First, go to a nursery and buy a few healthy plants in gallon pots and practice with them. Junipers such as San Jose juniper and sargent juniper are hardy and are easy to work with and keep alive. Green mound juniper (juniper procumbens nana) is easy to find, hardy and a good grower. It is sometimes difficult to grow as an upright tree, however, because of its mounding or cascading nature. Take your plants home and simply look at them for a while. Think of how a tree looks, rather than a landscape plant. Remember, the idea is to make idealized scale models of beautiful wild trees. Plants that are trimmed into perfectly symmetrical shapes are topiary, not bonsai.

Turning a nursery plant into a bonsai involves several steps. After the initial styling and potting, your creation is called "pre-bonsai" or "bonsai in training." It is considered presumptuous to think you can create instant bonsai. A plant is supposed to be trained in a pot for several years to earn the name "finished bonsai." Experts only consider a plant to be a bonsai when it has a thick trunk, a finished style with all the branches and foliage in the right place and the right size, leaves that are as small as they can get, and a pot which is perfectly matched to the style and color of the tree. This finishing process usually requires years of trimming and restyling to accomplish. However, bonsai in training are also very satisfying to their owners and give the same sense of artistic pleasure, although to a lesser degree.

The basic steps in creating bonsai are:

  1. Selecting plant material;
  2. Styling, which includes:
  3. Root pruning;
  4. Potting; and
  5. Care, including:

Although it is beyond the scope of this booklet, the bonsai hobby also includes:

  1. Grafting;
  2. Propagation;
  3. Final pot selection;
  4. Improving roots and branches;
  5. Collecting wild trees;
  6. Drastic pruning;
  7. Carving dead wood;
  8. Displaying; and
  9. Telling tall tales about "the one that got away."

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