Beginner needing some critique

The artist inside of me doesn’t want to post pictures/ask for constructive criticism on here because I know how poor the quality my workmanship is and how I’m still very much in be beginning stages of learning the bonsai art form. But with learning bonsai I am also having to learn that most of what I do will be of poor quality until I learn how to do better and how else can I learn to do better unless I’m told what I’m doing wrong. Or at least that’s the way my brain is wrapping around all of this. So here goes nothing…

I’m a beginner and I am asking for constructive criticism and any suggestions on how to proceed going forward on some of my trees. None of the trees have had any root work on them and they are all nursery stock. I’ve only been working to set structure and design.These are the first trees I’ve ever worked on so needless to say they are BAD. But I’d like to keep improving and continue my growth in bonsai so I’m willing to be humble and put my work out for the world to see… well the Mirai world at least.

this was my very first tree to ever attempt “bonsai” on. (upload://o8NRMBhcIkpN2v5WMFpOAhyNjo9.jpeg) ![20210320_105233|666x500] right now I’ve been letting it grow and trying to thicken up the trunk. Not sure if I should keep going or just give up and make it a weird looking landscape tree. (upload://iDMqqi81kqtAaqJWce389u8ojno.jpeg)
this is my second tree ever. Honestly I’m stuck on this one. I’m not sure what to do with the foliage. This is one I’m definitely considering giving up on and putting into the landscape. But maybe a different pot and a little wire could change everything.
![20201126_121939|666x500] (upload://kxW35S5P1JlLdornEiqZ5EmPIoO.jpeg) This is my 3rd or 4th tree I’ve worked on. Definitely one that I’m probably most proud of. The first pic was in the beginning stages before I did more detail work. I’m planning on removing the wire soon because it is biting in pretty bad in a few spots. Not sure what to do with the top portion of the tree. I was planning on keeping the vertical growing branch as a sacrificial branch to help thicken the trunk but honestly I’m not sure. Same with the very top horizontal branch that goes to the left. I dont have much wire on that branch other than a little to keep it horizontal so it can get the most sun. Not sure if I should wire it out like the lower branches or keep it as sacrificial.
This one I feel like I’ve completely murdered. There was a secondary trunk coming up a little over halfway up the trunk and I completely removed it and tried cutting out the inverse tapper. Wish I would have left it and made deadwood out of it. Oh well. Live and learn.

Thank you in advance for your time and advice.


These look quite good for your first trees. The wiring is very reasonable and avoids most of the beginner mistakes. I really appreciate your use of a fairly plain background for the pictures. Here are some comments on specific images/trees.

  • The juniper in the first two images has good upright shape, but I am not sure of your plan for the big low branch. You might thin the upper branches a little and let the lower ones grow to build a more triangular silhouette, although it should not be a perfect triangle.
  • The spruce (?) in images 6-13 has a good start. I would bring the two branches together at a more acute angle in image 8 and then bend them back out so you have a fairly narrow crotch. As part of this I would set it up to be a higher level hanging branch that is partially above the lower hanging branch in image 9. In image 9 I would put bend the final tip that jogs to the left so it is aligned with the main branch line and then put in some back and forth curves so most of the secondary branches are on the outside of the curves. I would bring the small branch closer to the base up so it moves in the same basic direction as the other two, but will form an apex - the two line cascade.
  • The dwarf alberta spruce in the last few images has the start of a formal upright. I can see why you might have wanted to keep the second trunk as a short jin, but now is the time to let this one grow and ramify.

Looks like a good start and very similar to my first attempts at bonsai. :slight_smile:
don’t give up on them… I’ve come to love some of my ugly duckling first bonsai very much and it’s great to watch them progress. Plus it’s always handy to have some humble material to practice your technique on.
It’s hard to tell in pictures, but I think the first and last tree look a bit two-dimensional. Maybe try to bend some of the branches towards the back for some more depth in the design.

Your’e doing great Jeremiah. It’s through practice like this that you improve. We’ve all gone through it. Now one of the best things is, providing you keep your trees alive, once you move onwards and upwards you can plant these in the ground. One of the first trees I styled, I absolutely hated. So I stuck it in the ground in disgust. It has been in four different locations (due to moving house) and now has a trunk base of 10 inch diameter. I will dig it up and style it one day but in the meantime it provides me with lots of air layers each year…

Nice. They are genuinely far better than my first attempts (I tried to use steel garden wire for styling…didn’t go well).

