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

Yoppyx

Yamadori
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Waterloo Ontario
USDA Zone
5a
#21
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
Biggest rookie mistake was underestimateing the utility of goat semen to be honest.
 

tree3

Yamadori
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Florida Zone 11A
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#22
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.
Just the fact that Nigel Saunders follows the Lingnan Penjing school and is not running a major business doesn't make his bonsai "crappy"! They are different styles and in my OMHO have their own merit.

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.
If your goal is to run a major business, then Ryan Neil is great. He emphasizes on much larger trees, but bear in mind that he was an intern in Japan for more than 5 years, and had to live there as a student with the masters. He's an example of total dedication. However, a hobbyist may be just as capable of producing great stock, and just as exciting as Ryan Neil's.

A great source also is the late great Bonsai Iligan. All his stuff is free in YouTube and he worked tropical trees. He was from the Philippines:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNHu-EKH4SYwl6WJr_g2JnQ
 

JudyB

Queen of the Nuts
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South East of Cols. OH
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#24
I think that exposure to really good bonsai is very important, especially for newer bonsai people. If you only expose yourself to young or poor material and trees, then you don't have an image in your mind of what bonsai can be. Many who only have local club exposure, (if the club isn't a good one) and don't pursue other avenues of bonsai learning, can sometimes get stuck in beginner mode for long years. Glad to see you posting, you seem to be on the right path.
 
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Michigan. 6a
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6a
#25
I would tell myself to collect outdoor bonsai-appropriate trees more natural to my climate and then put them in the ground to grow trunks. Adjust the soil for best growing condition. Work the trees in the ground. It is possible to be creative while a tree is in the ground and nature will help greatly by providing seasonal elements and often the care needed for continued healthy growth...while you get periodically distracted. You know you’ll live forever.

Resist buying bonsai pots just because you like them. It’s unlikely that those first pots bought will ever actually get used.

Buy three quality tools to use on the trees you have in the ground and take care of those tools. Use the tools properly. You don’t need every tool to start. A cardboard box is a fine storage container.

Read, watch and learn about tree health....growing health.

When your trees reach trunk goals dig them out and enjoy a new journey with the trees. You won’t live forever.
 
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Location
Montreal
#27
I'm a few years in, and i'm realizing more and more every day that what I really like--and what is possible for me--is the trunk development process, as opposed to the advanced refinement stages.

Hearing Michael Hagedorn, Ryan Neil and Dennis Vojtilla speak about the story behind this year's deciduous winner at Nationals reinforced this interest. Seeing artists I admire pay respect to those who developed the core structure of their trees is encouraging, and indeed the 'story' behind trees (and pots) is a valued part of the art. (This page does a great job at this: https://www.m5bonsaiworks.com/deciduous).

It took me a while to realize that for the most part people with refined or advanced trees that appealed to me did not start with seed or pre-bonsai. A lot of them started with older, well developed material.

Where I live (Montreal, Quebec), older and well developed material does not exist. My options are $30 pre-bonsai, or $2000 'finished' bonsai (which are mediocre at best, and usually trident maples...). Imports are basically impossible, or not affordable.

I'm 29 years old, so i figure I have a good 30-40 years of bonsai ahead of me. My goal is to develop deciduous material for myself and others.

Punch Line: When I first started out, I wanted maples that look like kokofu maples. It took me a while, and a lot of reading, to realize that this was not a realistic expectation for the 3-5 year old material available to me.

The way I see it, the person developing trunks, and of course the person doing the tedious work of starting seeds and grafts, are as important as the person who brings the tree to Nationals to collect the award. It made me happy to see Dennis Vojtilla openly discuss the fact that his 70 year old tree was not in his possession for half of that time, and he was quick to give the name of the previous owner.

See about 49 minutes into this video:
 
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Location
Bel Air, MD
USDA Zone
7A
#29
WOW! :eek: I definitely did not expect this much of a reply! Thank you all so much! I have a lot to consider for sure. I do not have the time to reply to each of you individually, but I have read and will continue to refer back to this all carefully. I really can not express how much this all helps. This is obviously a great community and I am thrilled you were all willing to share.

