Please recommend bonsai plants for beginner

tmac96(Z5, OH)August 7, 2007

My DH is really interested in bonsai and after toying around with plants found at those big box stores, he's ready for something serious. Can you recommend a variety that is good for beginners? He really likes figs but is dying to have a Japanese Maple or a Schefflera(SP?). Are those good options? TIA! Also, can you recommend a reputable vendor? Our local nurseries carry very little in the way of bonsai.

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Hi, I always have a hard time with notes like these because I always end up sounding stuffy and don't want to, but the thing is, while your DH might have better luck with a Ficus, or even Schefflera (maples must live outdoors year round), they are still plants and will only put up with a slow learning curve for so long, and in fact, can be killed off in a week if you don't know what to do from day one. It's not about an 'easy' tree, it's about being knowledgable from day one regarding the tree, and growing things in general. He must find a local bonsai club because that's where he's going to learn the most the fastest, and it's important not to get a 'stick-in-a-pot' from big box stores... the kind of thing with pebbles glued to the surface, with one-size-fits-all care tags (literally worse than useless) and some unnatural curve trained in by wire likely already digging into the bark. It's also not a great time of year to be starting out as early spring's much better - plants are more forgiving, you can do more with them and they won't croak overnight (believe it or not most trees are beginning to think about winter dormancy now, even though it's months away), and so much needs to be considered:- do you really know how to water bonsai properly? Do you know what it should be planted in (vs the $%*Y# they usually come in? Do you have the right kind of supplemental lighting at home for tropicals (the only things that should be tried indoors) and do you know how to use it? What about .... a thousand other things - no you're not expected to know everything at once, but knowing even the few basics necessary to keep your trees alive for a few seasons, getting them through the first month, matters. I could recommend various online growers who are extremely good, but that's not the place to start... books are and a club is, and places like,, and (the 2nd is the best for indoor stuff, esp. ficus), the last for outdoor trees, and the first for a lot of everything.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 10:29PM
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tmac96(Z5, OH)

I grow many different plants that all require different things. I know the importance of knowing what your specific plant needs and what to do to meet its needs. I am currently searching for a good book to purchase my DH and we have already bookmarked and read through many sites, some of which you referenced. I was just hoping for some recommendations on what plants would be good to start with. For example, I grow African Violets to show. If someone was starting AVs, while they must know about lighting requirements, soil mixtures, disbudding, watering methods, repotting requirements, etc. there are certain varieties that would be far better to start with than others. IMO, there's only so much you can do with a Walmart violet. We will learn the specific needs of bonsai, just hoping to find some recommended varieties here. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 8:55AM
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The thing with bonsai is that each one is very individual, more a matter of the imagination to 'see' a future tree in a small (or large), possibly misshapen little shrub, artistic together with experienced skills and horticultural knowledge to make it happen, as well as an understanding of so many more factors (never mind knowledge of hundreds of trees) - it really is a lifelong learning experience. If you want to grow indoors, then ficus is probably as good a place as any to start. If you can also grow outdoors, then talk to a local nursery who knows your climate well and discuss which trees (that you like) are 'easy' to grow, what basic needs are, etc. and what peculiarities may occur (e.g. some things tend to drop branches every year with no rhyme or reason - not a good thing for bonsai, or others REAlly attract bugs, or diseases (willows), though don't expect them to know about bonsai.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 2:04PM
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IÂll chime in here because I am also a beginner (for many years!), and DH is a beginner of a few weeks.

One book, "Totally Bonsai," recommended pines (Pinus parviflora, Pinus pentaphylla, Pinus sylvestris) and maples (Acer palmatum, Acer buergerianum) as good for beginners.

Another, the old Sunset Book, "Bonsai," recommends cotoneaster species, dwarf hemlock, dwarf pomegranate, junipers, and pyracantha.

I like Chinese elm, cotoneaster (produces new buds readily), junipers and ficus nerifolia. Someone said that if you kill off a Ficus nerifolia, perhaps bonsai is not for you!

Really, I think itÂs more important to chose a tree that you (or your DH) love, one that speaks to you, so that you will enjoy maintaining it.

If possible, find a bonsai nursery near you or make an outing of it, if itÂs a ways from home. There you are likely to find "starter" bonsai at reasonable prices suitable for beginners, as well as soil, tools, wire, and a knowledgeable person to answer your questions.

In the regular nurseries near me, I found junipers and other evergreens at very reasonable prices, marked down because not many landscapers are buying them this time of year. I also came home with a cotoneaster with a very nice trunk. I did NOT find any suitable maples. The ones they had were huge and $$$.

Warning! Bonsai are like potato chips! Bet you canÂt take home just one!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 7:36AM
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