Biggest things I think will make improvements instantly;
Get yourself some thicker wire - you’ll then be able to bend and twist the trunks of this kind of nursery stock, and you’ll create some great lines

When you wire out the branches, the first move should normally be in towards the main branch to form a nice acute angle before moving away towards space.

Watch the structural, secondary and tertiary wiring videos on Mirai

You’ll be flying. Good luck and keep us posted…

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Thank you @MartyWeiser @Christoph @Jimothy @Keith-in-UK for your kind and encouraging words. Definitely a good feeling to know I’m not the only one going through these things.

The 2 trees (one a juniper that looks like a formal upright with a weird branch on the bottom left and the dwarf alberta spruce that looks formal upright-ish) are very 2 dimensional. Looking back at it I remember how I struggled with branch selection and trying to reduce the whorls. Not remembering to take into account that a tree isnt 2 dimensional. Live and learn right!?

I definitely need thicker wire. No doubts about it. I found a local nursery that sells some but they are a bit expensive. I’ve tried looking on Amazon but I can only find aluminum wire and nothing super thick. Then you get to do the wonderful conversions from mm to gage and gage to mm to know what your looking at buying. Any recommendations on the ranges of wire I’ll need? What’s the thickest you guys use?

On the cascading juniper… I put the wire on in August of 2020. It is definitely biting in around several different areas. Should I pull the wire off now? Should I let it continue on until the fall this year? When I do pull all the wire off how long do I wait until I reapply wire?

This tree’s main trunk is a little thicker than a pencil. I understand junipers are slow growers but what is the best set up for it to develop? What kind of soil? Do I put it into a grow bag/Anderson flat type set up(while compensating for the cascading style)? Do I just use a cascade style pot and put it into bonsai soil? I’m more concerned with thickening up everything and not the finer development stuff at this point. Unless I should be?
Here is a little progression of the tree.

This is my first styling of it after purchasing it from the nursery. 03/20

After a little bit of wire. 04/20

After watching more Mirai videos and applying some of my new found knowledge of wiring and putting movement into branches. 08/20

Here it is after a long winter. 03/21

We have all created our fair share of 2 dimensional trees. Most of them can be made more 3D as the grow.

Mirai carries well annealed copper wire. There are quite a few on-line vendors for anodized aluminum wire and some of them also carry copper wire. Copper wire is normally referred to by gauge while aluminum is normally by diameter in mm. I have used 4 gauge copper and 6 mm aluminum, but not frequently. 6 and 8 gauge copper and 5 mm aluminum are the biggest I use on a routine basis.

I would keep the cascade juniper in a nursery pot or a similar sized cascade pot if you want it to thicken. I might pull it out of the nursery pot this spring to see if it is root bound or not. If it is, I would do a repot after removing the circling and other over long roots back into nursery pot using a nice course nursery mix if the goal is to thicken. I use a mix of 40% sieved bark in the 3 - 9 mm size, 40% pumice of similar size, and 20% bark fines to promote fast growth of seedlings and similar trees in early development.

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@MartyWeiser Do you add any compost (chicken manure compost mix, steer manure compost mix, mushroom compost mix, regular compost) to your soil mixes?
Also what kind of bark do you use? Does it matter if it is pine or fir or mixed wood? Or is the size of the bark the more important factor?
Does perlite substitute for pumice? How about black volcanic rock?

I don’t add any compost in the mix, but apply it and/or organic fertilizer as a top dressing after a couple of weeks. I also use some chemical fertilize periodically on these. My bonsai in a more traditional soil see almost all organic fertilizer.

I don’t pay much attention to the type of bark I use. It is apt to be a mix of pine and fir in my area. I do use bark that has been aged a bit if it is available since the microbes will have had a chance to get started and it should not suck up quite as much nitrogen from the fertilizer.

Pearlite and lava would substitute for the pumice and I have definitely used pearlite in the mix. I like the softer particulates than lava for this purpose because I know I will be repotting in about 2 years and there is less wear and tear on the scissors.