Ten Best Species for Beginners?

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Here is the question, based on this post.

What species would you consider best suited to be rewarding for beginners? This might include ease of care and willingness to take techniques. It might be indoor or outdoors. It could mean resilience or breadth of climate zones.

I will start off with the following:

Ficus (retusa, nerifolia, even benjamina)
Chinese elm
Trident maple
Juniper (shimpaku, procumbens, San Jose)
 
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HMMM I don't think we want to narrow the parameters too much on species. Let's look for the most rewarding species for n00bs, then come up with care guides by region...
 

Martin Sweeney

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Chris,

In no particular order, other than how they occured to me:

Chinese Elm,Ficus Nerifolia, Ficus Benjamina, Satsuki Azalea, Trident Maple, Shimpaku Juniper, Kingsville Boxwood, Procumbers Juniper, Privet (ligustrum sinensis), Korean Hornbeam

Trees that do well where I live.

Regards,
Martin
 

grog

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Some species this noob enjoys and some I don't.


Rewarding trees for me.
Elms- Chinese, Seiju, Corkbark(supposedly), Siberian and American. Collected and nursery material. Tough, reponsive.

Hackberry- celtis occidentalis. Mostly collected, some nursery stuff. Best local trees I've found to collect.

Crabapple- various cultivars. Some smaller collected stuff and a very nice 1 gallon Indian Magic from Brent. Pretty trees to look at regardless of how developed they are and agreeable to pruning, repotting, etc.

Yew-unknown cultivars. It looks like they all survived some ignorant, drastic butchering this spring which makes them some tough customers.

Azalea- various hardy (not satsuki) types. Like the crabapples they're just nice to look at and aren't too grouchy about pruning, just be mindful of messing with the roots.

Hawthorn- crataegus oxycantha 'Paul's Scarlet'. I only have one of these, a 4" pot sized that I ordered from Brent earlier in the year. For whatever reason I find myself looking at this tree and imagining possible futures more than any other.

Maple- amur. I took two large'ish plants and reduced their size by about 75%, pruned their roots heavily, and removed all the existing soil that I could get out and they seem to love me for it. Weird.

Portulacaria afra. If I had to toss all but one type of indoor tree this would be the one.

Ficus- nerifolia, retusa, and burt-davidii. I like the looks of the willow leaf the best, the retusa and burt-davidii seem to be happy, fast growers and didn't pout too much over the winter.


Middle of the road trees for me.
Mulberries- unknown if they're black or white varieties. Tough as they are to kill in their established positions I'm having a hard time getting them to do well in a pot. However they look nice enough I think they're worth the effort.

Ginkgo. They've tolerated aggressive repotting and pruning but all the ones I have are going to end up either in the ground somewhere or in a group planting. They appear to be very slow to put on new growth in containers from what I've seen.

Ficus benjamina. Die back is unpredictable for me.

Maple- trident. Will have to get some larger stock since I don't see them putting hardly any more size on this year.


The ones that seem to hate me.
Cotoneaster. Often suggested as a good beginner's tree and it probably is but I kill them with a quickness. Quite a lot of them as a matter of fact.

Pine- Austrian. I don't think they hate me, they just realize they're above my meager skills to know how to deal with. I have two nursery trees in pots that just sit there. I generally look at them, scratch my head, and go read some more articles on JBP.

Larch- tamarack. I only had one which I got from forestfarm this spring but it didn't last long.

Dawn redwood. Similar to the larch. I got one in the spring, slip potted it into a 6" azalea pot and it croaked.

Boxwood- sempervirens. They may not hate me either, they just have so much going on I have a hard time seeing a tree in them.
 

grouper52

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I would add Korean boxwood: always readily available from local nurseries and my favorite to work with from my very newby days - hardy, vigorous and forgiving, responsive, and pretty.

And I'd second some of the others mentioned above: Chinese elm, Shimpaku and procumbense junipers, trident maples, Korean hornbeam and ficus.
 

Graydon

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yeah - but is the cart before the horse?

This thinking may be a bit too far outside the box but can we come to a agreement on exactly what a beginner, novice or n00b is in bonsai?

To me a beginner in bonsai has some genuine hands on experience with plants. General care, pruning knowledge and abilities, understands dormancy, watering and the relation of shallow and deep root systems, and knows something about fertilizer. They know the difference between conifers and broad leaf evergreens or for that matter understands (and potentially uses) genius and species nomenclature. They can tell you the difference between dirt and soil. A beginner in bonsai knows about plants (and hopefully gardens), just does not know the intricacies of bonsai.

It seems to me that much time is spent teaching people basic horticultural principals and not much about bonsai. An example of that is answering the never ending questions on "why does my juniper look brown" to "why did my serissia drop all of it's leaves". A good gardener who knows nothing about bonsai could answer those questions all day long. No guide or species list will ever cover the basics of plants or gardening 101, and it really should.
 

darrellw

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While almost every list of beginner bonsai species includes junipers, I'm not sold on it as a good beginner tree. First of all, the can often look healthy (especially to a beginner) months after they are already "dead". This makes it hard for a beginner, who often does too much too soon anyway, to know what killed the tree. Second, most beginners want to make a windswept or cascade, and many junipers just reinfoce that. Lastly, while I think I have a pretty good handle on how to style a credible decidious tree, and am getting there on pines, I'm still at a loss on what really to do with juniper. Well, OK, maybe I'm just juniper-challenged :)

-Darrell
 

bonsai barry

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Here is the question, based on this post.

