Bonsai remedy for homesick ex-Californian

Olga, WA(Zone 8b)

Well, there are really only a few things I miss about not living in CA anymore, among them are two kinds of trees: the Monterey Cypress and the Giant Sequoia. On a impulse the other night I ordered seeds for both of these to try to grow as bonsai. Also went to Amazon and ordered a beginners book: Bonsai, 101 Essential Tips.

Wondered if anyone can give 'tips' for an abject beginner --- aside from the obvious ones that will come in the book?

I know NOTHING about bonsai!

Saint James, MO(Zone 6b)

Just use your imagination and enjoy it! I had a lady make me one and I was hooked and have made about 5 of my own since. If you are in a hurry to get one started, and if you like Jade Plants, buy you one of those and just shape it the way you like it and there you go! :) You can find reasonably priced Bonsai Pots on eBay. Which reminds me, I still have two empty pots! :) I am attaching a pic of a couple I made a little while back, but they have changed some since. Hope you have lots of fun with them! :)

Thumbnail by mistygardener
Scott, LA(Zone 8b)

You might check and see if there is a Bonsai Society in your area that you could get tips from. In our area we meet twice a month and discuss any problems and do workshops for a fee of $20 yearly. There are so many interesting things that you get to see in person, that you can not see in books. Also look for Bonsai sites on the internet, like Dallas Bonsai or Joe's Bonsai or for tools and information.

Flowery Branch, GA


If you're young, Sequoia might be achieveable. Me, I'm not that young or ambitious. Might try getting a Metasequoia. Available at most nurseries, not that expensive (depends on the nursery), is a dwarf version of sequoia, with beautiful feathery leaves. Somewhat difficult as Bonsai because it is "apex dominant". Have to keep pruning it. But the bark is nice and you can't beat the foilage!

Good luck.


Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Wally, question please, how do one train a ficus to achieve this "swollen" trunk look? Can a novice attempt this technique?

Speaking of 'apex dominant'. How about the term 'decurrent' and was that excurrent?. How do one look at a tree and know which one can be topped off and which will not tolerate such treatment. Personal experience. I topped off an outdoor tree -- a weeping willow, I took 1/3 off of the top and it eventually I'm now a little more timid on this harsh treatment on all my trees in general. I've two mountain ash, unsure of its specific botanical name, just "mountain ash" from mail order catalog. I am hoping to train one into a bonsai, but afraid to top one off.....

Flowery Branch, GA

Kim; Mountain Ash = Sorbus and it has several cultivars, yours is probably an 'Americana' or Dogberry...or maybe not. Also looked up decurrent, but couldn't find excurrent. Since the Sorbus is a hardwood, it would seem to be decurrent

You are going to have to find someone with experience with Mountain Ash. Thing is some trees i.e., Chinese elm, can be reduced in size, but not all at once. Some can take absolutely brutal pruning, like Mimosa or American Beach. Just don't know about Sorbus. Hard to tell from the only pictures I could find, but seems like it has long, multi-segment leaves (don't know the term) like a Mimosa. If so, it will be difficult to achieve any leaf reduction to get it into scale for Bonsai. But, what the hey, still be fun to play with!

Flowery Branch, GA


Sorry I missed your first question about a 'swollen trunk'. Not too sure what you mean. If you are talking about 'taper', initial styling and on-going care are equally important.

Styling: Spreading roots play a large part in creating a nice wide base or nebari.
With a seedling, its possible to wire the roots to a ceramic tile, so they flair outward like the spokes of a wheel. Then plant it in a shallow container with plenty of room. The following spring you will begin to see the coarse roots that will become the root base, with lots of feeder roots out towards the end. In Bonsai, the idea is to have only coarse spreading roots and fine feeder roots filling the bonsai pot.
Branch placement and nurturing brings taper to the main stalk or trunk. With the largest branch as the lowest, it produces a wider trunk segment below it. The next-to-largest branch will produce a slightly smaller trunk segment, and so on.
The problem with trunk-chopis that it creates an abrubt taper that must be hidden by foliage, instead of having a gradual, "generational" taper.

On-going care: Each branch should be treated just like the main trunk, with the largest secondary branch nearest the trunk and decreasing sizes outward on the branch. Then the tertiary branches follow this design scheme. All this is done through diligent pruning, and some occasional wiring. (Some artists follow almost exclusively the technique of "clip and grow" using as little wire as possible)
Pruning and pinching: the general rule of pinching is to let 2 leaves imerge, and pinch or clip off the growing tip. The sooner the pinch is made, the shorter the distance between growing nodes. Growing nodes contain dormant buds, and will produce more growing tips which, in turn are grown to two, and pinched.

In nature, there is a balance between root mass and foliage mass. In Bonsai, once the pot is filled with feeder roots, the root mass remains constant. By producing more and more leaves through pinching, the smaller the leaf size will become. And that is essential in getting everything to scale, where the over-all appearance is that of an old tree in nature.

Boy! Can I go on and on or what? I probably ranted about stuff you already know, but not knowing you, I didn't know what to put in and what to leave out. I hope I helped.


Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Wally, thank you for taking the time to explain. I appreciate all the info. given. I think I've answered my own question *. The additional info. given are excellent for higher learning.

I'm an avid gardener, love all types of plants. In recent past, I've become more interested in the art of Bonsai. From reading about the art, to the initial steps of looking around for basic assessories, and type of plants that I'd like to try to "practice". I also tested my ability to keep some of the already made "Bonsai" specimens just to see if I can keep them alive....ect.

I'll show a picture of the example of the swollen trunk ficus that I was referring to. Then I'll come back with a picture of another plant that I've wired, and it's showing the "swollen effect" as mentioned. Although, they're two different types of plants....

Here is the ficus, or what I think is a ficus.

Thumbnail by Lily_love
Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Pardon for hijacking someone's thread, unintentionally...Wally, please join me on my own thread to continue to discuss our topic.

Here is my link;

This message was edited Jan 30, 2008 3:29 PM

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