What would you tell yourself when you were younger? (in relation to bonsai) + Book recommendations

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#1
Hello Nuts

A little background:
My name is Will. I am a 22-year old IT student. I have been interested in bonsai since about age 16, but have only been "serious" for the last 4-5 months. My dad is outdoorsy and I was in the Boy Scouts, so I feel at home in the woods. I can identify almost all the native trees in my area and some ornamental varieties. I really started to appreciate the beauty of trees while working at a summer camp, where we had 1000+ acres of forest, most notably a large patch of old-growth Eastern Hemlocks. I volunteered with the Forest Service treating the hemlocks with imidacloprid to help fight the wooly adelgids (a pest in the aphid family which is threatening the hemlocks). At some point in high school, I was reading a gardening book from my grandmother and the section about Olive trees mentioned that they were good for bonsai. That sparked a little something in the back of my head. I read a few books from the library and a lot of websites, then I bought and killed a few trees. Eventually I started working, and then moved out for college. Miniatures trees ended up on the back burner.
Starting in 2018, I decided to up my act and eliminate some really self-destructive habits that I developed. Got my grades up. Turns out not being reckless left me with nothing to do and I realized I needed a hobby. I started researching bonsai again. I created an account on BN so I could view the pictures, then started lurking in the forums. I started to buy some trees. First one was a sapling Fortunella hindsii (Hong Kong Kumquat) which is still going strong and has put on some decent growth in the past few months. Really enjoy that tree. My collection has grown to about 15 trees, most of which are pre-bonsai. I have an indoor growing setup that is working pretty well. Trees were outside until mid-September. I now know this was a little early to bring them in, but they all seem reasonably happy.
I have 2 American holly saplings that I am growing out, but I am mostly interested in tropical trees for now, especially Ficus. I have 2 'Golden Gate' retusas, a 'Kiki' benj, and a 'Too Little' benj. I also just ordered a nicer 'Green Gem' microcarpa that I am very excited to get. I like having my own little slice of the tropics.
TL;DR - I am pretty young and have dabbled/been interested in bonsai for a few years. I now have about 15 trees. I like Ficus.

Anyway, to get to the point, if you could give your past self some advice about bonsai when you were beginning the hobby, what would it be? Be as specific or as general as you like. I realize that I have to make my own mistakes and learn my own lessons. But I would certainly appreciate any advice/tips you would like to pass on to a novice.

Also, any book recommendations?

Thanks so much!
Will
 

Yoppyx

Yamadori
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#2
2ish years in. Enjoy every step. Your trees will suck for a long time, so just have fun learning. Bonsai is growing trees after all, so it takes time, especially when you need to grow the material you practice on.
 
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#3
I hope this thread came off the right way. I realize I will probably never be an expert or have a truly exceptional tree. I know that there is not a trick or cheat-sheet to get it right. I am here to humbly learn what I can from you all. I have already gained what seems like a lot of knowledge by reading through the forums for the past few months, but I am acutely aware that I have not even scratched the surface.

2ish years in. Enjoy every step. Your trees will suck for a long time, so just have fun learning. Bonsai is growing trees after all, so it takes time, especially when you need to grow the material you practice on.
Thank you Yoppyx! The pill that one can't have a good tree instantly (with my budget, at least) was a tough one to swallow. But I am learning to enjoy the process. Seeing a new leaf or shoot is starting to excite me; I like to think about 5...10...20 years from now how rewarding it will be to see how much my trees have developed. This is all helping me learn patience - hoping to go against the stereotype of my generation.

I have 2 American holly saplings that I am growing out...

...I have 2 'Golden Gate' retusas, a 'Kiki' benj, and a 'Too Little' benj. I also just ordered a nicer 'Green Gem' microcarpa that I am very excited to get. I like having my own little slice of the tropics.
Don't wory, the hollies are staying outside over the winter. I am working out a plan to protect them from the wind. Also, I forgot to mention I have a Ficus philippinensis, as well.
 
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#4
Join a club, take workshops, travel to see quality collections/exhibitions, and see if you can volunteer helping out a collection or helping a club member whose trees you really like. Your skills and eye will improve greatly.
 
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#5
Join a club, take workshops, travel to see quality collections/exhibitions, and see if you can volunteer helping out a collection or helping a club member whose trees you really like. Your skills and eye will improve greatly.
Appreciate you, hemmy! I have seen the bonsai collection at the Arboretum in Asheville, NC (my cousin got married there - tree-themed wedding) and the one at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. On my list for sure is the National Arboretum in Washington, DC.
I will check into workshops and the bonsai clubs around me, as well. I'm sure getting some face-to-face with the experts/face-to-tree time will be beneficial.
May I ask... is your username from the 'Over the Hedge' character? ;)
 
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#6
Has been some few years however would have told self to get Bonsai Techniques I & II by great past Master John Naka. Did not have Ryan Neil then as not yet born but today most highly recommend subscribing to his Mirai Live weekly Bonsai classes. This hobby/obsession sometimes will drive you nuts but welcome anyway;).
 
