Bonsai, just the word itself, invokes visions of majestic trees grown in handmade ceramic pots specifically designed to accentuate the miniature grandeur of this ancient form of living art. Visions quickly followed by surprise and awe when researching the prices that some of these pieces can command.
Before we get into some super innovative ways to save on Bonsai, it helps to understand, in turn appreciating, why some Bonsai are so expensive.
Imagine a tree hundreds of years old, standing regally on a baron cliff overlooking an angry ocean pounding the shoreline beneath with wave after wave of foaming wrath. A tree that has seen a world evolve from canoes dug out with sharpened fragments of granite, to ships that harness the power of an atom to propel them. From first sight, that tree with its mangled trunk and exposed deadwood holding up layers of branches. That hundreds or years of wind and snowfalls have shaped and scared, immediately stands as a testament to time itself.
How much would it cost to have that tree dug up and moved to stand as a centrepiece in a traditional Japanese Rock garden. Somewhere in Silicon Valley in an estate with high walls and a newly minted millionaire as its owner. There is an old saying that befits this question suberbly, "if you have to ask, you cannot afford it."
To truly understand Bonsai, one must first know that some trees are tens or even hundreds of years old. Although made to imitate the movement and grandeur of nature, these trees have been manipulated through various techniques and cared for very intensely throughout their entire life by an artist. In some cultures, these trees are passed down from generation to generation and become heirlooms. Given that there are no two trees alike, each one is a unique piece of living art. Suddenly encountering a dealer requesting seven thousand dollars for a potted tree barely reaching eighteen inches in height makes a lot more sense.
The art of Bonsai is commonly referred to as a journey, as just like the trees themselves, it is an evolving art form, as the artist embarks on this journey together with the trees. However, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars to explore this art form. We are here to show you eight ways to get started for little to no money at all.
What we refer to today as Bonsai, which is the art of growing trees in a pot, can be traced back to China as "Penjing" and Japan as "Bonsai" from centuries ago. Considering these artists' centuries headstart, it is common for most old, expensive and impressive Bonsai to trace their origin back to the far east. Most trees commonly used in Bonsai, along with the soils (more accurately referred to as substrates) and even the tools, are just what was available to these artists centuries ago. The species most commonly used for Bonsai and the literature gathered over the ages in best practices for growing these species in pots relate to species locally found. The Japanese garden Juniper (Juniperus Procumbens), Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum), Japanese Black Pine (Pinus Thunbergii) and Japanese White Pine (Pinus Parviflora) are highly grown and collected species used in Bonsai. However, centuries ago, were all that was available to artists exploring Bonsai. Much like Akadama, a heat-treated volcanic clay from Japan that is highly renowned in the world of Bonsai. Akadama was just the type of substrate lying around on the hills around the artists' house.
To save money on Bonsai, we must look for what is growing and readily available around us and explore its use in our own local Bonsai.
So let us start with eight ways to save money on Bonsai:
- 1. Yamadori - Collecting Trees from nature.
Collecting trees is an old practice that can produce very successful and impressive Bonsai. Remember that any species can be a Bonsai. You must first get the property owner's permission before extracting trees from the ground. However, with a bit of scavenging and luck, you can get an impressive-looking Bonsai for nothing other than a few hours of searching ad some light digging. We will be posting a Yamadori dedicated post soon, so keep an eye out for extracting trees and the aftercare they require.
- 2. Seeds
Growing a Bonsai from seeds can be frustrating as most hobbyists will only successfully germinate a small percentage of seeds. Nevertheless, given how cheap the seeds are, sowing tens or hundreds of seeds only to have a few successes is still an inexpensive way to start your Bonsai.
- 3. Cuttings
Some species of Bonsai, mainly tropical and subtropical plants, do very well as cuttings. Depending on the species, you can do a little research online that is species-specific. Then taking softwood or hardwood cuttings and planting them in an excellent growing medium is an excellent and inexpensive way to start your Bonsai journey.
- 4. Seedlings
Seedlings are our favourite method of starting a Bonsai for multiple reasons:
- No need to go through the germination or cutting process.
- It cuts down on the chances of an unsuccessful cutting or seed not germinating.
- It speeds up the process to the point that you can start working on and training your tree.
- Still, a relatively inexpensive way to start a Bonsai.
Our seedlings are called baby Bonsai and some start at under $15.
- 5. Nursery Stock
The most challenging thing about using nursery stock is. Nurseries everywhere sell trees while they are still young and can easily be purchased and transformed into Bonsai. More often than not, they are too big and have passed the point that they can still be manipulated and trained as Bonsai, which makes looking for nursery stock hard. Nevertheless, with a bit of determination and looking around, something is bound to show up. As a rule of thumb, unless you are sure you are buying trees that bud back well, it is better to look for trees in one-gallon nursery pots and nothing larger.
- 6. Pre-Bonsai
Many Bonsai nurseries like Bonsaistore.co grow, cultivate and import stock known as pre-bonsai. These are species that are often used as Bonsai and are grown to be used in Bonsai design. They are well-established trees with a healthy root ball and have a high chance of surviving prunings and repotting. However, some pre-bonsai (Young Bonsai) may cost more than seedlings. Purchasing a Young Bonsai is where we would recommend anyone looking at getting into Bonsai start.
- 7. Substrate
Too often, we see enthusiasts just getting into Bonsai and purchasing very high-end soils and tools. Although there is nothing wrong with that, there are always substitutes that are good places to start. Akadama, all imported from Japan, can be substituted with Horticultural Clay (also known as Turface) instead of expensive Bonsai soil mixes sold on the market. Substrates like Pine Bark Fines, local pumice, Canadian Peat Moss and other substrates can be excellent growing mediums for Bonsai. Each species will do better with a species-specific mixture of these substrates, which we would be happy to help with; all you need to do is ask.
- 8. Bonsai Collection
When growing Bonsai, not every tree or design will succeed. So instead of starting your collection and journey with one expensive tree, only to watch it fail and maybe even die. We recommend collecting some trees to practice; a mixture of indoor and outdoor varieties is best. This way, you can spread your attention between a few trees and learn what techniques and environment work best. One of the most common mistakes we find starting artists encounter is over caring for the one tree they have. Unlike mammals, when a Bonsai is not doing well, the best route of action is to identify the issue, correct it and give the tree time and space to heal itself.
Too often, there is a tendency to overwater, fertilize and generally fuss over a struggling Bonsai when all it needs is the time and space to heal itself.