6 Mistakes Bonsai Beginners Make & How to Avoid Them
Bonsai is hard.
It demands a green thumb, artistic eye and constant oversight. Many people start with delusions of highly refined trees sprinkled throughout their backyard, only to find the time, space and money commitment more than they anticipated.
Here’s a list of 6 mistakes I see new bonsai practitioners make, and actionable steps you can use to avoid them.
1. Not Buying the Right Starter Material, and Buying too Much of the Wrong Stuff
I touched upon this in a recent progress post. At the beginning, our eyes get big at the sight of any juniper or maple we encounter. The big box stores, the sales aisle, the online sites, we hit’em all. It’s easy to acquire lots of material really fast, but hold on. You've got to learn to crawl before you can walk. Learn the basics. And it’s best to learn those basics on the right starter material.
Avoid this mistake by choosing the following species in your first year (location dependent, of course). These trees take to bonsai techniques very well and you can find tons of information about them on the web. Which means finding easy answers to your many questions.
Deciduous: Green Japanese Maple, Trident maple, Chinese Elm,
Conifer: Japanese Black or Red Pine, Shimpaku Juniper
Tropicals: Tiger Bark or Willow Leaf ficus, Dwarf Schefflera
Think vertically, not horizontally. As a beginner, It’s better to acquire experience
with a few species than have one-of-everything syndrome. If you stick with these tree types at the beginning, you will achieve success quickly. Need help finding material? Here's "The Top 5 Place To Buy Bonsai Online".
2. Not Joining a Bonsai Club
I wrote an article called “4 Reasons to Join a Bonsai Club Right Now” and I believe this is especially important for bonsai beginners. At a club meeting, you’ll find experienced members, see bonsai trees up close, and learn the basics.
But what if you don't have a club in your city? 90% of all Americans live within 2 hours of a bonsai club (I just made that up, but I bet I’m close). Every club has members that drive from all over to attend meetings. If you don't live close, try and go every other month or go every six months, just go! And if you are part of the 10% that doesn't live within 2 hours, start your own club!
3. Not Seeing Trees Up Close (Bonsai & IRL)
If you’re like me, you watch bonsai YouTube videos and read every beginners book you can find. That’s great, but you need to get out and see trees in nature. Find inspiration. Learn how trees look in the wild. Our art is informed by our environment. In addition, go see some actual bonsai trees! As I referenced in #2, bonsai clubs are great for seeing trees. Find shows or exhibits and travel to them. Invite friends on a road trip. Whatever it takes. And, take pictures! So you can study them later.
Many people start with delusions of highly refined trees sprinkled throughout their backyard, only to find the time, space and money commitment more than they anticipated
4. Not Finding a Mentor
Bonsai is a difficult artform, find someone who can help you. Someone you can ask all your questions, dumb or otherwise. My first mentor was cool cat from Warrenton, MO, a small town outside of St. Louis. He was the only practicing bonsai artist in my area and we hit it off. He helped me in the early years. He taught me all sorts of stuff and helped me find good material. Now I’m a student of Bjorn & Eisie-en and have the guidance I need for continued growth. Go to that bonsai club and you’ll find plenty of mentors or if you prefer, pay someone online.
5. Not Understanding the Basic Principles of Art
Do not apply one piece of wire to any tree until you’ve grasped the basics of art and design. I slept through every art class I ever took, so I get it, art can be intimidating. You don’t need to be the curator at the Museum of Modern Art to do bonsai, but you do need to understand some basic principles. For example:
The use of triangles in art and design
Artistic tension & harmony
If you can get your hands on David De Groot’s “Principals of Bonsai Design”, get it and don’t ever let it go. If not, hit up google and start learning. Then you can grab that wire and design away.
6. Not Placing Trees on a Bench
Bonsai trees are meant to be observed. They are, after all, pieces of art. Taking your trees from the patio floor to a proper bench will do wonders for your progress. Here’s an easy bench plan. Make one or make twelve, its up to you, but get those trees off the ground and start treating your trees with the respect they deserve. And see your skills develop as a result. And here’s a final tip, if you have more trees than adequate space, you have too many trees. Get rid of your bottom 10. Keep the trees that matter and get rid of the junk.
There you go, 6 mistakes I see new enthusiasts make all the time. Avoid these and you are on your way to bonsai success!
What do you think? What other mistakes do you see new bonsai enthusiasts make? What mistakes did you make at the beginning that you wish you would have avoided? Be sure to leave a comment below and subscribe to the site. All email subscribers get my monthly newsletter, packed with all sorts of bonsai goodies! Until next time, Peace Love Bonsai!