How to get lots of practice?

I’m a complete beginner. I bought a few trees + couple bonsais to work on, but as I’m watching the videos (currently on wiring) I’m asking myself how I’m going to get enough practice? Ryan mentions having wired 1000’s of trees! Where do I start? It seems like it would be good to get a cheap source of practice branches, but I don’t have a good idea of where to get them. Any ideas? I’m in the UK, if that matters.

If you just want to practice wiring, grabbing some recently pruned branches is a good place to start. Clamp them to a bench like Ryan does in the wiring fundamentals videos and practice practice practice! These can be branches from bonsai or even branches from landscape trees.

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The trees I have right now are too small though. :confused: And I’m just starting out, so I don’t have big trees to get cuttings from.

I’m thinking of buying a few like Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) tree 40-60cm cell grown | eBay to practice on. After the first, they’re only £3 each. Think that could work?

Those cell grown trees look to be to young to provide much meaningful practice. Like @nmhansen said…If you want to practice wiring you don’t need bonsai trees. You need branches and wire. Spring is a time to be on the lookout for what others are throwing out. Hedges and bushes make for bonsai as well provide lots of branches to practice on, as do cut tree limbs even if they have no hope of remaining alive. Bonus: if they are in the bin or on the curb then they are free! One man’s trash is another man’s bonsai gold!

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I’ll be on the look out. I’ve considered asking people to give me their offcuts, but I worry I’d end up with piles of unusable stuff I then need to find a way to dispose of. Should I try look for any type of tree cuttings? Ryan seems to mostly focus on the pines/junipers in these wiring videos, so the technique probably differs but I need to learn both either way. I presume it’s ok if they have leaves that are larger than a bonsai would usually have, as I’m more focused on the branches.

Would this same technique of gather offcuts work for pruning and other practice?

You will want relatively fresh branches too. After a few days, they’ll dry up and be super brittle and won’t bend very well at all.

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Here’s a few suggestions about where you might be able to get started

  • Nursery stock and after-season sales. I’ve not had much like like many people on the forum, but you can definitely find some suitable species at big box stores where you can practice. Personally I think better to work on these trees than to make investments in expensive material, especially if you’re just starting (Chinese juniper, Alberta spruce, grafted maples). With these you can learn the fundamentals of pruning, reporting and what species can tolerate.

  • Search for other enthusiasts in your area. I’ll bet that you’ll find others who have more established collections (and a lot more knowledge). Offer to help them with their collection during reporting season or in the fall with final pruning and wiring. Everybody likes free help and you’ll get access to years of first hand knowledge.

  • Connect with others through local marketplaces. I ended up selling and buying many trees online and made many friends my age. We would talk on WhatsApp or FB messenger about trees and getting help. Learn together!

Let us know what you find! Happy to explain more on any of these topics if you’d find it helpful.


Thanks, that’s really helpful! I’m looking for bonsai groups nearby, and the closest is too far considering the lockdown (perhaps after this ends it would work out). Any advice on what’s worked for you in terms of finding local enthusiasts? One thing I’m trying is contacting nearby nurseries and asking them (along with asking if they have any sales).

Idk how up to date this is, but you can check this directory.

You can check Facebook Market place and Craigslist for ppl that have “free shrubs”. Usually the cost is that you have to dig it up yourself. I have several trees that were literally on ppl’s curbs that were ripped out of their yard. They did the hard work for me lol. Going this route means that you’ll need to have the proper tools and supplies at the ready though. Pumice. Root cutters. Saw. Wood and tools to build boxes. Etc.

I’ve purchased several trees from the clearance section, but I don’t really do that anymore. Not from the big box places at least. They’re usually there for a reason. A clearance tree will not give you any practice in terms of styling. However, they will teach you how to care for trees as you nurse them back to health.

Do a Google search for nurseries in your area and look at the pics. The more rundown the nursery looks the better. The fewer pictures the better. My go to place is literally just a big lot with a bunch of questionably acquired trees. I’ve bought excellent material from there for $20.

Here’s a view of the place from Google maps.

Bought these two crape myrtle for $20 each

I came across that directory. Closest group is quite far from me, unfortunately.

Craigslist isn’t that well used here, but I’ve found a couple on gumtree. I’ll give FB marketplace a try. Thanks for all your other ideas, I really appreciate your help! I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at how helpful the bonsai community has been.

Don’t forget the club being close may not matter. If they have a website or a FB page drop them a line. Many clubs have moved online because of Covid, but they still gather via zoom and share information, have artists demo, etc for their monthly meetings. You may find that people and plants are closer than you think. Just as you found this online community there is likely a group in your part of the world that can help with more region specific information.

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Great advice, I’ve just sent off a few emails.