Progression for bonsai learning

I have been dabbling in bonsai for over 10 years now but have never actually managed to create anything I would consider a “bonsai”, mostly just “sticks in pots” haha. I recently came across Mirai and was immediately struck by the level and detail of information. I am an engineer and thrive with clear instruction that is technically focused and provides a solid framework from which to grow. I struggled with the nebulous “instruction” found in books, youtube and other sources. I also find having a structure to organize learning and set goals is very useful. The pinned thread in this forum with the essential videos to start with was excellent. I am working on something to help guide and document my journey learning and though I would share in case any one else finds it useful.

I want to create a framework for learning and bonsai execution and figured the apprenticeship model is quite fitting for bonsai. I started by breaking up my journey into manageable “chunks” of learning with tangible demonstrated ability to progress. Here is what I have so far, happy to update if folks are interested!

Levels of Mastery:
Novice- No formal knowledge of bonsai, where everyone starts the journey!
-Goal: Desire to learn and attempt bonsai
Apprentice- Fundamental knowledge of bonsai but without any demonstrated ability.
-Goal: Ability to provide basic care for the easier species (dont kill the tree!), Improve a given
tree from the year to year in some capacity
Journeyman- Extensive knowledge of bonsai with some demonstrated ability.
-Goal: Ability to provide care for majority of species, Create a fundamentally sound bonsai from
a decent starting material
Master- Near complete knowledge of bonsai, extensive recognized ability to create bonsai
-Goal: Ability to provide care for any species, Recover sick trees, Create a fundamentally sound
bonsai from nearly any starting material, Create impressive trees with the right material

Progression from Novice to Apprentice:
Understanding of the following areas (watched relevant videos and comprehended)

  • Fundamentals of Design
  • Tree Anatomy
  • Categories of Trees (Conifer, Deciduous, Broadleaf Evergreen)
  • Seasons ( what you do when, how it impacts basic care)
  • Basic Care of a tree
  • Finding the best base/nebari
  • Evaluation of Soil/environment (does it need to be repotted)
  • Basic Repotting
  • Basic Structural Wiring
  • Basic Detail Wiring
    In addition, acquire some basic material to practice on and attempt creation of a bonsai over the course of a year

Progression from Apprentice to Journeyman
Understanding of the following areas (watched relevant videos and comprehended)

  • Design Styles
  • Design feel
  • Detailed Species Care
  • Branch Structure
  • Ramification and Development Phases
  • Pruning
  • Ceramic Selection


  • Create 2-3 fundamentally sound bonsai over the course of no less than a year.

Progression from Journeyman to Master

Please feel free to comment and make suggestions. I am finding there is a vast difference from watching videos and understanding the concepts to actually executing them!!!


Welcome… practice practice practice!!!
Make some chop sticks from bamboo or hardwood and purchase or build some method to sift soil. All good skills to learn for a novice.
Look around your yard or your neighbor’s and find plants that thrive in your environment. Hard to kill trees are what I mainly have because they are forgiving.
Oh yeah… get permission before you dig up plants. I need the ok from my master gardener wife or the department of transportation or corp of engineers before rescuing some plant from nature. Steal knowledge from the best. Nature and professionals, or local skilled amateurs… JOIN A LOCAL CLUB OR ORGANIZATION. Most important… have fun!


I just relocated from Seattle, WA to Columbus, MS, wish I would have found Mirai before the move and visited! I think my closest club is in Birmingham and planning to head over to check out a meeting next month:)

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I spent some time in Tupelo ( Natchez Trace) and Jackson MS.
You are within reach of Olive Branch MS which is the home to Brussels Bonsai. Worth a look at their web site and a day trip.
Some clubs held virtual meeting during COVID so maybe worth an inquire about ZOOM meetings?

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