Bonsai is an absolutely fascinating concept, rich with history and culture. Taking up bonsai as a hobby can seem pretty daunting at first, I know it was for me! Let me tell you everything I needed to know about getting started with bonsai.
What Is Bonsai?
I’ll spare you all the long words and waffle, bonsai is the art of growing a tree in a small container – like a small pot. Bonsai, translated, literally means ‘planted in a container’. The art itself it actually an old Chinese practice that was adopted and developed further with Japanese Zen Buddhism.
Bonsai has been around, apparently, for over a thousand years but still has a LOT of misconceptions. In bonsai you are growing a tree in a small container, limiting the root growth and pruning regularly to reduce the size of the tree. The goal is to create a miniature representation of nature. The bonsai tree isn’t a dwarf tree, it isn’t genetically modified, it’s just a normal tree that has been grown in particular ways.
Of course, species differentiate in difficulty but you are actually able to use any tree as a bonsai – the possibilities are endless. When thinking about bonsai you might think of crazy shaped miniature trees, this isn’t actually genetic modification, it’s years of careful care and wiring the bonsai tree in the owners desired shape.
As bonsai take a long time to grow and are extremely unique, some are fetching hundreds of thousands of pounds at auctions. It’s definitely not the hobby to get into if you’re looking for a quick buck but it might be interesting to you that rare bonsai do actually fetch 6 figures.
Can Anyone Grow A Bonsai?
Of course anyone can get started with bonsai and grow a beautiful tree, it really comes down to discipline. Growing a healthy bonsai tree really comes down to:
- Giving the tree the correct light requirements all year round
- Daily checking of the bonsais’ soil moisture and watering if necceseary
- Patience when shaping the branches
- Regular pruning
All of these aspects need to be performed pretty frequently over the course of many years to keep a healthy bonsai tree.
There’s a stereotype that only older people get started in bonsai, which is genuinely ridiculous. There’s no reason that you can’t have your first bonsai tree at 12 years old, the process will be the same.
Is Bonsai hard?
It really depends on the species of bonsai you start with. If you get a pretty resilient tree like a Chinese Elm, you shouldn’t find it too hard – especially with all the guides and how-to guides online now.
To this day there are still certain species of bonsai I wouldn’t own simply due to their complexity and requirements.
In general, I would say bonsai isn’t a hard hobby to get started in and maintain, all it really takes it the discipline to keep it going.
You don’t need really any qualifications to get started with bonsai, I would say that experience will definitely be more useful that any gardening or horticulture qualification.
As silly as this might sound, getting to know your tree, in my opinion, is everything when it comes to maintaining a healthy bonsai. All trees are different, what works for one Chinese Elm owner, might not work for me and my Chinese Elm.
Instead of applying for any courses I would be more likely to recommend that you study a species when you want to start bonsai. Just have a look through the different species that are suitable for beginners, pick which one you like the look of and search everywhere online to get as much information as possible. Doing this will probably give the tree a much higher chance of living, than just a blanket qualification.
Is Bonsai A Hobby You’ll Actually Enjoy?
You hear so often, people talking about how they’ve managed to kill a cactus or a house plant of sorts, almost like an achievement. If you’re genuinely terrible at keeping even simple house plants alive, getting started with bonsai probably isn’t a good idea, I really doubt you’ll enjoy it.
Bonsai trees, if buying one 7+ years old, unlike buying house plants, can actually end up being quite expensive. It would be a shame if you spent £99 on a tree as your first bonsai and it died within a few weeks due to improper care.
Getting started in bonsai is fast but the actual cultivation and growing of bonsai trees is anything but fast. Trees need daily maintenance for tens of years to become the kind of bonsai you’re probably thinking of when thinking about starting bonsai. The common misconception is that bonsai trees are genetically modified trees – it’s completely untrue. Growing a bonsai is really no different time wise to growing a normal sized tree.
If you’re wanting to shape a bonsai tree in a stunning way like this, it’s not a 5 minute process – you’ll be growing it wired for years and years until seeing any sort of progress. This is absolutely great for people who aren’t naturally impatient with hobbies but if you are, bonsai might drive you crazy.
For me, I started bonsai for relaxation. My job as a financial markets and indices day trader is extremely stressful, so I enjoy kicking back and tending to my bonsai trees. Why did I pick bonsai? Simply because of the aesthetic I had seen in a garden centre – no other reason.
What You Need To Get Started With Bonsai
Bonsai, once you own the tree, is a relatively cheap hobby. There’s really only a few bits and bobs you actually need to own to start.
Firstly, let’s start with the bonsai tree itself. If you’re just getting started, I wouldn’t recommend trying to create your own bonsai from a nursery stock plant – it’s much easier and safer to buy a starter plant. Starter kits usually contain everything you need, from a bonsai tree to the pruning scissors. I started with this kit, which came with a 7+ year old bonsai, a pot, pruning scissors, fertiliser and instructions. I would highly recommend getting a starter kit bonsai as your first tree, so there’s little you can do wrong.
If you aren’t interested in buying a starter kit that contains all the other items, you’ll need some pruning scissors to regularly prune the tree – keeping its size down. I recommend these ones, they’ll last you a very long time.
During the winter, if you’re taking this seriously, you’ll need some sort of grow light to maintain the trees light levels. I recommend using this one here, again it’s not a repeat purchase kind of an item, I’ve had mine ever since I started.
Whether you buy a starter kit bonsai or not, getting some bonsai soil mix is super important to help keep the tree healthy. Most really basic soils won’t be enough to help sustain a bonsai. I recommend buying this as it does the job, plus it’s super cheap.