There are many ways to create a Bonsai tree such as growing from seed, cutting back a tall well developed tree or air layering branches or even the trunk of and older tree, but these take many years before you can even start training them into shape. A simpler and faster way to learn how to create a Bonsai is to buy nursery stock. The resulting tree you get is commonly called a pre-Bonsai, or starter Bonsai but it looks good very quickly, can be refined over time and is satisfying to do.

What I Look For In Selecting A Tree From A Nursery:

1. It doesn’t have to be a tree! Shrubs are good options to start with.
2. Look for a tree that has smaller foliage. Remember you are creating a small tree so you don’t want a variety with huge leaves that wont look in proportion to the trunk and branches
3. Look at the base of the plant. It should have a nice thick trunk that tapers towards the top with a good selection of branches around the tree. You don’t want a plant that has been kept against a wall and has branches out the sides and front but has a flat back! Some easy varieties to start with that are fairly forgiving and look good quickly are: Juniper Procumbens Nana, Coprosma, Cotoneasters and Conifer type trees such as the Chamaecyparis varieties.

I have my tree, What Now?

We found some amazing Cotoneaster Microphyllus Thymifolius at our favourite nursery in their reduced to clear area. They were over grown and tired looking but had amazing thick trunks and huge potential.

Take a look at those roots, they are never going to fit into a little Bonsai pot! So the first job is to root prune.

First I chop the root ball back by 2/3. This looks pretty drastic but Cotoneasters are pretty tough plants and will survive this with some care afterwards.I then tease out some of the roots to loosen them up which will help them to establish new root growth.

There is some really gnarly stuff here that we don’t want, it will prevent the tree from sitting down in the bonsai pot so we trim that out.Once root pruned, I put it back into the plastic pot in fresh potting mix where it will stay for a few months to establish new healthy root growth. Some people put their trees straight into a bonsai pot but this is not a good practise in my opinion. I have been really hard on this poor tree so I want it to have time to recover before I work on the roots again.

The next step is study the tree and decide how to prune to develop the branches in a pleasing way.

The next step of pruning would be different for other varieties of trees. These Cotoneasters have a lot of branches coming out from the trunk low down and this one has no single big branch going up to make a main leader so I am going to make it a twin trunk tree.Now I start on the top. I cut off all the outer downward sloping branches and trim the top back higher than I want the finished tree to be just so I can see a bit better.I find the trunk and clear the inner growth off it. The object here is to clear the middle out a bit and let light into the centre of the tree.I’ve decided which main branches to keep so I cut the others off flush to the tree. These unsightly cuts will heal over and not be so noticeable in a few months. I then cut back the smaller branches that are coming off the main branches to try and create “pads” of foliage.I stop here with this tree and will review it again after it has started growing again. It will now sit in a semi sheltered spot for a few months to develop new roots and top growth. I like to put freshly pruned plants where they get sunshine but are protected from the fierce heat in the middle of the day. I also ensure they get enough water, I don’t want them to dry out at all but I also don’t want to drown them in waterlogged soil.

And about 6 months later we can see lots of new healthy foliage growth on the cotoneaster’s.

And plenty of fresh new roots. It is now ready to pot into a bonsai pot and continue the development of its branches.



And this is how they look 6 months later in their new Bonsai pots.