Another day. Another trip to the nursery

No tree over $16 thanks to 50% off at a forgotten nursery :grin:

Barberry, viburnum, boxwood? and Holly


And this nandina group that I’ll use in a slab planting


I’m there with you. Didn’t even intend to but couldn’t pass it up. Thinking it will make a good cascade. Can’t wait to see what it will work out to be!


It turns out that I also did a quick nursery run yesterday. I was extremeley reasonable and only bought a couple more Berberis thunbergii. I almost bought an Ilex crenata and a Ginkgo biloba ‘mariken’.

The atropupurea has a single trunk with some taper, the other one is a clump. Both have moss and lichen all over the trunk and branches.

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As winter approaches the big box stores should start unloading soon. I’ve had my eye on one or 20 trees. :laughing:

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@Bonsai_Bentley , how many do you have now?
Bonsai are like potatoe chips… you only need one… bag full!

I’ve bought 38 this year lol :joy::joy::joy: I was telling my wife last night that I have to stop because now I need pots. Luckily a lot of what I bought still needs to either go into the ground or into a colander/pond basket to put on girth and height. She said “good luck with that.” :laughing:

38? I saw the original post said 35. Had to do a recount there I see? :laughing:

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Haha, yup. I’ve created an album for each tree in google photos and realized that some albums are multiple trees.

I have a spreadsheet that is woefully out of date. It seems to get updated only in the winter with all the trees tucked away and I’m longing for spring.

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I have been on a nursery rampage this year in my excitement to get more material for Bonsai. In hindsight, I think I was in some ways over-enthusiastic. I got a lot of trees, and some of them on closer examination are probably in the Decent to Good range rather than in the Really Good to Wow range.

How do you guys approach your nursery trips (if you go)?

I think Ryan’s criteria (foliage quality/size, nebari, trunk movement, defining branch possibilities, special features) are good. If I had some kind of checklist with me on my trips I would probably have gotten half the trees that I did.

The other point I would make is that the cost of the nursery stock is a very small portion of the total cost of the bonsai. So I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to go for cheaper but less attractive pieces. Consider that the total cost includes:

  • pot
  • fertilizer
  • winter storage space
  • repotting time and slots (how many trees can you repot during the Spring crunch time anyway?)
  • bonsai soil

So if you do the math, within a reasonable range the cost of the nursery stock is a very small factor in the overall decision. Obviously I am not talking about $500 vs. $20, but on the order of $20 vs. $100 would still be a fairly small difference in the grand scheme of the other things that go into making a Bonsai.

My plan for next year is to 1) bring the checklist and set a minimum threshold and 2) buy far fewer but much more interesting trees.


Gary (Boston)


That’s a whole other level of shopping :partying_face:
I’ve started cleaning up and doing an inventory of my pots… so I can make a wish list of pots for specific trees.

Of course, once you have the trees and the pots… it’s time to start buying or making stands :sweat_smile:

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Lol, as soon as I finished my first stand I went to a bonsai show and immediately needed another stand. Fortunately, or unfortunately, since most things I bought aren’t quite ready for a bonsai pot I’ve been able to get away with grow bags, pond baskets and in the spring I’ll be buying larger more “patio” like pots for things that I need to be more portable in my climate. Summers here are brutal.

At that bonsai show I won 12 pots in a silent auction for $130. I can’t use all 12 where my trees currently are in their lives, but I could use most of them.

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Yes, I too have run into the “Oh, this isnt’ that great” result. Since I’m just starting out a lot of my criteria has been “what kind of tree do I want”. I also visit nurseries when I travel, so sometimes the criteria is “Oh snap, I can’t get that where I am!”

Idk that I could operate on a checklist, but my most basic list starts with looking for a nebari (which isn’t always possible) and is there inverse taper. If IT is present how bad is it? I’m gonna get into trouble for this next one, but at times I’ll buy “cheap” material just because I want to practice with a particular species of tree.

Honestly, I’ve only purchased two trees that I “regret”. One is a field grown black pine that, while thick, wasn’t grown well. The other is a big juniperus chinensis that I have no idea how I’m gonna style. Making lemonade though. With the pine I’ll try my hand at wedge cutting and with the JC I’ll give rafia a go.

In my experience so far I rarely come across nursery stock that would check off every single bit of criteria. Instead I look for what is appealing to my eye because frankly I’m likely the only person that’s ever going to see it. That said, as space starts to become a premium and as I gain more experience I’ve definitely become more selective now than I was a few months ago. I’ve found that, for me, it’s all about that “base”. No treble. :laughing:


I don’t think the cut-off should be having all of those 5 criteria that I listed earlier in the thread met. However, I think actually checking off them on a checklist can help me be more objective about the merits of each tree.

