Bonsai from scratch

I just received this babies. 3 itoigawas and a beech.

I’m so lost that I don’t even know where to start.

I think I will wait until the spring, repot them and start from there.

Any suggestions?

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Waiting till spring and repotting is a good idea. Plant them in grow boxes. I like cedar wood boxes that I build the size I need for each tree but you can use many different items as pots. Take your time and know you are in it for the long haul and enjoy the process. Not verbatim but Ryan always says, every time you touch the tree make it the best you can at that time. I have 15 seedlings of different species and am enjoying the journey with them.

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They should all probably be grown a bit bigger. I agree that repotting them in the spring is a good idea. I would go with a pot that is about 3-4X as wide an only 1.5-2X as deep so the roots can colonize it fairly quickly. I would loosen up and spread the roots at this time, particularly for the beech which could go into a rather shallow pot (I use the plastic trays for under pot with large holes for drainage melted in). I would wire and shape the junipers - make the bends rather extreme since they will soften as the tree grows.

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Tiny but looking super healthy trees. Good purchase to my opinion.
Question you need to find the answer yourself is: do you want to keep it that tiny and shape, move to bonsai pot or do you want to let them grow and keep as healthy as they look now.
Both opt are challenging but in a different way so it’s up to you.
Im not master in conifers - really struggling here and don’t know why… If you think you need some more info on beech I can forward you some horticultural bits I collected over some time.
Suggestion to beech for now: If it was mine I would use the opportunity create whatever shape I would love it to have as it is very flexible at this stage. It is still green so no properly barked yet. But careful with wiring!! Extremely soft even when having grey bark - leaves the scars for good!
Then I would potted it up and let it grow like mad. This however requires mountains of patience as it is one of the slowest growing species.

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Some people here use colanders to favor aeration. Maybe I try that…


Do you have any pictures or ideas on how to bend them? Any time I wire and bend seedlings they all look like boring spirals…

I will try to make some shohin out of the junipers, so my plan is to wire them and twist them as soon as I can.

And about the beech I would appreciate that info. I don’t know if I want to bend it. Almost all the pictures I’ve seen from this tree are quite upright.

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I am still working on how to get interesting bends myself. My working summary of Ryan’s discussion of how to get interesting bends is “any time you start to see a pattern, do something different”. My tendency is for most of my bends to be in a plane - S pattern. Therefore, I focus on adding some out of plane bends and doing something like “right-back-right again” rather than my typical “right-left” with some “forward-back”. I end up rebending small whips a couple of different times after I step back and look at them. I am also working on making the bends rather exaggerated since they will round out as the trunk or branch thickens.

If you can you may want to consider planting them into the ground in grow bags. If that’s not feasible then grow boxes on the ground would be the next best thing. Another item to consider, if you’d rather not build something, is root maker pots. In fact, since those are so small I would probably do that first. Then when they come out of those pots into a grow box/bag you could sort out the roots. As you can see, you have lots of viable options. Do what you feel most comfortable with.

As far as practicing bends goes; get material you don’t care about and practice on that. Cut whips off of trees and wire those. I personally prefer gentle bends in the trunks with lots of movement in the branches. It just seems more natural to me. Even doing that requires putting more bend in it than you’d think since it’ll soften over time.

If you’d like to peep some funky bends check out the first section of this video. Ryan does some, errr, “interesting” things to these poor whips lol.

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I agree with wiring and bending before repotting. You could also check out Ryan’s stream on propagation for examples of how to create some stunning bends. If you go down the colander route, start with a fairly small one. That way the roots reach the air and get pruned more quickly. Then when the roots fill the colander don’t repot, simply place the whole colander into a larger one filled with the soil of your choice. then wait for that to fill with roots before potting on as normal. This way it maximises the amount of air pruning the roots receive.


Thanks for the video references @Bonsai_Bentley and @Keith-in-UK, they were really useful.

I think I will wire them and repot them next spring and then live them alone for a couple of years.

I would suggest at least three to four years would be the optimum period before you make your final decision on size. That way you’ll get a decent thickness in the trunk. There was an article in ‘Bonsai Focus’ magazine a while ago showing how to start off seedlings etc.