Very super absolute beginnings

Csmdad

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Hi all.

So I'm super-super-super-new to bonsai. I mean when I say new, I mean the "I don't even own a bonsai tree" type of super-new to bonsai, but hear me out.

For the past 2 months (well... all of Nov and now over half of Dec) I've been studying bonsai. (Not totally "pinterest-study" either.) I understand that design and flow are a major component, but I want to know the mechanics and the how and the why before I get into the "pretty tree" aspect. I want to know what makes good soil, how to cultivate the tree both above and below the dirt-line for maximum ramification. I've watched hours upon hours of video (Mirai, Bonsai Zone, Eastern Leaf, Herons, Iligan, Ma-Ke, etc. ... Honestly, I think I may have reached the bottom of the English barrel and have started watching those ones in Japanese and Spanish.). I've listened to hour upon hour of podcasts (Mirai with Ryan's interviews of bonsai masters). I've read and read. I've studied, I've poured over the pages of B-Nut (https://www.bonsainut.com/resources/). I've taken notes and compiled and done local research into the local climate and its impact on horticulture in my area. I'm starting to wire up branches to get the tactile ideas and trying to employ the techniques I've seen to not damage the tree while achieving desired bends. I've prepped an area in my yard which I believe will offer wind protection, semi-sun, semi-shade. I've looked up and designed automatic irrigation systems because I travel a bunch and don't want to come home to dead trees (I've also got people back here who can aid in watering and the like.)

So why am I posting here? What do I want?

I know I don't know everything and I probably never will, but I want to hit the ground properly and with a solid foundation.
I want to do what's best for the living things I'm going to take into my care.
I want to tap the group's hive-mind to get a bit of retrospect from your beginning days.
What tools did you wish you'd had?
What was the first thing(s) you found yourself lacking?
Which books did you wish you'd read?
What things didn't work and how could it have been done better?
What do you wish you knew back then?
How would that knowledge have changed the trees you own now?
What stalled your personal growth?
What stalled the growth/development of your tree(s)?
What "bone-head" mistakes do you see n00bz making over and over again?

I am researching and acquiring tools (sheers, pliers, saws, hooks, collection tools, etc) and supplies (soil/fertilizer/wire/containers/etc) now for a true entry to the art in late winter/early spring of 2019 (yamadori and nursery season)

A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from others.
 

Csmdad

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So here's an idea for starters... As I wrote earlier, I'm planning to look and possibly acquire in the late winter/early spring of 2019. Is this a proper move? My inexperienced thoughts are this...
1) Yamadori harvesting/acquisition time.
2) Nurseries begin to put out stock.
3) It's about the end of re-potting for conifers and near the beginning for deciduous and I would like to get them into a comfortable state before grow season hits full-on..
4) I want to afford enough time to ensure I have the right environment and tools prepped to care for the trees before acquisition.

What part of the year would you consider the prime entry time?
Why would you choose that time?
What additional considerations would you factor in?
What are some errors people make in the acquisition stage?
 

moke

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Do you have space available for a grow bed for trees? I remember when I started collecting trees I wanted them in pots as soon as possible, then realized they had lots of growing up to do before they were ready for pots. Getting a grow out bed prepped for spring could potentially be worked on now?
 

moke

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Early spring after the potential for freezing has passed is when I’m looking to do most work and Acquisitioning.
 

rockm

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This is going to sound bad, but it's not meant to. It's short list of how to get into bonsai.

First stop thinking you're going to start bonsai with collecting. That is not bonsai. It is a mostly separate activity that leads to bonsai. Different set of skills and knowledge are required for both. Starting with collection leads to frustration and mostly dead trees for years without actually learning how to do bonsai.

Second, forget the tool collection. Most tools are accumulated over time as you advance in skill. What you're collecting, aside from a concave cutter, will be mostly unused for a long time because you won't have more advanced trees to use them to refine. Most beginners are better off improvising their initial tools, a plain pair of scissors, chopstick and other stuff around the house can be used less expensively. Good tools are not cheap.

