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(Or the no-nonsense bonsai start)

I receive lots of questions from people who want to get start with bonsai. Most beginners have questions about tools, soil, wire, and other materials. Starters do not know what is really necessary...and what is just gadgets. Below I will try to summarise the basic needs and some advice on how to get started with Bonsai-addiction. First of all be aware of this last word "addiction". Bonsai can become a real passion! Be warned and donít come crying to me when your partner starts complaining about this. So you still want to get started with bonsai? I will give you some no-nonsense advice on what you really need. For now we will forget about the superfluous and go directly to what is essential...back to basics:
1) Making choices : Indoor or out-door bonsai?
You need to decide if you want indoor our outdoor bonsai?? It may seem to be strange at first, but indoor bonsai is a hell of a lot more difficult then out-door bonsai. Logical when you think about it: For indoor trees you need to provide the tree with tropical our sub tropical conditions. This generally means warm humid conditions, without forgetting plenty of light. These conditions are not easy to obtain! Certainly not in the northern hemisphere. Unless you have a kind of greenhouse that can be kept at about 12-15įC in the winter. You do not have this kind of greenhouse you say?... Well than forget about indoor bonsai! So this one was easy..Ö I more our less decide for you and for the rest of this page we are going to speak about out-door bonsai only.
2) Which tools do I need ?

Sticking to the "no-nonsense" approach I will only mention tools you really need to get started. More specialist tools you can always buy later. First thing you need is a good pair of bonsai scissors. You will need these to cut off small twigs and leaves.
Bonsai scissors
You will pay anywhere between 40-120 euros. Look on the internet, many sites offering tools and tool sets!
Second, you need a concave branch cutter. You will need this to cut off branches. This canít be done with any other tool.
Bonsai concave branch cutter
You will most probably pay double what you paid for the scissors.
Third, a wire cutter. You need it to cut wire off the branches. Only this tool does the job without cutting into the wood. So you need it!
Bonsai wire cutter
Fourth a good pair of normal garden scissors. These can be use for all kind of coarse branch pruning and root pruning. Most probably you already have one.
garden scissors

3) Buy or make a bonsai tree?
I always advice to do both! It could take a while before you get a hand into making a bonsai yourself. Nursing a bonsai tree you can only learn on a live tree. Therefore, it's good that you go to your local bonsai shop and take a look, talk to the shop owner and make your choice. For your first tree: take a species that you know! A kind of tree that's native to where you live. That way, you now it's hardy enough to get safely through the winter. Read about the needs of your tree and enjoy taking care for it. At the same time go to your local garden centre or tree nursery and choose some container plants, tree our scrub. Take your time... look at the base of the stem and the surface roots. Pick a plant with a somewhat thicker stem than the others. Also look below the surface soil for hidden nebari (surface roots). When you come home with your treasures: Get to work. Now is the time you will need your tools and soil mix. Also you most probably need some bonsai wire.
bonsai wire
4) What about Bonsai soil?
Pages and pages are written on this subject. Everyone has his own personal mix. It also depends what climate you live in. But you always need some organic content and some grit for drainage. Drainage is important! Root rotting can become a big problem if your soil is not draining away excess water. I will give you my mix. It can be used for almost every out-door bonsai. I mix following ingredients: One part Akadama. One part Grid One part Normal potting soil.
Potting soil
Only the Akadama is special in this mix.It can be obtained in a bonsai shop. For grid I use gravel or pumice. And normal potting soil you will find in any garden centre. Look for a potting soil without fertiliser. Another thing you may want to be buying is some bonsai training pots. These mica pots are not expensive.
bonsai training pot

And now GET started! AND most of all have fun!

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© 2004 Jacques Graulus