I must say, though, sorce really took the cake here...
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?"
Thank you for the real talk and making me actually laugh out loud first thing this morning.
 
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Bethlehem, PA
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6b
#30
definitely don't start out with seeds and whips, i did that.. Feel like I started getting into bonsai 1 month ago haha. I read and learned and theorized like a crazy person but have very little hands on experience with actual bonsai because I was poor and tried to grow my own. oops. It's a ton of fun but maybe wit until after you have some decent material.
Also like Judy said, sorta, you HAVE to go to the next US national show in Rochester NY. It's totally a hike but it'll change things for you, and the trees for sale are amazing. I was given a pine for free that's nicer than any pine I had prior. haha I came home and had a little cleansing.
 

Anthony

Imperial Masterpiece
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West Indies [ Caribbean ]
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#31
Will, you are welcome.
Unless you are into competition [ See - Sifu - Adair M and MarkyScott]
this is a relaxing hobby.
Stimulates the imagination and inspires the viewer.

Bonsai over 18 inches can be very heavy, so watch your back /body.

You will find with the trees, that 12 to 15 inches are satisfying.
Limited space - 1 to 6 inches works well [ that's tall or wide ]

As time passes remember the guidelines -
1 inch trunk to 6 inches of height
There is a back branch for volume.
Good Day
Anthony

* Oh yes and mind the goats @sorce, magics
your way. Semen can have too, too much N.P.K.
Over grows your trees..................
 
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#34
@Anthony bonsai from seed is the best! All I said was, in my opinion, it's not the best way to START. I will always grow seeds and take layers, in fact right now might be the best time for me to do it, while I'm young and have some bigger trees to learn on.
I'm very aware of your collection of trees and the methods you use. I actually think about you a lot while I garden. But up here our natives grow a little slower, and our season is much shorter.
 
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Netherlands
#35
I'd tell myself to collect, and plant more seeds. And to start making pots earlier.
I've had acces to clay and kilns for over 20 years and I did nothing. In hindsight, that was a poor choice.
 
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Location
Aurora, CO
USDA Zone
5b
#36
I'm new to this as well. I've always been attracted to bonsai trees but never did anything about it. I'd tell my 22 year old self to get on it, why wait 20 years to get started. You're already way ahead of me!

Man... i'd have some kick ass trees by now....
 
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Nashville TN
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#37
I’d be like...seriously, why are you doing that fool, what do you not understand about, “chop lower.”

book? regional sure, but if you have some such for your area...rad
WOODY PLANTS OF KENTUCKY AND TENNESSEE
The Complete Winter Guide to Their Identification and Use
-Ronald L. Jones & Eugene Wofford
 
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on the IL-WI border, a mile from ''da Lake''
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#38
I've been dabbling with bonsai since high school. Maybe 1970. I was entirely self taught, books mostly until Al Gore invented the internet. In 2003 I sat down and looked at my oldest tree, a pomegranate, that I had kept alive since maybe 1973, at the time 30 years old. It looked like shit. I decided that a 30 year old tree should look better than that, obviously I had missed a key point in my self taught education. So I joined a club that was active and had class, seminar and workshop opportunities. That has made a huge difference in my trees, some of my trees look like trees, rather than crap. There is a 3 dimensional element to bonsai that just does not translate to 2 dimensional media like books or internet.

Advice #1, join a group or get a teacher or both. I know $$ is an issue. If your local club has some senior members, you might be able to trade to get instruction from them in exchange for a little labor. Right now I would happily take on someone with a strong back if they would take payment in trees or pots. ( 63 with serious back trouble).

#2 Remember most books and videos are for trees in refinement. Very little, or relatively little is written about trees in early stages of development. Read the articles on Evergreen's website, they are all geared toward developing stock to become bonsai, this is a rare archive, most ''Bonsai articles'' are about near finished trees in refinement. http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm

#3. there are different stages to bonsai - seedling, young tree in development to become pre-bonsai. Pre-bonsai, Bonsai in that the tree has been styled at least once, Tree in Refinement - a tree that has been styled several times, and is nearly ready for exhibition.
Into this mix you also have collected material, which instead of being a seedling, it is a rough collected plant that needs to get established and growing before becoming pre-bonsai or bonsai. Collected material, is an inexpensive way to add older trunks to your collection.

