ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Bonsai Trees For Beginners-Grow Your First Bonsai Tree

Updated on June 27, 2011

What is Bonsai

Bonsai is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. The word bonsai is usually used in English as an umbrella term for miniature trees in pots. Bonsai is not planted for production of food, for medicine, or for creating yard-sized or park-sized gardens. Instead, bonsai practice emphasizes on long-term cultivation and shaping of one or more miniature trees in one pot.


Bonsai tree symbolize peace and meditation.While demand for the small trees exceeds the supply, Japanese gardeners commenced training bonsai from local trees. They give the trees the illusion of age by shaping them.

Bonsai tree is a nice indoor and outdoor décor. Japanese bonsai trees can be seen in many backyards, temples and homes in Japan. Cultivating bonsai trees in Japan began around 1200 AD during the Kamakura time. The Japanese refined the art of cultivating bonsai trees to an unprecedented level and view them as a combination of Eastern beliefs and the expression of nature, spirit as well as man.

The best bonsai starter tree types are Cotoneaster or Cypress because they are practically impossible to kill and easy to grow. Normally, quick-growing tree and shrub species are the best; or else it will get discouraged by the process of growth. Bonsai trees like Japanese Red Maple, Chinese Elm, Sea Grape and Brazilian Rain Tree Bonsai are some of the bonsai trees that are recommended to the beginners.

Japanese Red Maple (Acer palmatum)

The Japanese Maple is an excellent varieties for bonsai especially for beginner. It is well know for being a gorgeous, formal tree. During the springtime, the leaves are an orange-red hue then becoming a darker red during the summer season. This tree is very compact, has delicate foliage, and produces spectacular color in the fall of gold and red. It is a beautiful bonsai species with five lobes or maybe more on its leaves. It doesn't matter which varieties of the Japanese Maple you decide on, the results will be amazing. However, taking care of a bonsai tree needs some attentiveness to detail.


General care:


The Japanese Maple requires semi-shade throughout the summer season. However, their foliage color will change if excessive shade is provided because of the lesser amount of chlorophyll in their leaves they'll grow better with sufficient sunlight. They are sensitive and will react badly to harsh environmental variations. For the remainder of the year, full sunlight is okay provided that the tree is protected from the breeze. Japanese red maple bonsai trees are categorized as an outside tree. Sometimes, they need to be placed in a cool area instead of wintered outdoors.



You ought to give the Japanese Maple as much water as needed. When watering, irrigate the tree with tepid water right until the water eventually flows evenly out of the container's drainage system. Then, allow your bonsai dry until the water no longer flows out. Water your Japanese red maple bonsai regularly in the exact same way. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between each irrigation but keep it moist. The soil should keep moist but not excessively wet. This is because a dry out soil can cause leaf burn.

You can find out the moisture level of the soil of the bonsai by inserting a chopstick into the soil for a few moments. In case the chopstick is wet, you have over watered. If the chopstick is dry, then you may have to water it as you would frequently. You can use a misting watering can in order to avoid over-watering.



The Japanese Maple needs to be fertilized regularly in the later winter months to early spring. Using a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 combination is the rule of thumb. You should feed based on the instructions to avoid over-fertilization that will causes root burn and leaves burn. You should cease fertilizing the plant in the hot summer period to prevent root burn as well as growth stunt.



This tree requires regular pruning and shaping to form dense, eye-catching foliage. You will need some tools for pruning such as tweezers, root rake, shears and broom. The new shoots need to be pruned once new shoots grow and reach about 4 to 5 nodes. Nevertheless, remember to leave them about one-half inch longer than needed for die back. You can prune big individual leaves whenever needed.
You can prune your red maple tree during the winter season. You should use sterile and clean pruning shears to get rid of any dead or damaged twigs and stems. Make flush cuts by using sterile pruning shears and seal your cuts with pruning putty. You will need to perform pruning mostly during the spring months.



Cotoneasters are excellent plants for beginners. It is probably the easiest bonsai to care for and can tolerate many conditions. You can also very easily take cuttings from established plants.
The Cotoneaster is a hardy plant, whose miniature, appealing leaves and flowers make it a perfect choice for bonsai cultivation. It is suited to several styles, particularly cascade and informal upright, best grown as small to medium size bonsai. The Cotoneaster's small leaves, flowers and berries make it particularly suitable to mame, or mini bonsai. This little plant will grow up to four feet if planted in the ground. The flowers are white while the red berries are miniature. It makes a very fine bonsai.

One of the most suitable diminutive Cotoneaster for bonsai is C. microphyllus 'Cooperi'. This is a low growing and rock hugging cultivar. It arches naturally. If it is left alone, it will nearly bonsai by itself. It is suited only for weeping styles and may be shaped to cascade. The small leaves are very dark green and shiny. The bark is dark brown in color and later it will take on rugged characteristics.