Third, join a bonsai club. Go to meetings, especially meetings with demonstrations. Volunteer to help members do repotting, daily care. All of your questions will be answered more quickly and more straightforwardly with hands-on experience. The Internet is nice for research, but there is no substitute for actual experience.

Fourth, do keep researching on the web and in books. Bounce questions about details from those sources off of club members or here.

Fifth, buy a good bonsai from a reputable source. Don't cheap out on junk--find a medium priced tree and get it. People tend to discount this, but learning how to care for a tree you've spent $$ on makes you learn quickly and seek out in person advice.
 

Csmdad

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Do you have space available for a grow bed for trees? I remember when I started collecting trees I wanted them in pots as soon as possible, then realized they had lots of growing up to do before they were ready for pots. Getting a grow out bed prepped for spring could potentially be worked on now?
I think I understand that these are basically raised garden beds for trees, right?
I have the space, but the build time for that will probably be mid-late spring here accounting for soil workability and my tolerance for manual labor in the winter.

Do you have a good resource/experience for learning more about using grow-out beds? Maybe it'll encourage me to get out there and make it happen.
 

Csmdad

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Early spring after the potential for freezing has passed is when I’m looking to do most work and Acquisitioning.
Yes... that's what I'm thinking. get them pre-bud... bring them in and get them sun and shelter... protect them until certain frost has passed is my plan.
 

moke

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I think I understand that these are basically raised garden beds for trees, right?
I have the space, but the build time for that will probably be mid-late spring here accounting for soil workability and my tolerance for manual labor in the winter.

Do you have a good resource/experience for learning more about using grow-out beds? Maybe it'll encourage me to get out there and make it happen.
They don’t necessarily need to be raised just in a good location for light requirements of the trees. Raised definitely has benefits but is not a must. There are many threads here pertaining to grow beds if you use the search.
 

Csmdad

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This is going to sound bad, but it's not meant to. It's short list of how to get into bonsai.

First stop thinking you're going to start bonsai with collecting. That is not bonsai. It is a mostly separate activity that leads to bonsai. Different set of skills and knowledge are required for both. Starting with collection leads to frustration and mostly dead trees for years without actually learning how to do bonsai.

Second, forget the tool collection. Most tools are accumulated over time as you advance in skill. What you're collecting, aside from a concave cutter, will be mostly unused for a long time because you won't have more advanced trees to use them to refine. Most beginners are better off improvising their initial tools, a plain pair of scissors, chopstick and other stuff around the house can be used less expensively. Good tools are not cheap.

Third, join a bonsai club. Go to meetings, especially meetings with demonstrations. Volunteer to help members do repotting, daily care. All of your questions will be answered more quickly and more straightforwardly with hands-on experience. The Internet is nice for research, but there is no substitute for actual experience.

Fourth, do keep researching on the web and in books. Bounce questions about details from those sources off of club members or here.

Fifth, buy a good bonsai from a reputable source. Don't cheap out on junk--find a medium priced tree and get it. People tend to discount this, but learning how to care for a tree you've spent $$ on makes you learn quickly and seek out in person advice.
Please don't hold back. I seek and need honesty. The more cold and candid the better.

To the points:
1) Cool. I can appreciate this.
2) Good to know. I'll certainly restrain my spending in this area. I have seen many practitioners using kitchen sheers, chopsticks... What I've not seen is a peer-review on whether this is eventually... not necessarily detrimental... but a hindrance to the growth of the practitioner.
3) Just joined one recently... well... I need to actually go to one. Problem with this time of year is that the "meetings" are their Christmas party and I'm not socially comfortable "crashing" it. They're having seminars starting in the new year I've put on my calendar and plan to attend.
4) Certainly. There's always more to learn.
5) I do plan to do this.

On weighing point 1 against point 5, and knowing rookie mistakes/inexperience are going to happen,which would you place over the other? Collecting stock from natural/less expensive sources to learn the techniques without having the looming worry hanging over your head? or going for it all-out?

I'm not trying to talk back... I know I have zero experience. Just looking for clarity.
 

