Thanks to Bonsai Mirai (and Bjorn) I recently caught the Bonsai bug. The summer sale came along for Mirai live and I couldn’t resist any further. Ryan inspired me to go out and buy my first few trees and start working on them. I now have:
- A “Hollywood” Juniper
- A Redwood (because I’m from the Bay Area)
- Three Quaking Aspen (from my time living in Utah)
- A Laurel Indian Fig and a Jacaranda (because I live in SoCal now)
Admittedly, it’s a pretty eclectic mix, but they all mean something to me. Planning on a few more trees soon (because I’m that guy now). If any of you have any knowledge specific to any of these species I’d love to ask some questions!
You jumped right in!
Redwood can’t survive my zone (6b) but everything I see out there they are pretty easy as long as you keep them heavily watered.
Hollywood juniper are also super easy but they are bogus for styling. The growth pattern is skinny and straight. I am not saying it can’t be done, but it’s a lot of effort.
I only have a few tropicals. Not my thing. Every one that I have owned has been simple. Well, with the exception of a big fukien tea that was perpetually covered in mealybugs or hardscale. I euthanized that one. Anyway, trops like lots of everything.
Quaking Aspen are the ones that will break your heart. Don’t bother at this point. Expert only, and then only maybe.
Thanks for the reply!
Yeah, I don’t expect the hollywood juniper to really turn into anything, but it’s taught me a lot so far. Looking to get one or two more and keep learning.
And yeah, I’ve heard all about how Aspen are not worth it, and I’m definitely out of my league. I just couldn’t help myself. That white bark with black scars, and golden leaves in the fall is just magic. I’m not expecting them to make something amazing, I’m just learning.
What other species would you recommend for a beginner?
I get it. I am often unconventional with what I choose to grow, as well. I keep about 100 trees, and only a few species do I get multiples of. I also try to use native species constantly.
Every bonsai collection should have a pine in it. Last time I was in the Bay area it was before I was into bonsai, but it seems to have the ideal, ideal climate for growing just about everything!
You seem to like trees with significance to the species, so why not try a Pinus contorta? It’s a tree native to the west coast that makes great bonsai and is a vigorous grower. It’s not a two-flush pine like Japanese Red or Black Pines, so it doesn’t grow as fast as they do, but P. contorta grows faster than Japanese White Pines.
Pinus rigida is a two flush pine and is native to the USA (but not your coast), unfortunately you are only going to find very small, often wild collected, examples for sale. Nobody I know of field or nursery grows them. The good Pitch pine are all sold behind closed doors. They are a cool option, though! I have four and they are some of my favorite species.
As much as I want to suggest that you get a spruce, I don’t think the ones suitable for bonsai are beginner friendly. Wait until you figure out junipers and pines, then get an (Engelmann, CBS, Black Hills, etc.).
If you want to stay native, how about a deciduous Mulberry? or Hackberry? Both are quite strong!
Welcome to the fold! I have been involved with bonsai for about nine months now and it’s a blast. Some advice I received early on that has been a huge help so far:
- Just let them grow. Find out your trees growing patterns. That takes at least a year.
- Put the shears down! In the early stages of bonsai we want to cut, then cut, then cut some more. Just appreciate the trees for what they are for a minute. Once you learn proper pruning techniques then you can dive right in at the right time.
- Read and watch everything you can and get involved with your local bonsai society. There are plenty of them in SoCal: Bonsai Clubs in SoCal
- I also recommend, along with Mirai obviously, checking out Bjorn’s classes on Bonsai Empire.
Thanks so much for the suggestions. I’ve never really given much thought to pine, but I’m going to look up the pinus contorta now.
And yeah, I definitely want to get a few more junipers before going onto a spruce, but that sounds like it’d be fun. I’ll also consider the mulberry and hackberry.
Thanks so much for that advice! I had to admit, what you said is exactly what I need. I’m too eager to cut and prune when I really should just lay off for a while and let them grow. Learning patience is literally one of the reasons I took up bonsai.
Yeah! I like watching Bjorn’s blogs too! I think it would be cool if Bjorn and Ryan did a little collab of some kind.
That collab is what I dream about every night!
I was the same way. Bonsai has helped me learn so much patience and helped tremendously with being a new dad. You’ll be amazed at what you will see over time with proper care and letting trees just grow. Also, it just gives you more to cut and prune later!
I also recommend the bonsai subreddit if you ever spend time on Reddit. There’s a lot of great people over there with a wealth of knowledge.
Good Luck, Matt!