General care:


The Cotoneasters are sun-worshipers so kept them in a sunny position to provide them full sunlight, at the same time able to grow in shade too. In the winter, frost protection is advised. Check the position of the plant because it varies according to its variety. But, most Cotoneasters grow well in hot climates.

Sometimes, there are some types of Cotoneasters that are used for indoor bonsai, but most commonly grown outdoors because Cotoneaster bonsais are generally considered as outdoor bonsais.



Remember to water it more often during the summer months and less in the winter. At the same time, you should ensure that the soil didn't dry out. This applies particularly for evergreen varieties.

Cotoneaster likes good drainage but it did not grow well in dry atmosphere. So, you can keep you Cotoneaster moist all the time with some light misting.



Apply quality fertilizer to the Cotoneaster during growing season with the exception of the fruiting and flowering period. Fertilize it every two weeks until flowering, then monthly during growth. Use liquid bonsai fertilizer.



To attain great style, heavy pruning should be provided. The Cotoneaster is very tolerant of heavy pruning. Newly grow shoots ought to be trimmed during the growing period and cut back old growth in the course of the spring. Wiring can be done at this time. Cuttings can be taken in June-July, and should take approximately six weeks to root. You can train it with wire at any time throughout the year.

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

Chinese elm bonsai trees are commonly used in bonsai. It is one of the best starter bonsai tree due to its high tolerance of pruning. Plus, they are very easy to look after and have its growth pattern is highly predictable. You can grow it in your house or outdoor at the garden in partial sun.

This tree has blunt, ovate to elliptic toothed leaves normally with unequally sized roots. Most varieties possess beautiful fall color. The distinctive feature of its bark is the most attractive part of the tree. This tree will remain semi-evergreen as long as it is kept indoors. Most of the elm trees are predisposed to Dutch elm disease however the Chinese Elm is not.


General care:


Chinese Elms tree can tolerate indoor growth conditions well provided that humidity level is kept moderately high. If your Chinese elm tree is grow indoors, place it at a cool location on a sunny windowsill in the winter months and remember to maintain its humidity levels. You can place it outdoors once the frost is over. Then, you can keep it outside until autumn when the leaves are allowed to fall by itself before it grow back.

Chinese Elms are very tolerate to full sun or partial shade. Even though Elms can handle cold blasts of air, they should be placed indoors if the temperature gets below 20° F. Elm's leaves may fall if it gets too cold, and some of its branches could even shed off. During the spring, new growth will come back quickly.

You should keep it protected from harsh environment, as well as hot weather. During the hot summer months, you should provide the Elms tree some shade and is never leave to dry out.



Chinese Elm bonsai tree needs careful watering. The tree should never allow to dry out. You should always keep it evenly moist without over-watering. You do not have to water it daily as a routine. It only needs to be watered every couple of days. You should check the soil daily and water it when the topsoil feels dry but do not water when the compost is damp. Watering daily will leads to soggy compost, lack of vigor, root rot and eventually death. Most of the bonsai die due to improper watering.
In contrast, you should water it frequently during periods of strong sun, high temperatures or strong growth in the Spring. The more sunlight and heat the bonsai receives, the more water it will be needed.



Fertilizing a bonsai is crucial because nutrients in the compost are washed away with each watering. If you grow your Chinese Elm outdoors, you start fertilizing it as soon as new growth appears and buds open in the springtime. You should fertilize it weekly for the first month using a high nitrogen fertilizer and then feed it with a balanced fertilizer every two weeks until the late summer.

As for Indoor grown Chinese Elm, you should feed the tree with balanced fertilizer once a week through Spring and Summer and then monthly during winter months. But you should remember not to feed it when it is out of leaf. You should use an organic liquid fertilizer or a chemical fertilizer which is diluted to one half strength. Remember to water your tree before fertilizing and do not fertilize a vulnerable or freshly repotted Chinese Elm because this will cause root burn.



One of the eye-catching characteristic of Chinese Elms is the great contrast that can be achieved between a thick trunk and the very fine growth at the tips of the branches. Chinese Elm has to be pruned as new growth appears and whenever the branch grows too long. But, you should not get rid of new growth all at one time. The contour of bonsai is decided by the overall look that you like to obtain. While pruning, you should sit at eye level with the tree and use Bonsai trimming shears. Make sure you allow the shoots to grow till 3 or 4 nodes (or grow 2 or 3 new sets of leaves) then prune back to 1 or 2 leaves as needed. Your cuts need to be smooth or slightly concave to ensure the wound heal quickly. You can add some pruning paint to the cut surface if the it appear brown. Pruning can be carried out at any time but the scar can be reduced by performing pruning in late summer and autumn. How often you trim your bonsai will rely on how fast it grows. You only prune it as soon as it begins to look out-of-shape. Yet you should remember not to prune too much as to weaken your bonsai, but to cut enough to maintain its shape.

