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The choice

How to choose plants suitable for creating bonsai

When buying a bonsai, or pre-bonsai, try not to start with seedlings, cuttings, or little plants from a nursery. They take too long and are too unpredictable. These techniques are reserved for the more experienced.

Buy a bonsai or a pre-bonsai.

Do not try to start with growing a seedling, a cutting or a very small plant. You lose time, and often, a few years after the tree ends up in the garden .......

To practise the basic methods of bonsai it’s best to buy some nursery stock, let’s say a beech or a hornbeam. At a general nursery or garden centre, you will find an assortment of trees. These, however have not been grown specifically for becoming bonsai, but are garden plants. In Japan and China you will find specialist nurseries growing all kinds of trees especially for bonsai. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be unable to source good suitable material locally, but you will need to be a little more imaginative and examine the material closely for suitability. Its dense foliage hides the structure of trunk and branches. The trees are almost certainly planted deep into the container, so you need to remove some soil to be sure you have a good-looking trunk. The material is not very expensive, and you will gain much satisfaction in creating a personal work from scratch.

Try to avoid unpleasant scars and too apparent cuts on the trunk — they require too much work and many years of patience before they disappear. In bonsai, we always try to create trees that look as if man has never touched them. However, a nursery tree is not perfect, and will almost certainly need work on it to correct the defects.

A typical small Japanese pine, which has been grown to become a bonsai. The trunk has an interesting curve and there are many branches to choose from.
A yew (Taxus baccata) — easily attained material from a general garden plant nursery. This tree is planted deep in the container.
Almost a third of the soil must be removed and the upper part of the pot is cut away to reach the trunk and root base.

This is a medium-sized Hinoki cypress from nursery stock.
Close examination reveals that behind the bushy foliage lies an interesting branch structure growing close to the trunk.

A medium-sized beech (Fagus sylvatica) has plenty of potential for becoming a fine bonsai. It has good trunk taper, interesting base and many branches.
This pine (Pinus sylvestris) comes from nursery stock and has already been trained for a couple of years.


A small deciduous tree, (Enkianthus) is specially grown for bonsai purposes. It has many branches and good movement in the trunk


After a couple of hours’ work it has been made into a bonsai.
An indoor pistachio (Pistacia) that has an elegant trunk line with enough branches to choose from. Check the root base, which is hidden in the soil.
This small juniper (Juniperus chinensis) has a very long branch to the left, indicating that it might be suitable for a cascade style.
This maple (Acer palmatum) has a thick trunk base with good taper. The branch setting needs to be developed.


What to look out for when sourcing the right material

  1. Inspect the roots. Avoid material with a compacted root ball and roots that wind round. Be sure the soil is clean, without too many weeds.

  2. Check that you have enough branches to be able to choose your first three branches. Check the good health of the foliage. Note the absence of parasites.

  3. Take a harmonious subject, not too slender, too high, nor too small. Don’t forget that the height of the trunk should be only six times its diameter — no more!

  4. Rather than conifers choose leafy trees; they’re easier for
    beginners. We suggest: olive, beech, hornbeam, Japanese maple, elm. If you still want to start with a conifer anyway, choose a Pinus mugo. If you prefer to buy a bonsai directly from a professional, choose elm, maple, or Ficus, for example. Avoid junipers and carmona; you’ll come to those later.
These little maple cuttings make good material for a forest planting.
Cotoneaster, its small leaves and many side branches make it a very good candidate for bonsai.
A Buschy Berberis hidden in the middle there is an interesting thick trunk which makes it very suitable for bonsai.
Here a narrow pot has caused the roots to wind round in circles.

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Publication dates

English language edition 2024Publication Dates
IssueE-MagazineEuropeRest o/t World
2024-1 #186 | #209- January /FebruaryJan. 1, 2024Jan. 15Jan. 22
2024-2 #187 | #210- March / AprilMar. 4Mar. 18Mar. 25
2024-3 #188 | #211- May / JuneMay 6May 20May 27
2024-4 #189 | #212 -July / AugustJuly 1July 15July 22
2024-5 #190 | #213- September / OctoberSep. 2Sep.16Sep. 23
2024-6 #191 | #214- November / DecemberNov. 4Nov. 18Nov. 25

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