What species would you consider best suited to be rewarding for beginners? This might include ease of care and willingness to take techniques. It might be indoor or outdoors. It could mean resilience or breadth of climate zones.

I will start off with the following:

Ficus (retusa, nerifolia, even benjamina)
Chinese elm
Trident maple
Juniper (shimpaku, procumbens, San Jose)
Hmmm, I've killed at least one tree of the named species.
 

AndyWilson

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Anything in the Celtis range, but Africana is my favourite due to the smaller leaves and interodes then its siblings. As tough as an elm, though not as versatile these make very good begginer trees.
 

irene_b

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While almost every list of beginner bonsai species includes junipers, I'm not sold on it as a good beginner tree. First of all, the can often look healthy (especially to a beginner) months after they are already "dead". This makes it hard for a beginner, who often does too much too soon anyway, to know what killed the tree. Second, most beginners want to make a windswept or cascade, and many junipers just reinfoce that. Lastly, while I think I have a pretty good handle on how to style a credible decidious tree, and am getting there on pines, I'm still at a loss on what really to do with juniper. Well, OK, maybe I'm just juniper-challenged :)

-Darrell



I agree.
I kill juni's.
Mom
(They know I am allergic to them :D )
 

grouper52

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While almost every list of beginner bonsai species includes junipers, I'm not sold on it as a good beginner tree. First of all, the can often look healthy (especially to a beginner) months after they are already "dead". This makes it hard for a beginner, who often does too much too soon anyway, to know what killed the tree. Second, most beginners want to make a windswept or cascade, and many junipers just reinfoce that. Lastly, while I think I have a pretty good handle on how to style a credible decidious tree, and am getting there on pines, I'm still at a loss on what really to do with juniper. Well, OK, maybe I'm just juniper-challenged :)

-Darrell
I think that if we limit the list to trees that beginners are not likely to kill or style badly, it may be a very short list indeed! I'm not sure there's a list like that that would apply to too many of us at all!
 

darrellw

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I think that if we limit the list to trees that beginners are not likely to kill or style badly, it may be a very short list indeed! I'm not sure there's a list like that that would apply to too many of us at all!
Hi Grouper,

My point wasn't that they were easy or hard to kill, a beginner, at least in a setting without an experienced support (class, club, teacher) is going to kill a few trees. But with a juniper, the feedback loop is so long. Forget to water a maple a day or two, and the leaves start pouting. If you catch it in time it will probably recover. Do too much root work on an elm (or at the wrong time), and it may drop a bunch of leaves. But a juniper will look OK for months after you've done something that killed it, so it is hard to correleate the cause and effect, and thus hard to learn from the experience.

Of course, on the other hand, they will put up with a lot more abuse than other trees.

-Darrell
 

darrellw

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Anyway, to add some potential species to the discussion:

Cotoneaster - very tough, nice sized leaves, cheap

Privet - nearly indestructible

Crab apple - grows quickly, even sticks in a pot seem to put on girth, flowers and fruit, looks like a "tree"


-Darrell
 

grouper52

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Hi Grouper,

My point wasn't that they were easy or hard to kill, a beginner, at least in a setting without an experienced support (class, club, teacher) is going to kill a few trees. But with a juniper, the feedback loop is so long. Forget to water a maple a day or two, and the leaves start pouting. If you catch it in time it will probably recover. Do too much root work on an elm (or at the wrong time), and it may drop a bunch of leaves. But a juniper will look OK for months after you've done something that killed it, so it is hard to correleate the cause and effect, and thus hard to learn from the experience.

Of course, on the other hand, they will put up with a lot more abuse than other trees.

-Darrell
Hey Darrell,

What you say is more true of the procumbense than the Shimpaku, in my experience - the advantages, though, are that they are cheap and plentiful compared to many other beginner trees, and once one has learned by killing the requisit number of starter trees, fairly good-sized shrubs can often be found at nurseries cheap for beginners to take it to the next level stylistically.

When I think back, having dutifully killed my first bonsai, a nana given to me, I recall being able to learn over time how to more quickly spot the less obvious but telltale signs of distress, so I didn't think it was healthy or even still alive long after it died - but I agree that that is what happens at first, and it is a drawback for these trees as beginners' trees.

grouper52
 

robert1955

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Dudes

I say, don't pussy foot around, go right for the tough ones, just dive right in. Get the hard ones out of the way and then its a walk in the park.(well maybe not the parks around here):eek:


Peace
Bob
 

AndyWilson

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Yeah i agree Bob, problem is if you just start out and you kill everything you may lose interest very quickly...
 

Bill S

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Susceptable to a lot of bugs and disease, but Apples are prett good.

I am staying away from Serrissa, just to avaoid the bombs, but I will help anyone that wants to try the easiest plant I have worked with.

I also like Hawthorns, Juni's, mugho's, yews.
 
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