Brazilian Rain Tree Bonsai

Brazilian Rain Tree can be trained into various interesting styles. This tree is normally originating from a young seedling which has been clipped and grown. This tree features delicate branches and fine light-green compound foliage. What interesting about this tree is its leaves fold in the dark or when the tree feels stressed or overheated. Brazilian Rain tree has very appealing, flattened and exfoliating trunks. When it gets mature, the pieces of the outer bark peel off and expose a tone color which is near to white. This results in an eye-catching contrast between the bark colors. Numerous large thorns grow on the trunk and the branches as self-protection. It also grows some white flowers which then turn yellow in a few days time.


General care:


Brazilian Rain tree is a type of rain tree while rain tree tolerates dry conditions. However, it prefers to be evenly moist all the time. Even though they prefer full sun in nature, Brazilian Rain trees as bonsai needs some shade under strong sun. You should protect it from direct sun in the hot summer season. You can leave it under the morning sun while shading it during the hottest period of the day.

This tree is mainly considered as outdoors bonsai. If you want to plant it as indoors grown bonsai, you may need to provide it extra lighting using grow lights. Remember not to place the Brazilian Rain too near to the window because the sunlight will be magnified by the glass of the window and can catch the fragile branches and leaves on fire. You also should not put your bonsai in the vicinity of anything that releases heat.



You should keep the Brazilian Rain Tree evenly moist all the time by watering it regularly and never allow the soil to fully dry out. If you place your bonsai under full sun, it may require to be watered daily. How often you water your tree depend on the type of soil, the size of the container and the position of the bonsai. Check the soil daily and water when the soil feels dry. Brazilian Rain Tree is susceptible to root rot which cause by sodden compost which contain fungus. Sodden compost can be cause by the excessive amount of organic mix in it. It will require more water during hot summer season and less in the winter season. It grows best in bonsai soil, or a moist and well drained soil. Familiarize yourself with your bonsai watering schedule and stick to it. Always water it carefully to prevent washing away the top soil.



The Brazilian Rain tree is a heavy feeder. You need to fertilize the tree regularly to keep it healthy. Give the rain tree a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer weekly during its growing season. You need to reduce the feeding program to once a month during cooler weather or winter season and feed it with a slow release fertilizer such as 2-10-10. This is due to the slow-growth of the tree during that period.



Upright is the most common style that is used for this particular tree due to the nature of the rain tree to extend straight when the factor of winds is excluded. You need to prune regularly to keep your rain tree miniature. The way you trim your tree depends on the rate of growth of your tree. Rain tree branches tend to die-back when pruned. So, you should leave a small nub for the possible die back while trimming the branches. Your cut should be flat but not concave for the same reason. Later on, this cutting back can be refined. Clip and grow is the best way to develop a Brazilian rain tree. Wire is seldom used because of the delicate green branches. You should perform it loosely or tie down the branches if you choose to utilize wire.


Besides of these plants, there are some other bonsai that are suitable for beginners such as

  • Sea Grape

  • Kingsville Boxwood

  • Hawaiian Umbrella Tree

  • Ginseng Ficus

  • Himalayan Cedar

There are some details you need to pay attention when you buy a bonsai plant:

  • Always start by purchasing a tree and not from seed.

  • Pick a healthy bonsai.

  • Look for a tree with strong branches and stems and healthy leaves.

  • Choose a disease-free tree with a trunk that is 4 inches thick or greater.

Regular repotting your bonsai is crucial to replace essential nutrients, prevent root bound, reduce its stress, replace 'stale soil' and allow the growth of new root. Late autumn to early spring is the best time to carry out repotting process. So that they are afflicted by the minimum stress possible. Young or small bonsai require repotting every 2 or 3 years, while older and larger bonsai less often. You should perform repotting process with as little shock as possible.


Some tools you need for bonsai care

  • Potting container

  • Potting soil

  • Peat moss

  • Fine sand

  • Pruning shears

  • Fertilizer

  • Pruning putty

  • Water meter

  • Potting tool

  • Knob cutters

  • Secateurs

Pruning tool
Pruning tool

Bonsai Lessons for Beginners


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      vikas maan 

      3 years ago

      Which Indian trees are best for bonsai.

    • Brandon The One profile image

      Brandon The One 

      3 years ago from Southern california

      very well done

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for this!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      6 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Have you written of the Zen of bonsai care?

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      6 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      This is a lovely and instructive Hub. I am most impressed and have always wanted to begin a bonsai garden. But I do have cats, so I must find an appropriate placement!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)