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#7
Has been some few years however would have told self to get Bonsai Techniques I & II by great past Master John Naka. Did not have Ryan Neil then as not yet born but today most highly recommend subscribing to his Mirai Live weekly Bonsai classes. This hobby/obsession sometimes will drive you nuts but welcome anyway;).
Thanks for the welcome Potawatomi! I added those books to my Amazon wishlist. Looks like they will be a good investment. I am almost out of room for trees anyway! :) The Mirai Live thing looks pretty cool, but the subscription is a little pricey - might have to wait on that one, for now. I think I've seen him on YouTube before though. I am a really big fan of Nigel Saunders as well.
 

Yoppyx

Yamadori
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#8
Thanks for the welcome Potawatomi! I added those books to my Amazon wishlist. Looks like they will be a good investment. I am almost out of room for trees anyway! :) The Mirai Live thing looks pretty cool, but the subscription is a little pricey - might have to wait on that one, for now. I think I've seen him on YouTube before though. I am a really big fan of Nigel Saunders as well.
mirais free vids are good enough.
 

Adair M

Imperial Masterpiece
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#10
Thanks for the welcome Potawatomi! I added those books to my Amazon wishlist. Looks like they will be a good investment. I am almost out of room for trees anyway! :) The Mirai Live thing looks pretty cool, but the subscription is a little pricey - might have to wait on that one, for now. I think I've seen him on YouTube before though. I am a really big fan of Nigel Saunders as well.
Nigel makes crappy bonsai. Really. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, but his stuff is really polar opposite to the way Ryan Neil would approach bonsai.
 

Yoppyx

Yamadori
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#11
Nigel makes crappy bonsai. Really. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, but his stuff is really polar opposite to the way Ryan Neil would approach bonsai.
Nigel has quite the number of good trees. All of his stuff is free and he covers the process of starting trees from all stages. When it come to working on your first shitty tree, seeing a demo of a bonsai professional wire a 300 year old yamadori doesn't help.
 
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#12
SLOW DOWN. Is the biggest thing I would tell myself. Trees can’t become bonsai if you kill them first, but you’ll have to kill a few trees before you can make a bonsai 😉
Thanks, Mike, for the words of wisdom. I've killed a few trees, how many more need to be sacrificed? Hopefully not too many!
 
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#13
Nigel makes crappy bonsai. Really. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, but his stuff is really polar opposite to the way Ryan Neil would approach bonsai.
But his voice is so relaxing! Haha. He is definitely unorthodox. I'm not a huge fan of how a lot of Nigel's trees turn out, but I do like watching the process. I think he tends to show the less-developed trees to make it more inviting to beginners like myself. What I really like is how he explains the basics well and does periodic updates on specific trees so you can watch a few years worth of progression in an hour. It's on the opposite spectrum from Bjorn Bjornholm being smug about a $200,000 tree he imported from Japan with dubstep playing in the background - not that his videos aren't good either.
Nigel has quite the number of good trees. All of his stuff is free and he covers the process of starting trees from all stages. When it come to working on your first shitty tree, seeing a demo of a bonsai professional wire a 300 year old yamadori doesn't help.
Nailed it.
 
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#14
Books I have a library of sorts for bonsai. Of all of them...JK_Lewis our late Jim (a remarkable man who is dearly missed) was adamant that the book on principle design belonged on every bonsai enthusiast's shelf. Actually he told me about the second link as well. Some will say books become outdated. But there are always some solid foundation that doesn't change. In my honest opinion.
http://www.stonelantern.com/Principles_of_Bonsai_Tree_Design_p/b1prin.htm

This one you might pick up cheaper at an auction like Facebook or eBay. But is very descriptive and has some history behind it as well. https://www.amazon.com/Bonsai-Its-Science-History-Philosophy/dp/0864391943
 

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
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#16
There is knowledge in knowing Nigel.
And Ryan. You can gain more from one by knowing the other both ways.

Knowledge is Power that YOU determine the Level of.

Fuck Books for now. $ better spent on a tree all day.

It really doesn't matter what you may or may not tell yourself now....
Figuring this out sooner requires starting younger...there YOU go!

Quite honestly, I think you might be better off Not reading anything at all. Learning Solely on your Own success and failures.

"It Depends" ...
Within a year of Life a tree sees countless variables.
Those are the "It Depends' ".

It's why there are so many "debates".

Newb..."Is it safe to Light my Tree on fire at this time of year?"
Veteran..."Have you smothered your tree in goat semen yet?"

You see...we can never really know what you have done! Lol!

Pay attention to YOUR variables.

Identify...
Dying, even though growing.
Healthy, but not healthy enough to work on.
And Vigorous. ( purposefully blank )
"Can I work on it?"
"It depends"

What Depends?

Have good trees before YOU are IN Depends!

Furrrrnt..squirsh.

S
 
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#19
Don't buy all different kinds off tree's in a garden center. Spend that money on one good tree and take it to a workshop. Better one good tree then 10 that are not so good.
Though I do agree...don't spend more than you are prepared to lose. We all have killed trees...even the long time experienced ones. Things happen ...Mother Nature throws down a huge tree taking out a bench, fungal issues and just not understanding proper watering and such. But there is nothing wrong with being selective and having trees ones are proud of either.
 
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