Selecting Nursery Stock

Beginners to Bonsai often think that you must start off with special seeds.  This is why people get disillusioned when their seeds don’t germinate, or after a couple of years they still have a twig in a pot on which they have been waiting patiently to practice the techniques that they have read about.  Why not cut years off the waiting and go to the local Garden Centre and buy a plant which someone else has had to care for, feed and water.  By doing this you can get stuck into the pruning, wiring and styling which bonsai is really about.


It is a good idea to look around all your local Garden Centres before buying.  Prices and quality of stock can vary from place to place.  The larger, and more established businesses are usually best as they offer a wider selection of plants in various sizes.  If you ask the manager nicely, he may even let you look at the rejects which can sometimes be excellent for bonsai because of twisted trunks etc..


If you follow this list of suggestions you should walk away with a good potential Bonsai.


Look for material with good radial roots spreading evenly from the base of the trunk.  You may have to poke your fingers into the soil to feel where the roots are as a lot of trees are planted by automatic potting machines which bury the tree a couple of inches deeper than necessary.


Trees with a thick trunk are also desirable, but only if they have good taper from bottom to top and the trunk has a nice shape to it.


Only buy plants that are in good health unless they are of such potential that they are worth the risk.


Don’t buy a tree because you heard it was good for Bonsai.  Consider each one on its own merits.


Think laterally.  Just because a tree has an upright trunk doesn’t mean that it can’t be repositioned to make it a Cascade or Windswept.


Beware of trees which look like nearly completed Bonsai.  Some may be good, but others offer little scope for further change and may have permanent faults e.g. bad taper.


Decide if you want something that will look good in a short space of time or are you going to go for the long haul and buy something that will take years to develop.


Think about how you are going to develop the tree before you buy.  Look at the branch structure and visualize each one wired into place.  This exercise is a great help if you are still undecided.


Don’t be put off by trees that are grafted.  All grafts are visible for several years, but soon fade.  Look out for bad grafts where the stock and scion are of different diameters.


If you find a tree that shouts out to you how it should be styled, you probably have your tree, but try to pick one that has a couple of options.


If you are unsure about the roots and don’t want to part with good money, ask one of the Garden Centre staff if it could be removed from the pot before you buy it.


Seek out unusual species that could be used for Bonsai.  Who knows?  You may even start a trend!

When you get your material home don’t be in a rush to begin styling.  Examine the tree carefully and if inspiration doesn’t come, leave it for a day or two.  Put it somewhere that you will see it frequently.  It can be at the oddest time when inspiration can strike.  Be daring when styling your tree.  You will derive more pleasure by experimenting with new methods and different species.  Try different styles, peel the bark off and make a jin or shari.  Everyone has their disasters in the beginning but experience is the best tutor of all.

Chinese proverb :   

” I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand “.

Attached you will find a lit of plants which are suitable for bonsai and are readily found in your local Nursery or Garden Centre.  This is by no means a comprehensive list but if you are new to Bonsai put this page in your pocket and take it with you as a guide. Happy hunting!!


BOTANICIAL NAME                                               COMMON NAME (IF ANY)

Acer Palmatum                                                        Maple (most varieties)

Azalea                                                                          (Japanese if possible)

Berberis                                                                      (most varieties)

Betula                                                                           Birch (most varieties)

Buxus                                                                           Box

Carpinus                                                                    Hornbeam

Chaenomeles                                                           Flowering Quince

Cotoneaster                                                             (most varieties)

Crataegus                                                                  Hawthorn



Euonymus                                                               Spindle tree

Fagus                                                                         Beech


Ilex                                                                             Holly

Larix                                                                           Larch

Ligustrum                                                                 Privet

Lonicera Nitida                                                      Hedging Honeysuckle

Malus                                                                         Crab Apple

Nothofagus                                                              Southern Beech


Prunus                                                                       (most varieties)

Pyracantha                                                              Firethorn

Quercus                                                                     Oak

Salix                                                                            Willow


Ulmus                                                                         Elm



Cedrus                                                                       Cedar (most varieties)

Chamaecyparis                                                      (most varieties)

Criptomeria japonica                                           Japanese cedar

Ginko biloba                                                             Maiden hair tree

Juniperus                                                                  (most varieties)


Picea                                                                           Spruce

Pinus                                                                          Pine (short needled)            Taxus                                                                                    Yew

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