I hit a couple of the big box stores today and picked up several small living Christmas trees on sale. Scored an Italian Stone Pine, a Dwarf Alberta Spruce and several European Cypress. Came home with 5 trees for under $40. Not bad. Nothing great, but they make great practice trees.
Not yet, but thanks for the reminder that it’s time to go scour the sales
I went back looking for more Stone Pine, but Lowe’s isn’t putting them on sale. Not sure why.
I found my Stone Pines at Home Depot. The ones at Lowe’s were small and looked close to death, so I passed.
Home Depot was even worse here. All they had all season were Norfolk pines.
Ended up picking up a couple of Alberta spruces as well as a birds nest spruce. Nothing fancy. One of the Alberta spruces might look okay if it survives.
It seems like managing crotch growth on these spruces will be a major challenge.
I got a contorted filbert and a creeping hydrangea at our local home and garden store (Johnson’s).
At Walmart I found a pair of dwarf Alberta spruce in one gallon pots that appear very healthy. I got the pair for $5 and repotted them without reducing the roots.
I did that the prior year and got a couple of pretty cool Dwarf Alberta spruces for $10 each.
In general, I used to love bargain hunting for trees in the “Clearance” aisle of a nursery, and part of me still does. However, I started thinking about the all-in cost of the tree in terms of:
- winter protection
and realized that over a number years the initial cost of the plant was a fairly small cost of the total cost of ownership. So getting a 6/10 plant for $0 in my view is far worse than getting a 9/10 for $100 because over say 5 years the 6/10 plant will cost you not that much less than the $100 plan all in, but it will usually always stay mediocre, so you are investing your time in something with limited potential. Just my 2c.
That’s a totally valid point, if you’re already at the point where you have enough great trees to focus on and aren’t worried about any of your techniques. I’m not there yet in either regard. For me these are practice trees. As I figure out the nuances and timing of pruning, root work, trunk bending, etc., my expectation is that many of these trees will be dead in the next 2-3 years. Of the ones that survive that aren’t good enough quality to warrant further work, I’ve just replanted them in the ground and started the field growing process (none of the trees I’ve replanted have been dug up yet). If you don’t the room to replant then you can always give them away at your local bonsai club.
That makes sense. And, I am definitely not comfortable with all of my techniques =)
I suspect that most people’s “death rate” is higher in the beginning. However, since cool nursery stock don’t cost much more than the regular ones (setting aside the Clearance section), why not practice on inexpensive but interesting $40 stock vs. the bargain-basement $10? That way your “upside” is that if you succeed you will have the start of a neat bonsai. I am not saying get a $300 Japanese White Pine as your first nursery stock, just that (at least for me), the slightly lower price isn’t worth the mediocre material that one usually gets + unknown state of health. Now, if there is something cool/unique about this material, then perhaps it is the best of both worlds.
For example, I got two Dwarf Japanese Yews last year for $10 each. They usually go for $125/each. They were in the Clearance section of a large nursery, sold “As Is”, etc. Their health was clearly not that great, but I thought that 1) it was a species that was good for bonsai that I was missing in my collection 2) they had interesting multi-trunk set-ups with cool movement 3) some aged-looking bark. I bought them both with the idea of needing to put a lot of work/time letting them recover, building them up before they are ready to be styled, etc. It was a calculated trade-off and we will see if it was a good decision or not. However, had there been equally/more interesting specimen nearby for $50 each in full health, I would have totally gotten one of those rather than the deep values.
All that being said, all of this is subjective and what is right for me could totally be wrong for you. I know that in my first repotting/wintering season I had more tree death than I like to think about, so you are definitely not wrong to want to work out the basics on humble material. I am still wondering of the ~ 25 trees that I repotted from nursery stock into bonsai pots last spring, how many will survive come this spring. So far one death out of 25, but the winter is young =).
Man, I wish I had regular access to 9/10 trees. Also, I like variety. No chance I’d find a 9/10 Julianne Barberry like my 6/10 nursery find. To each their own though. Main thing is that you have fun. For me I know that I’m not great at design, so making a tree show worthy never even crosses my mind.
I do not like to buy unhealthy plants. When I’m buying practice trees it is not worth the effort to nurse it back to health before I can actually practice. My goal is to do my work and quickly have a tree that I can gift/sell and move on.
I suppose if it was something that checked every other box for being a great tree then nursing it back to health would be worth the effort.
I think that hunting for 8+/10 trees is part of the fun. I went from buying 1-3 trees at every nursery I went to, to rarely buying any trees on most nursery trips (after looking at hundreds). There is that thrill of finding a hidden treasure, so I love finding giant wholesale nurseries (the kind where they drive carts around to bring you the trees) and searching for a few hours.
Oh, I misunderstood what you meant by a 9/10 tree. I took that to mean a tree grown explicitly as pre-bonsai or was already styled as bonsai. For me, it’s about what I have access to and for the most part I’ve been lucky and found interesting trees. Interesting to my eye of course. We’re all going to have different experiences, preferences, availability and decisions. I like finding all kinds of trees. I like nursing the unhealthy like the parking lot juniper I found. I like finding trees that have nice features but need work to make them apparent like my bottle brush. I also like finding trees that already have all of the movement and structural qualities I’m looking for like my oakland holly. I’m just more interested in variety. Will that even make a good bonsai? Has anyone done it before? I love doing a search onling for " bonsai" and coming up with next to nothing.
I like to experiment with the different types. What does it take to make one species ramify vs another. What does it take to get leaves to reduce in size in one species vs what it takes just to keep leaves on another. The cosmetic stuff can be resolved by other methods. Trunk chopping. Grafting. Even all of that is intriguing to me as well. That’s just my personality though. I want to know about all of it. The downside is that I end up being a jack of all trades, but that’s okay with me.
Btw, I would LOVE to find a nursery that had to drive me around in a cart. I’d ask them to just let me take one because I’m gonna be there from opening to closing. Probably pack a picnic or two. I got excited once when I visited a new nursery and the lady asked me if I wanted to take a golf cart ride to their “grow field”. Visions of nursery center yamadori danced through my head. Disappointment set in when I saw that it was just another field of trees in 30 gallon pots. I did find a sweet crape myrtle though.
Meant to say “I love doing a search online for “-insert species here- bonsai” and coming up with next to nothing.”