Csmdad

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Third, join a bonsai club. Go to meetings, especially meetings with demonstrations. Volunteer to help members do repotting, daily care. All of your questions will be answered more quickly and more straightforwardly with hands-on experience. The Internet is nice for research, but there is no substitute for actual experience.
Actually... Is Fairfax the same group? NVBS? Should be, right? I was in Pakistan for the November meet and, like I said, I was not comfortable coming to the recent Holiday Dinner.
Maybe I'll see you out there soon.
 
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I advise this to everyone that's just starting in plants, either for school, work or as a hobby..
Go get a lot of regular herbs, plain old plants. The stuff you can get for pennies at your super market or whatever store sells that stuff.
Get them to thrive, cut them down and grow them back, repot them, fuck up their roots, heck, set them on fire! Throw them from a bridge. And then fix it the best you possibly can. This can be done in a matter of weeks.

When it comes to foundations and laying a solid one, nothing beats experience. These herbs and tiny trash plants will teach you about signalling, auxins and cytokinins, about nodes and internodes, about backbuds, about watering and pH as well as nutrient levels. As long as they're not monocots, they will teach you a whole lot in a very, very short amount of time without risking more than 5 dollars.
To get the basics, start with the basics. Fast growing cheap plants can teach you those basics in weeks. Ryan Neil does cover a lot of these basics, but they tend to solidify/crystalize better in ones mind if you can see the result happening before your own eyes.
 

rockm

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Actually... Is Fairfax the same group? NVBS? Should be, right? I was in Pakistan for the November meet and, like I said, I was not comfortable coming to the recent Holiday Dinner.
Maybe I'll see you out there soon.
If you're in Fredericksburg, you might also consider the Richmond club too. NVBS is the Northern Va. Club. I belong, but also have been to a meeting in a while. I understand about the Christmas meeting. That's kind of a social event and not really all that much bonsai. Do subscribe to their e-newsletter. It's valuable source of meeting and event info (including the club auction in the late spring--good source for good to excellent inexpensive materials, including trees)
 

Gene Deci

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I wouldn't give up on collecting without some thought. A lot of people here, myself included, enjoy collecting for its own sake. It is indeed a different skill set but there is much satisfaction possible too. And as you say, it is usually the most inexpensive way to acquire trees. Perhaps the most important early lessen is to be patient. Your enthusiasm is awesome but bonsai is a long term thing. Don't burn out!
 

Csmdad

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If you're in Fredericksburg, you might also consider the Richmond club too. NVBS is the Northern Va. Club. I belong, but also have been to a meeting in a while. I understand about the Christmas meeting. That's kind of a social event and not really all that much bonsai. Do subscribe to their e-newsletter. It's valuable source of meeting and event info (including the club auction in the late spring--good source for good to excellent inexpensive materials, including trees)
Will do. They seem a little less digitally active from what I've seen and I'm more familiar with NOVA in general (I work in Rosslyn) so I figured I'd start there.
 

rockm

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Please don't hold back. I seek and need honesty. The more cold and candid the better.

To the points:
1) Cool. I can appreciate this.
2) Good to know. I'll certainly restrain my spending in this area. I have seen many practitioners using kitchen sheers, chopsticks... What I've not seen is a peer-review on whether this is eventually... not necessarily detrimental... but a hindrance to the growth of the practitioner.
3) Just joined one recently... well... I need to actually go to one. Problem with this time of year is that the "meetings" are their Christmas party and I'm not socially comfortable "crashing" it. They're having seminars starting in the new year I've put on my calendar and plan to attend.
4) Certainly. There's always more to learn.
5) I do plan to do this.

On weighing point 1 against point 5, and knowing rookie mistakes/inexperience are going to happen,which would you place over the other? Collecting stock from natural/less expensive sources to learn the techniques without having the looming worry hanging over your head? or going for it all-out?