I think in the past I would get a tree if it had a good nebari, regardless of anything else. I think that going forward I will be more selective.

When I asked Ryan the question of what we should look for when we get to a large nursery in order to prioritize, he said small/unique/interesting foliage. I actually think that is a better criteria than looking for a big base, because (unless you are going to check out every single tree), it helps filter much faster.

For example, where I am at there are plenty of Eastern White Pine stock. However, there are many sub-species. Occasionally there will be either a dwarf or otherwise a shorter-needle cultivar that might be a better starting point (for me).

Also, the problem with using the base as the main criteria is that a lot of nursery stock are planted so deep, that even with some digging you might not know the full quality of the nebari until repotting time. So I think it’s a very promising sign if you see one with such a base, which you then should short-list and consider the rest of the tree. But I am not sure I would eliminate a “hidden” base tree if it has other merits.


I agree. I remember that question too. My nurseries here are tiny, so sadly having too many choices isn’t an issue for me. I kind of already take that into account albeit subconsciously. As Ryan would say; it’s not black and white. If the base is buried then I’ll look at other criteria. It’s just one of the things that I look for if I can. Especially if I’m deciding between two trees.

Take this bottle brush for an example though. This base was buried, but I still bought it. I wanted a bottle brush. Of the 4 available to choose from this one had the best branching structure. I’m happy. :slight_smile:

That’s the great thing about bonsai though. What works for you is right for you, so more power to you. :slight_smile:

I think you are right that there are many ways to practice bonsai. I am a beginner, and was more reminiscing on what advice I would give myself from a year ago if I had to re-do the year. We all have different goals, resources and constraints. One of mine is a small yard, so if I fill up the space with decent but not great material, there won’t be room for better stuff, among other consequences. On the other hand, who knows how many of these I will kill or just mis-develop, so numbers do help =)

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I read through the posts on this thread with a smile and a knowing nod. I have been there with all of you on visits to the nursery where, God forbid there is a sale going on, because I will find plenty of excuses to bring home a tree that is a “great deal”!

Here’s what I have learned over the years;

  • I am bonsai obsessed! (I’m pretty sure it’s an actual mental illness as I am not the only one who seems to have this problem) I think about trees all the time and every tree I see seems to have potential. This leads me to bring home way too many trees.

  • Yes, I have “stock” that I am “growing on” or have “plans to get to”, but there comes a point, and some have mentioned above, that you have more than you can take care of.

  • There is more joy in having a few trees that are styled and in bonsai pots on the bench than in lots of trees “with potential” scattered all over the yard.

  • It’s way better to spend a little more on a tree that has a good/verifiable base, interesting features, movement and size than to spend the same dollars spread over many trees that check off the box on your gotta have species list. (I know you have one either written or in your head)

  • It is not as painful to kill a cheap “practice tree”. There is value in using cheaper material to learn technique and species specific care, but you are still investing time and effort in training a sub-standard tree. If you cant actually see the bonsai in the stock you are buying, put it back.

Peter Tea said something that has stuck with me, “You can spend time or money on a bonsai tree.” Essentially saying you must decide if you want a nice tree in a couple years or in many years. I have personally decided to spend a little more for a tree that will be a tree to be proud of in 5 years or less. Don’t get me wrong! I still cruise the nurseries at the end of the year and buy almost all of my material then, but I still have no trees that cost over $125.

Good luck, Guys! See you in the nursery next fall!


Oh yeah! Forgot one important point. The psychology of the hunt.

I have discovered part of my problem is that finding a new tree floods my brain with endorphins! Kind of like the ringing that a slot machine makes when you hit a payout, and related to, I think, our hunter-gatherer nature, making that score is a kind of high. I find the same thing drives me to seek trees to collect, as well.

The lesson; Be aware of WHY you are buying all of those trees and you will end up bringing fewer home. Although my wife may disagree with that.

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Yup, I’ve mentioned to my wife on more than one occasion that part of the fun is the hunt. The other part is the expansion of knowledge for me. That’s why I like having different species of trees that require different husbandry methodologies.

That said, I already know that my habits will shift next year as I’ll be spending most of that time developing the trees that I have. If I do add anything I’ll be adding more established trees as I have more than enough developmental trees. When I revisit the NC bonsai show instead of buying a lot of pre-bonsai I’ll focus on the more developed trees available in the auction instead. Also look forward to the next Mirai tree sale.