Newbie, initial nursery stock advice

Hello, I am brand new to all of this. Have always wanted to do bonsai. Coronavirus stay at home period got me going. Very inspired by Bonsai Mirai and all of you. Over the past few weeks I have obtained a few humble pieces of nursery stock that spoke to me and I will start working on, knowing it is likely I am going to kill or screw some of them up. That said, would appreciate any advice for next steps. I have cleaned up and selected front on these. Planning to do structural pruning and wiring this fall, then potting during the winter if appropriate.

  1. Austrian black pine - planning to lean left and work the apex back to the left, with lower left branch being primary branch.
  2. Japanese Pink Pussy Willow - not sure how this tree will do, have not seen any examples on-line, but I like the lower developed trunk.
  3. Millenium swamp azalea - lower trunk has alot of flaws, less happy with it than I was initially at the nursery, but figured I will learn on it.
  4. Oregon Grape - plan to leave it leaning/curved to left and up, and develop some branches on the upper side.


My advice is to watch more of Ryan’s videos, in which the answers you want are all contained.


I’d pot in the spring

Thank you, have been watching a lot and will continue to do so.

I think all your choices are absolutely beautiful! Apart from the Austrian black pine, all the species are pretty rare in bonsai and should be very fun to work on and explore.

One easy thing you’ll want to do with each plant is delicately dig (“chopstick”) the soil around the trunks out to find where your root base begins. There are videos of Ryan working with Josh where they go through this process. You may want to actually cut a few inches off the plastic nursery pot as you lower the soil level. One of the most important aspects of any bonsai is the “nebari”, or the roots at ground level. You want the tree to look like it’s really gripping the ground with strong roots.

The plant I found myself drawn to most is the third photo, I guess it’s the swamp azalea? The branching is very interesting. You mention being unhappy with the lower trunk, but it looks like it could be a stunner with some time, consideration, and love.

As another comment mentioned, you should hold off on repotting until early next spring as the buds are starting to swell, when the trees have the most stored energy and are at their strongest. This gives them the best chance at having a successful repotting. Some people say that repotting in the fall is fine, but Michael Hagedorn, one of the top American bonsai professionals, says it’s asking for problems. Best to wait until spring.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do between now and then. Keep watching videos and reading books. You can totally clean, prune, and wire the plants in their existing pots. Now that you’ve chosen these specific species, learn everything there is to know about each plant. Fertilizing needs, watering needs, seasonal quirks, soil preferences (acidic? basic?), typical problems/pests and solutions. Look for photos of these species (or similar) as bonsai for styling inspiration. Start researching ceramics to find possible styles that appeal to you for each tree (there is a wonderful ceramics primer video in the library, you should check it out).

Good luck, and welcome!


Thank you Joe! Appreciate it. I have already done the chopstick work down to the first level of roots as part of the cleaning process. The Mirai Live Beginner series videos have been very helpful.