I'm not trying to talk back... I know I have zero experience. Just looking for clarity.
The differences between collecting and buying an established tree are vast. You will not do bonsai with collected stock for YEARS. With an established tree, you learn the basics of care, watering, pruning, etc. Those will not happen with collected stock as their requirements are a lot different.

Mistakes happen, and that's why failing while actually learning bonsai is better than failing and not learning bonsai. Caring for an actual tree INFORMS your ability to collect trees. and also FWIW, don't make the huge mistake of thinking collected stock is a source of "free" or "inexpensive" material. It ain't. That's an illusion. The time and effort you put into finding and collecting and nursing those trees over five or six years with water, fertilizer, containers, and most especially your time, incurs a cost.

Which brings me to another point--don't give in to the "I need ALOT of trees" thing. Most beginners get dozens, or even hundreds of trees in their first few years. That's a mistake. It's a time suck. You spend a lot of effort over a vast array of mediocre or worse trees and don't advance in skill or in the quality of your trees.
 

Csmdad

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I wouldn't give up on collecting without some thought. A lot of people here, myself included, enjoy collecting for its own sake. It is indeed a different skill set but there is much satisfaction possible too. And as you say, it is usually the most inexpensive way to acquire trees. Perhaps the most important early lessen is to be patient. Your enthusiasm is awesome but bonsai is a long term thing. Don't burn out!
So I've looked in to the different collection methods... seed, air layering, yamadori, nursery, bonsai professional... I have a vision of what I'd like to do with bonsai... but that's for later (of course). I think for intro, I thought I'd do a combo to have variety and keep it interesting and also allow me to be patient by forcing my attention to other plants and letting some just 'be' for a while.

Thoughts?
 

Csmdad

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The differences between collecting and buying an established tree are vast. You will not do bonsai with collected stock for YEARS. With an established tree, you learn the basics of care, watering, pruning, etc. Those will not happen with collected stock as their requirements are a lot different.

Mistakes happen, and that's why failing while actually learning bonsai is better than failing and not learning bonsai. Caring for an actual tree INFORMS your ability to collect trees. and also FWIW, don't make the huge mistake of thinking collected stock is a source of "free" or "inexpensive" material. It ain't. That's an illusion. The time and effort you put into finding and collecting and nursing those trees over five or six years with water, fertilizer, containers, and most especially your time, incurs a cost.

Which brings me to another point--don't give in to the "I need ALOT of trees" thing. Most beginners get dozens, or even hundreds of trees in their first few years. That's a mistake. It's a time suck. You spend a lot of effort over a vast array of mediocre or worse trees and don't advance in skill or in the quality of your trees.
Thanks again. This is the type of stuff I'm looking for.
 

Csmdad

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What is the most valuable/informative/got-to-check-out book a new person should consume before/during their entry into bonsai? (Not as a replacement, but as an addition to the above mentioned advice toward getting hands-on and in-person education)
 

Gene Deci

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You will not do bonsai with collected stock for YEARS. With an established tree, you learn the basics of care, watering, pruning, etc. Those will not happen with collected stock as their requirements are a lot different..
I'm not sure why people make absolute pronouncements when there are always exceptions. Most of my collection is from collected material and most of them I began working on the year after they were collected. You don't have to collect stuff that will take several years before you start to work on it. That is one of the things to learn if you want to collect.

And as for the time and effort it takes, if you don't enjoy that, why not just buy a finished tree?
 

rockm

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I'm not sure why people make absolute pronouncements when there are always exceptions. Most of my collection is from collected material and most of them I began working on the year after they were collected. You don't have to collect stuff that will take several years before you start to work on it. That is one of the things to learn if you want to collect.

And as for the time and effort it takes, if you don't enjoy that, why not just buy a finished tree?
OK good for you. You are a better man than I. By and large, I believe what I've said holds true. Additionally, most initial collected trees wind up being a burden over time. As you get more skills and a better eye, you start to see the trees you've accumulated are mostly junk and/or ugly. I began colleting two years into bonsai. It took five years but I got rid of all those collected trees --which were mostly spindly, ugly crappola.. I began collecting stuff that was worth collecting--which is another issue...
 

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