Bonsai for Beginners – Part 1 – Reasons and Requirements

I am sorry it took me so long to actually begin with this since several of you said you’d like to read it, but I feel like I am chasing my tail most of the time this year. It is very frustrating, being behind schedule on absolutely all fronts all the time…

I am not going to try and persuade anyone about anything, but in my opinion, if someone considers having a bonsai tree, they should have good reasons to actually do so successfully, and they must meet some criteria too.

Some of the good reasons are if you like growing things, whether in the garden or in pots doesn’t matter, and you want to try something new. Another good reason is if you are interested in studying Japanese culture and you see caring for a bonsai tree as a way to try and to get a more personal feel for it. Or you just think bonsai are cool and you would like to have one (that was my reason for starting).

Some of the bad reasons might on the surface look very similar to the good ones, I am not going to list those, however. Just a note – New Age is crap.

But whatever your reasons, the main underlying requirement on you as a person, if you want to have a bonsai tree, is liking nature and plants. Another is not minding to get your hands really dirty from time to time. The third one is patience. Lots of it. And lastly, you must be prepared to cope with loss and disappointment. Some trees will just die randomly.

Cupressus sp. In memory of a tree that got killed by unpredictably fast changes in weather. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

What is my reasoning for this? Having a bonsai tree means committing yourself to take years or even decades-long care for a living organism with its own needs and unique properties. Good reasons are in my opinion those that would be favorable towards such commitment, bad are those that would undermine it. And being really interested in something is not the same as being infatuated with the latest fad.

Enough of pseudo-philosophical babble though, for introducing this suffices. In this series, I will concentrate first on some basic aspects of bonsai care – what tools to use and where to get them, what are your space requirements, etc. Then I will list several species that are well suited for beginners in various environments, species that are more challenging and also species that a beginner should avoid like a plague. I will occasionally also write detailed articles about how to actually care for several of those species in order to have a prosperous and beautiful bonsai.

So, stay tuned, I will post on weekends whenever I find the time.


  1. rq says

    I feel like I am chasing my tail most of the time this year. It is very frustrating, being behind schedule on absolutely all fronts all the time…

    I am really, really, really feeling this right now.

  2. DonDueed says

    My question: do bonsai growers start their trees from seed, or do they buy young plants ready for “training”? Or is it more of a “some do, some don’t” thing?

  3. lumipuna says

    Some gardening/souvenir shops sell highly risible “bonsai starter kits” -- I know this because I once received one as a gift.

    The package contained a few seeds, a handful of dry peat and a small plastic tray. There were basically no instructions other than “plant the seeds and add water”. There was no name of the plant species, only a photo that may or may not have been the same plant.

    (I don’t do bonsai or generally woody pot plants, but I was mildly curious to see how the seedlings would look like so I planted the seeds -- they never germinated.)

  4. says

    I used to work for the guy who invented the “bonsai potato” kit. He made an absurdly large amount of money off it in something like 3 months. I am unable to look at a bonsai without thinking of Jeff, one of grifting’s greats.

  5. voyager says

    I’m looking forward to this series, Charly. Bonsai are fascinating. They’re beautiful and look a bit magical to me.

  6. Nightjar says

    Yay! Thanks for doing this, Charly, I’m looking forward to it!

    And yeah, I know what you mean about “being behind schedule on absolutely all fronts all the time”. I’ve been feeling like that for a while too.

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