Where do i start?

Mr Miyagi

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Hello everyone.
I’m new to the forums and bonsai in general.
I was at a local nursery with my partner and happened across a nice little bonsai display. After talking to the “sales person” about bonsai I developed half an interest. 6 months later after reading as much as I can and visiting 3 actual bonsai nurseries a few times, that interest has exploded. I have visited many sites and forums on bonsai and this is where my problem starts.
There is so much contradiction from one site to another about the same ideas in all aspect of bonsai. Even the information that I received from the bonsai nurseries was different about the same subjects.
Where do I start?
What do I believe and follow?
One thing that was said to me by all 3 bonsai nurseries was to start off with a cotoneaster. Then all 3 said different things in regards to the cotoneaster size/age.
One pointed to a starter kit, 3-5 inches tall and around $5.
The second said a much larger more developed tree/shrub at around 20 – 25 inches tall. $40.
The third (no surprise) split the difference and recommended one around 10 – 15 inches tall $15 - $20.
I’m a patient person and know that a “finished” bonsai can take many years (if not a life time) to be classed as a finished piece and this does not bother me at all.
I would really love to start and I would love to hear your opinions.
Thanks in advance.

Oh, i'm from Sydney, Australia (west).
Welcome Mr. Miyagi,

It can be daunting, to say the least, when you read and hear so many different opinions. Choose a path and follow it gaging the results as you go along. If the cost suits your situation you could try the 'middle road', 10-15 in tree for $15-$20. It should have enough structure to it and can offer some challenge.

Next step in your journey is to just let it grow for at least several months. You are in the Fall season now. Learn all you can about your new tree in the off-season. Learn the watering requirements, the proper lighting needs. Determine where it should be over winter. How to keep it healthy and happy. Stare at it often. Contemplate its future growth and design features. Try to find others who share your bonsai interests such as a bonsai club or study group. They will help sort out the conflicting advice.

Then in Spring you may be ready to begin the next steps - the essential shaping, pruning , wiring, fertilizing, .......

But - enjoy the journey. Many additional bonsai will be in your future.

PS - You may notice that I do not advise you with cotoneaster as I have too little experience with this plant.
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Remember you are dealing with living things. There is NO "absolutely THE way" to do bonsai. You also are dealing with different people, each with his or her way it MUST be done.

It always helps when starting in bonsai if you have had experience with growing plants -- in general, but especially plants in pots.

I'm from the upper half of the world and wouldn't try to advise what tree is "best" down where they grow upside down, but I think it is always a good idea to find other bonsai aficionados in your area and work with them until you grow some confidence in your abilities. Go here: http://www.bonsai-bci.com/clubs~1.htm#AUSTRALIA to find a club near you.

Good luck, and have fun.
What JKL said, one of the reasons behind the contradictory opinions is purely out of location, different micro climates can make a big difference. Best advice will come form someone close to you that actually does bonsai. Levels of experiance can doctate what you get into as well, some things are just easier to cope with.

I am on the other end as well, but my advice would be start with material that you might find in your local landscapes.

Good Luck, some of the info you get especially on line can be spot on or off the edge, part of the trick is figuring out who gives good advice, that takes the reading part to see who says what and who respects that info, it can be tricky at times.
Thank you Tom, jkl and Bill for your advice.
There is a bonsai course that I have heard about that has a 9 week course (1 night a week) that I have signed up for. It’s relatively inexpensive and depending on how much you learn in that time you either take a second beginner course or move to the intermediate and then on to the advanced. It runs over the course of the year and longer if you still need more help. From then on the course is for the advanced (not any time soon for me obviously).

The good thing about this is that all levels of the course coincide with one another giving me the chance to find a member close to my area that I can chew he’s or her ear off about bonsai and more specifically a good starter tree for my area and climate.

Thanks again and I will update with my ultimate path decision.
Thats what i would recommend. Ive learned more from 4 months of classes and joining a club than in the past year. Youll have access to good material, starter or advanced, and advice on how to take care of it. When learning with others, you get exposed to so many types of trees that can be used for bonsai, and different techniques for each type of tree. I would recommend a juniper of some kind, either a procumbens nana or shimpaku if you want conifers. If your more toward the decidious trees, then a trident maple, or chinese elm. Cotoneasters are cool, but take some time to train into an upright position. As far as the sizes your looking at, see if you can see the bonsai in the material your studying. Then, decide whether it can be bent or wired to that shape. If it is too large to bend, then maybe go with the smaller one. It all depends on what style your after. When you do get into it, and see all the different trees, youll want one of each, lol. Have fun.
Thanks everyone for taking an interest in helping a new comer.

Digger, it’s funny you mention junipers as a starting tree. When being told to start with the cotoneaster, if found myself always looking at the juniper area… especially the procumbens and the prostratas. After going to my first club meeting and speaking with those in the know, I have been advised that they are also a great tree for beginners and the advanced alike. Should be picking up my first tree soon. Excited! :)
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