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Bonsai: What tree?


I often see the following question, “Where can I buy bonsai seeds?”

Try going to your local garden center, through the doors, straight upstairs to the basement. Now, past the aistle marked ‘Infinate Probabilities’. Walk backwards down the aistle till you come to opposite the Montague Headboard Pins just below the Doo-hickies. Now then, next to the Long Stand and above the Wire Mesh Watering Cans, two places along from the Permafix Sky Hooks you won’t find any bonsai seeds.
Bonsai Trees are normal trees grown under exceptional curcumstances to be a minature facsimile of a normal sized tree.

If this will be your first or second try at growing a bonsai, no doubt you’ll want quick results (I know i did).
Don’t grow from seed. By not growing from seed you’ve just saved years. Often from seed to a reasonable bonsai will take about ten years. From seed to ten years you have a potential bonsai.

Lets rephrase the question. “What type of tree should I choose as my bonsai?”

Be patient, take your time.
Choose a native species or one that will grow in your local climate. Choose a tree or shrub with small leaves/needles. Why? Small leaves look more natural on a bonsai. The smaller the leaf, the better the bonsai will look. Leaves on many trees will reduce in time, either naturally or through ‘forcing’ (leaf trimming). Having said that, in 25 years my Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) reduced its leaves by 1/4 size, 1/3 size. Meaning they are now only slightly less than the length of my palm. Still too big even for a large bonsai.

If you intend growing a small bonsai 2" to 8" tall go for tiny leafed species e.g. cotoneaster (particularly Cotoneaster horizontalis). I chose this type because of several reasons:-
Easy to obtain; Deciduous; Very forgiving; Very small spacing between leaf nodes and branch divides; Hardy; Drought resistant; Can be grown in all styles except Formal Upright; Masses of flowers; Attractive to bees; Masses of berries; Attractive to birds; Brilliant scarlet darkening to dark red leaves in the Autumn (Fall); Holds its berries through Winter; Attractive light green leaves in Springtime.
From a small shrub to an instant bonsai in a few hours.

Or, if you’d prefer to grow a conifer, you could try a Larch (Larix), it’s deciduous so it shows off its branches and twigs during Wintertime. Then there are the many types of conifers in local garden centres. for a few quid (or $) you can pick up a nice little specimen to prune into a bonsai style (If you ruin it, you’ve only lost a few quid). Some GC’s have a small area out the back somewhere with damaged or reject trees/shrubs. Bargains can be found here. If you know someone who is remodeling their garden they may be throwing out some shrubs (a good source of bonsai materials here).
Other popular tree species are Maples:Norway; Field; Japanese to name a few.
Birches (Betula) are quick growing but can take eight to 15 years to get that white bark of mature birches. Some Birches never get white bark. I’ve found that Birch branches can suddenly for no apparent reason lose a major limb. Also easy to burn leaves if overfed.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) are difficult to bonsai as they are susceptable to drought and pruning can only be done at one specific time of year or you’ll end up with leaves on the branch tips only.
Pines can be difficult. Overwater a little and longer needles are produced (not desired). Overwater too much and needles yellow and tree dies. Underwatering will produce tree death, by the time you see brown needles, often it’s too late.

To summarise:
Don’t grow from seed; pick a small leafed species. Choose a quick growing species; Persevere.

Ians Insights Thoughts of a hopeless gardener.
#42. If you like gardening at night, you’ll find it easier if you don’t wear sunglasses.

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Interesting blog but be nice to see some bonsai photos to.

1 Feb, 2016


I don't think I'd try them from seed. It would take too long. I haven't got 10 yrs worth of patience lol :)

1 Feb, 2016


Scotkat, thanks, I'll get round to it someday. The bonsai in my photos need updating.
Hywel, if you know someone who is rescaping/designing their garden and they are going to remove any trees or shrubs, you could look out for a small leaved variety and style a bonsai from it. Nice bonsai in about 5 years depending on species.

2 Feb, 2016


Thank you :)

3 Feb, 2016


All good advice! My favourite bonsai (grown from tree seedlings dug up from the garden) are Hawthorn and Beech, but the Cotoneaster is rewarding because the berries eventually grow TINY, and I like Copper Beech too. Good luck Hywel - it's fun.

4 Apr, 2016

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