Starting from scratch

Elisa

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Hi all,

I've been wanting to start growing bonsai forever, and I think I'll finally be ready to do so this fall.
I've done a fair bit of reading, and I'm receiving a lot of contrasting opinions - so thought I would try and collect some ideas.

I'm based in the UK, so would preferably start on indoor plants - any ideas of what would be best for a beginner?

I also plan on either seeding or using trimmings (favouring the latter); any advice, which method works best for you?
(I've seen a lot of different methods, ie placing trimmings in sand or perlite, using root growth hormones or not)

Any other advice would be well and truly appreciated.

Thanks in advance
 

Bonsai Nut

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Welcome to the site!

When you say "indoor trees" can you share what kind of indoor environment you have? Some people might have a small greenhouse, garden shed or large south-facing bay window, while others only have a limited window sill.
 

Elisa

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Welcome to the site!

When you say "indoor trees" can you share what kind of indoor environment you have? Some people might have a small greenhouse, garden shed or large south-facing bay window, while others only have a limited window sill.
I am referring to a bay window situation; it is not a purpose built plant environment, but receives plenty of light.
I also have space outdoors, but I was told indoor plants were easier to start with (feel free to contradict this!) - I have looked into outdoor plants too, it never properly gets below freezing here, but the idea of leaving small plants outside worries me...
 

rockm

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I am referring to a bay window situation; it is not a purpose built plant environment, but receives plenty of light.
I also have space outdoors, but I was told indoor plants were easier to start with (feel free to contradict this!) - I have looked into outdoor plants too, it never properly gets below freezing here, but the idea of leaving small plants outside worries me...
"Indoor plants" are the HARDEST to do. Plants aren't meant to be grown indoors, where humidity levels are lower than a desert and light is a about as bright as in a cave--even in the most brightly lit bay window.

You multiply your issues as a beginning bonsai ist by growing indoors, as you have to adjust and compensate for all those less than great environmental factors. All those stressors also produce growth (if any) on plants that is weak and spindly, further slowing down bonsai treatment. Plants have lived outside literally for billions of years now. Unless you're worried about theft, (and even if you are--there are ways to avoid that) get your trees outside.

FWIW, bonsai were NEVER meant to be kept indoors in its countries of origin, such as Japan and China. Indoor growing is mostly a western thing. Bonsai are not fragile weak little plants.
 

Elisa

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"Indoor plants" are the HARDEST to do. Plants aren't meant to be grown indoors, where humidity levels are lower than a desert and light is a about as bright as in a cave--even in the most brightly lit bay window.

You multiply your issues as a beginning bonsai ist by growing indoors, as you have to adjust and compensate for all those less than great environmental factors. All those stressors also produce growth (if any) on plants that is weak and spindly, further slowing down bonsai treatment. Plants have lived outside literally for billions of years now. Unless you're worried about theft, (and even if you are--there are ways to avoid that) get your trees outside.

FWIW, bonsai were NEVER meant to be kept indoors in its countries of origin, such as Japan and China. Indoor growing is mostly a western thing. Bonsai are not fragile weak little plants.
Thanks so much, I'm not sure why I was told the opposite!

Do you protect yours at all? Referring primarily to young new trees, from strong winds for example.
 

rockm

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Thanks so much, I'm not sure why I was told the opposite!

Do you protect yours at all? Referring primarily to young new trees, from strong winds for example.
Not really. Just enough to keep small trees from being blown off shelves--strapping pots in place. Wind is needed, keeps a lot of stuff, like some insects and mold from taking hold.

Protection is only needed in the winter. For temperate zone trees, that means cold storage under mulch on the ground in the backyard. For tropicals, they should come inside to muddle through the winter, when temps get down to 45 or so at night in the fall.

FWIW, everyone new assumes inside is easier because they think bonsai are fragile things--also some sellers want to sell more trees and they only have mass pproduced tropical plant bonsai to sell.

The exact opposite is true,even for tropicals. Outside is better.
 

