The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

Bonsai: How difficult is it to do?


Here’s a bit of background about me.

I’ve been growing bonsai since 1990. I’m not an expert, only a lazy amateur. I don’t root prune often enough. Neglect weeding. Often don’t feed enough (the trees not myself). I’m self taught (books and internet were my teachers) and still learning.

About five years ago while out on a local walk through a small plantation, I saw a small seedling growing out of leaf/needle debris on a tree stump. I thought that looks like a nice little potential bonsai, I wonder how deep the roots are.

I gently took hold of the stem and gave it a gentle lift. Lo and behold! The whole root system and the needle/leaf debris came up with it. It’s a Summer day so how to get it home without drying out? One of the many fine things about walking your dog(s) is you always have doggy poo bags. Problem solved!

Back at home. I removed the seedling and dumped the roots into a bucket of water. Hunted out a suitable container (in this case a 8″ × 6″ seed tray). Washed and disinfected the tray. I covered the drain holes with fine plastic mesh. Filled the container half full with multi-purpose compost, retreived the seedling from the bucket of water, spread out the roots along the surface of the compost radially from the stem. I covered the roots with more compost to just over the highest roots near the stem.

Using copper wire I wrapped a loose spiral around the stem then bent the seedling into a gentle ‘S’ shape. I then placed a couple of weighty stones on the roots to hold the seedling stable until the roots supported the seedling (three months). Placed the tray in a semi-shaded position, didn’t feed it for six months, made sure it never dried out.

Finger pinched out the growing tips and reduced some branch length to create an overall triangular shape.

Two and a half years later I removed the seedling and roots from the pot shook off as much compost as reasonably possible and cut off half the length of the roots. Then I repotted it back into the same container using the method as described above (this should have been done anually).

The tree is a European Larch (Larix decidua).
Flexable tree good for many sizes and styles of bonsai. Quite a vigorous growth.
Now due to be root pruned again and maybe some judicial pruning.

Now I ask you . . . Was that difficult?


Ians Insights Thoughts of a hopeless gardener.
To best protect your property; Plant a row of hedgehogs around the inside perimeter of your property. Don’t plant too deep.

More blog posts by stjohntongue

Previous post: A Tale of Survival

Next post: Bonsai: Making choices



Difficult or not, doing what you love to do is a joy.

29 Jan, 2016


so very true ^_^

29 Jan, 2016


one day I might give this a try. you've explained it really well.

29 Jan, 2016


Thank you, Seaburngirl, I tried to show that it's not difficult and so rewarding. My first bonsai started life as a silver birch seedling in a small plastic butter tub. I had nothing else to use at the time.

Don't worry if your first couple fail. It's a learning curve we all go through and there is lots of good advice on this site (as you know)and even a bonsai section (Yehah!). Take for instance cat litter. I've grown bonsai for 25ish years but only heard about cat litter as a growing medium about 5 years ago. There's so much to learn but it's a fun process with suprising results.

29 Jan, 2016


Thanks for this - I have three little Japanese maple plants bought 18 months ago when they were about 8 inches high. I really meant to 'bonsai' them but have kept putting it off until I could delve into enough books to get the best way to go about it.

You've shown that it's possible to get great looking results without all the mystery.

29 Jan, 2016


Urbanite, if I may offer you some advice . . .
Japanese Maples are fabulous trees to own however they are quite slow growing compared to other Maples.

If you want to obtain 'quick' results from your Japanese Maples I suggest you replant them in the ground in a well draining growing medium in a partial shaded position. Don't plant them too deep (you may need to stake the trees), you want to see the root flare at the base of the trunk and plant them on a piece of slate or a flat stone. This will create a nice root flare and create a root system more suitable to a shallow pot. Leave them in the ground for two to three years (or longer if you're patient), undercut the roots anually to create fine fibreous feeder roots near the tree. Don't prune during this time. Prune/reduce tree to shape just before planting in a pot. Remove the piece of slate/flat stone before potting up.
Your Maples will grow three to four times quicker than in a pot.
I hope this helps.

29 Jan, 2016


Thanks for the advice - that should have been acers not maples!!! (My mind was wandering!)

I don't have 'ground' to plant anything else - I have a back yard with 2 narrow borders which are already full. One hydrangea, one camellia and one climbing hydrangea plus herbaceous perennials and bulbs.
I also have a couple of little prostrate conifers - if they've survived not being potted on after I bought them (they got put to one side while I was repaying and i forgot about them).
I got a load of bonsai pots from freecycle a while ago, so no real excuse for not getting on and doing something (other than not enough hours in a day)

1 Feb, 2016


I have wanted to try this for many years but never got round to it. I hope to try it this year. I shall keep your blog for reference - thank you :)

1 Feb, 2016


For expert more informative advice visit:
I started using cat litter after hearing about it on another web site and at some point was directed to the above address where I read more about cat litter bonsai soil.

2 Feb, 2016


I agree with every word Stjohn . . . I've been growing bonsai for about 16 years, and always have a job persuading my friends that it is NOT difficult, but in fact absorbing and great fun! That reminds me - I haven't root-pruned any of mine yet - whoops - note to self, must do it this week :)

It's great to read of your enthusiasm.

4 Apr, 2016

Add a comment

Recent posts by stjohntongue

Members who like this blog

  • Gardening with friends since
    25 Feb, 2011

  • Gardening with friends since
    2 Nov, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Oct, 2008