maple Species---even Red Maple t'is a dog as a bonsai. Ash, almost all speceis there of. Chestnut, almost all species there of. North American Oaks, that are legal to have, there is one on the endangered species list I believe you cannot even have the acorns.
 

Vance Wood

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I am not familiar with all of California's Oaks, and I would rule out live Oak as being almost a different animal from my exclusion list; I had forgotten about that tree it makes an excellent bonsai. There is also a little bush we used to call scrub Oak but I am not sure it is a true Oak. I tried harvesting some of these but they were difficult to remove from the ground and I had no luck with them. They have a leaf that looks a lot like Fukine Tea except lighter green and more leathery. There is one more the Cork Oak though it is not native it does grow there fairly well and is often used in street plantings, or it used to be.
 

darrellw

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Hi Vance,

Live oaks were the main ones I was thinking about. There are also two other oaks (Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii and Valley Oak, Quercus lobata) which might have some potential (at least the leaf size is more suitable).

At least one tree called "scrub oak" is Quercus dumosa, which has a pretty small, holly-like leaf.

-Darrell
 
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Two species that I've spent wasted time are:

Picea glauca conica. The Alberta Spruce looks like a natural. But beneath that cute holiday shape lays a tree with funky branches and a mind of its own.
QUOTE]

Has ANYONE had a good experience with this tree EVER? It does look like a natural. Does no one have a Alberta spruce that they like?
 

agraham

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I've seen some nice "eastern white cedar" bonsai.Is it much different than the common arborvitae?I've been tempted to try an arborvitae as bonsai.Is it as hopeless as nut suggested?

andy
 

Vance Wood

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