AZbonsai

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I am fairly new at this as well...you may think about the best of both indoor and outdoor worlds and try a ficus plant. They do good indoors for a while but will thrive outside. If you get concerned about it being out side bring it in. They are fairly easy to maintain and are a fantastic starter plant. They will root from a cutting or you can purchase an established one fairly cheaply. When you buy a mature plant you are buying time. A lot of new bonsai people get impatient (myself included) so spending a little extra money on an established plant can help with that. Good luck and welcome to bonsai....or crazy as sorce would say :)
 

Elisa

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Not really. Just enough to keep small trees from being blown off shelves--strapping pots in place. Wind is needed, keeps a lot of stuff, like some insects and mold from taking hold.

Protection is only needed in the winter. For temperate zone trees, that means cold storage under mulch on the ground in the backyard. For tropicals, they should come inside to muddle through the winter, when temps get down to 45 or so at night in the fall.
Thanks again for the advice; do you have any suggestions as to what sort of plants might be easier to start with? (Aesthetically, I would eventually like to grow firs, cherries, olives, portulacaria)
 

Elisa

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I am fairly new at this as well...you may think about the best of both indoor and outdoor worlds and try a ficus plant. They do good indoors for a while but will thrive outside. If you get concerned about it being out side bring it in. They are fairly easy to maintain and are a fantastic starter plant. They will root from a cutting or you can purchase an established one fairly cheaply. When you buy a mature plant you are buying time. A lot of new bonsai people get impatient (myself included) so spending a little extra money on an established plant can help with that. Good luck and welcome to bonsai....or crazy as sorce would say :)
Thanks! Will look into ficus :)
I know buying an established plant would be easier and faster, but I think I'm going to enjoy watching it grow - I can be very patient! (Growing from trimmings alreay feels like a shortcut to me)
 

rockm

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Thanks again for the advice; do you have any suggestions as to what sort of plants might be easier to start with? (Aesthetically, I would eventually like to grow firs, cherries, olives, portulacaria)
Hard to say since we don't know where you live (country and state are fine) Important information for your profile because of climate. What works for me here in Va. may not work for you.

Firs and cherries are temperate to cold weather plants. Olives and portulacaria are sub-tropical to tropical. Those preferences can complicate how you keep your trees. Ficus is an excellent choice to start out. They're tough and resilient trees and grow fast. Have to bring them inside in the winter though if you have frost and freezes.
 

Elisa

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Hard to say since we don't know where you live (country and state are fine) Important information for your profile because of climate. What works for me here in Va. may not work for you.

Firs and cherries are temperate to cold weather plants. Olives and portulacaria are sub-tropical to tropical. Those preferences can complicate how you keep your trees. Ficus is an excellent choice to start out. They're tough and resilient trees and grow fast. Have to bring them inside in the winter though if you have frost and freezes.
I'm in the UK, I'd added it to the initial query (I'll go try and figure out how to add it to my profile).
 

AZbonsai

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I hear you talking... but when all the other boys and girls are talking about wiring, tapering, nebari etc etc. You will have a stick in a pot still...;););) been there done that. You will come to understand the force of bonsai!
 

Elisa

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I hear you talking... but when all the other boys and girls are talking about wiring, tapering, nebari etc etc. You will have a stick in a pot still...;););) been there done that. You will come to understand the force of bonsai!
I'll try to hold out as long as I can - one day I will have a tree!
 

Bonsai Nut

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I am in complete agreement with rockm. Growing trees outdoors is MUCH easier than growing them indoors. I have a large number of bonsai... and they all sit outdoors on benches and get watered automatically by a sprinkler system. I can leave them for weeks and not worry about them.

It is almost impossible to provide as good a growing environment indoors unless you have a greenhouse. It's not just the light - trees also prefer higher humidity, and air movement/wind is also important.