Each stage has different techniques that are appropriate. Use refinement techniques on a seedling Japanese black pine and it will forever have a skinny trunk and look awkward. Or die. Seedling techniques on a refined tree can set the refined tree back a decade's worth of development.

So to learn the totality of bonsai it is good to have a dozen or more trees in the seedling phase and the pre-bonsai phase, at least one or two in the bonsai developed enough to be in cycles of being styled. And at least one tree that is in final refinement phase. Seedlings and pre-bonsai are cheap enough. The last two will take saving up for, or trading labor to an older bonsai artist in your area.

Key is a diverse development range in your collection, so that you can learn all aspects of bonsai.

#4. Trunks won't thicken much at all once you put them in a bonsai pot. My 30+ year old pomegranate was a tiny cutting in 1971, I grew it in a small bonsai pot for the entire 30 years. By 2003 it was 16 inches tall and only 1 inch in diameter. That is 30 years to go from 1/8th inch to one inch. If I had kept the tree in a 5 gallon nursery can for the first 5 or so years, the trunk easily could have been around 3 or 4 inches in diameter. So do not ''confine'' your trees to a bonsai pot until the trunk is the diameter you want it to be in the finished tree.

#5 Horticulture is a science, the science behind bonsai. Do not go to ''Gardening books'' for science, go to the references for the agriculture industry. Land Grant universities have ag extension services. They also do serious agriculture research. Read their references for silviculture, propagation info for potted plant trade, and such. Don't count on garden books to get it right. For example a 10-10-10 fertilizer is not a balanced fertilizer, 12-1-4 is balanced to what a tree actually uses. And 12-1-12 for a nitrate containing fertilizer is correct because the extra potassium is needed to make the nitrate available to the tree. If a book tells you to switch to a zero nitrogen fertilizer in autumn it is just a garden book and has no science in it.

#6. What I like about the free Ryan Neil videos is that he does use the current horticultural science in his discussions of horticulture. You won't get that from Nigel Saunders.

#7. DO start trees you can't get easily at nurseries from seed. Starting now, you will have nice trees to work with in 10 to 30 years. For example I have been starting batches of Jack pine and American persimmon from seed, unfortunately I am 63, and wish I had started these projects 30 years ago.

There is a lot more, but I've typed enough.
 

Traken

Seedling
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#39
Advice #1, join a group or get a teacher or both. I know $$ is an issue. If your local club has some senior members, you might be able to trade to get instruction from them in exchange for a little labor. Right now I would happily take on someone with a strong back if they would take payment in trees or pots. ( 63 with serious back trouble).
Leo,

I'm not sure how far apart we are and whether schedules would ever line up, but if you do need a hand, I'd be happy to help you out on a weekend, in exchange for learning and gawking at trees. heh.
 
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Bel Air, MD
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#40
Now @GGB ,:)
Them's fighting words:D
Almost all we have down here is seed or seedlings:eek:
Good Day
Anthony

So what's wrong me ?
{[ tamarind ]
View attachment 212954

I could grow up to be this - about 28 inches tall
From a 3 keaves seedling

View attachment 212955
That is impressive, Anthony! Very nice tree. How many years did that take? Definitely makes me more confident in starting some seeds, even if they will not grow as vigorously in my climate.

I'd tell myself to collect, and plant more seeds. And to start making pots earlier.
I've had acces to clay and kilns for over 20 years and I did nothing. In hindsight, that was a poor choice.
Thanks, WGW! Yeah, I was thinking it might be a good winter activity to take a pottery class or something. I am thinking my school or maybe the local community college would have something. I will get back to you on that.