If you are starting out I would highly recommend start with outdoor trees, particularly if you never get a hard freeze and don't have to worry about protection from hard cold. Probably the easiest / heartiest tree for bonsai is an elm. Believe it or not I actually have a variegated English elm (Ulmus minor 'Atinia') in my collection and it is a very nice tree. Chinese elms are available from bonsai nurseries and have an extensive number of cultivars with different looks and growth patterns. If you want to try a conifer, the general recommendation is to start with a juniper - they are strong trees that respond well to container culture.
 

Elisa

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I am in complete agreement with rockm. Growing trees outdoors is MUCH easier than growing them indoors. I have a large number of bonsai... and they all sit outdoors on benches and get watered automatically by a sprinkler system.

It is almost impossible to provide as good a growing environment indoors unless you have a greenhouse. It's not just the light - trees also prefer higher humidity, and air movement/wind is also important.

If you are starting out I would highly recommend start with outdoor trees, particularly if you never get a hard freeze and don't have to worry about protection from hard cold. Probably the easiest / heartiest tree for bonsai is an elm. Believe it or not I actually have a variegated English elm (Ulmus minor 'Atinia') in my collection and it is a very nice tree. Chinese elms are available from bonsai nurseries and have an extensive number of cultivars with different looks and growth patterns. If you want to try a conifer, the general recommendation is to start with a juniper - they are strong trees that respond well to container culture.
Thanks so much for this! Elms would be very easy for me to get my hands on too :) Going to go read up on junipers, hadn't considered them before now
 

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Elisa,

depending on where you are in the U,K, if you can visit a few Bonsai nurseries.
Walk around and just enjoy.
See what grows outdoors.
Ask questions and try not to purchase until you have had time to think/read a bit.

Welcome ------------- hope to continue to read you.
Good Day
Anthony
 

rockm

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Thanks so much for this! Elms would be very easy for me to get my hands on too :) Going to go read up on junipers, hadn't considered them before now
I'd skip the junipers for now. I don't think they're allhat easy (compared to deciduous and especially elm). They're less forgiving of mistakes like overwatering and inexpert pruning. They're also slower growing. Once you have some of the basics of care in hand in a couple of years, you could probably do a juniper.

I'd wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Nut, however, that starting off with temperate zone deciduous species like elm or even trident maple are a far more satisfying way to get into bonsai than trying to get and "indoor" tree up and running.
 

Elisa

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Elisa,

depending on where you are in the U,K, if you can visit a few Bonsai nurseries.
Walk around and just enjoy.
See what grows outdoors.
Ask questions and try not to purchase until you have had time to think/read a bit.

Welcome ------------- hope to continue to read you.
Good Day
Anthony
Unfortunately no specialised nurseries near me; might be able to visit one when I drive to visit family.
And thank you, I hope to be around!
 

Elisa

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I'd skip the junipers for now. I don't think they're allhat easy (compared to deciduous and especially elm). They're less forgiving of mistakes like overwatering and inexpert pruning. They're also slower growing. Once you have some of the basics of care in hand in a couple of years, you could probably do a juniper.

I'd wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Nut, however, that starting off with temperate zone deciduous species like elm or even trident maple are a far more satisfying way to get into bonsai than trying to get and "indoor" tree up and running.
Thanks! Seems like elms are the front runners :)

Do they grow well from seeds or trimmings?
 

Bonsai Nut

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Thanks so much for this! Elms would be very easy for me to get my hands on too :) Going to go read up on junipers, hadn't considered them before now
Deciduous trees can be fun because they have such different looks at different times of the year. When you keep a tree outdoors and let it follow its natural seasonal rhythm, you get to enjoy spring-flowering species, fruiting trees, amazing fall color, the stark beauty of winter silhouettes, etc.

Conifers are a little slower, and can go from simple care (juniper) to advanced care (pines). In the case of pines, there are even subtle differences between species - what you do with one pine species might kill another species.

But the single best bit of advice I can offer is this: fine a local bonsai club and go to a meeting. You will learn more, 10x faster, from a single bonsai meeting than you will from reading a mountain of books.
 

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