I've been dabbling with bonsai since high school. Maybe 1970. I was entirely self taught, books mostly until Al Gore invented the internet. In 2003 I sat down and looked at my oldest tree, a pomegranate, that I had kept alive since maybe 1973, at the time 30 years old. It looked like shit. I decided that a 30 year old tree should look better than that, obviously I had missed a key point in my self taught education. So I joined a club that was active and had class, seminar and workshop opportunities. That has made a huge difference in my trees, some of my trees look like trees, rather than crap. There is a 3 dimensional element to bonsai that just does not translate to 2 dimensional media like books or internet.

Advice #1, join a group or get a teacher or both. I know $$ is an issue. If your local club has some senior members, you might be able to trade to get instruction from them in exchange for a little labor. Right now I would happily take on someone with a strong back if they would take payment in trees or pots. ( 63 with serious back trouble).

#2 Remember most books and videos are for trees in refinement. Very little, or relatively little is written about trees in early stages of development. Read the articles on Evergreen's website, they are all geared toward developing stock to become bonsai, this is a rare archive, most ''Bonsai articles'' are about near finished trees in refinement. http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/articles.htm

#3. there are different stages to bonsai - seedling, young tree in development to become pre-bonsai. Pre-bonsai, Bonsai in that the tree has been styled at least once, Tree in Refinement - a tree that has been styled several times, and is nearly ready for exhibition.
Into this mix you also have collected material, which instead of being a seedling, it is a rough collected plant that needs to get established and growing before becoming pre-bonsai or bonsai. Collected material, is an inexpensive way to add older trunks to your collection.

Each stage has different techniques that are appropriate. Use refinement techniques on a seedling Japanese black pine and it will forever have a skinny trunk and look awkward. Or die. Seedling techniques on a refined tree can set the refined tree back a decade's worth of development.

So to learn the totality of bonsai it is good to have a dozen or more trees in the seedling phase and the pre-bonsai phase, at least one or two in the bonsai developed enough to be in cycles of being styled. And at least one tree that is in final refinement phase. Seedlings and pre-bonsai are cheap enough. The last two will take saving up for, or trading labor to an older bonsai artist in your area.

Key is a diverse development range in your collection, so that you can learn all aspects of bonsai.

#4. Trunks won't thicken much at all once you put them in a bonsai pot. My 30+ year old pomegranate was a tiny cutting in 1971, I grew it in a small bonsai pot for the entire 30 years. By 2003 it was 16 inches tall and only 1 inch in diameter. That is 30 years to go from 1/8th inch to one inch. If I had kept the tree in a 5 gallon nursery can for the first 5 or so years, the trunk easily could have been around 3 or 4 inches in diameter. So do not ''confine'' your trees to a bonsai pot until the trunk is the diameter you want it to be in the finished tree.

#5 Horticulture is a science, the science behind bonsai. Do not go to ''Gardening books'' for science, go to the references for the agriculture industry. Land Grant universities have ag extension services. They also do serious agriculture research. Read their references for silviculture, propagation info for potted plant trade, and such. Don't count on garden books to get it right. For example a 10-10-10 fertilizer is not a balanced fertilizer, 12-1-4 is balanced to what a tree actually uses. And 12-1-12 for a nitrate containing fertilizer is correct because the extra potassium is needed to make the nitrate available to the tree. If a book tells you to switch to a zero nitrogen fertilizer in autumn it is just a garden book and has no science in it.

#6. What I like about the free Ryan Neil videos is that he does use the current horticultural science in his discussions of horticulture. You won't get that from Nigel Saunders.

#7. DO start trees you can't get easily at nurseries from seed. Starting now, you will have nice trees to work with in 10 to 30 years. For example I have been starting batches of Jack pine and American persimmon from seed, unfortunately I am 63, and wish I had started these projects 30 years ago.

There is a lot more, but I've typed enough.
Thanks for taking the time to share all of this information, Leo. Lots of good stuff. Another semi-local member of the forum contacted me about his bonsai group, so I'll hopefully be getting some better hands-on experience very soon. Looking forward to that. I have been watching some more Ryan Neil videos, per everyone's recommendation, and he really does break everything down in a scientific way. Also, thanks for the link for evergreen garden works. I bookmarked it and read a few articles - some very valuable information there.


Thanks again to everyone who responded. It is very nice to be welcomed into the community. Starting to feel like Iike I am on the right track.
 

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