Bonsai Instructions For Beginners-Lighten The Pathway Into The Bonsai World


One thing that mostly differentiate bonsai with normal potted plants is: Bonsai needs consistent and thoughtful care. The growth of the plant that kept as bonsai need to be controlled purposely in order to create a mini-landscape that we anticipate.

It calls for at least 5-10 years to cultivate one bonsai. So the bonsai cultivator needs to be very careful and possess great patience.

Every time I saw the bonsais on display, I couldn’t help but standing for a long time, admiring the designers’ artistic talents and their amazing imagination.

The principle of making bonsai is: re-locating and cultivating a plant that has been growing for 5 years, 10 years or maybe dozens of years into one small bonsai tray (pot).

The culture and art of bonsai originates in China, while thrives and peaks in Japan. With the popularity of Japanese gardening around the world, the bonsai art has favored by more and more people.

Here we are going to share some bonsai instructions for beginners, hope will help you lighten the entrance into the poetic bonsai world.

What Plants Are Suitable For Cultivated As Bonsaigrape-bonsai

Common bonsai plants include evergreen trees, such as: pine, juniper, and deciduous trees, such as: eucalyptus, maple, and eucalyptus.

But actually the plants that suitable for made as bonsai are far more than those mentioned above. I have ever seen many other plants be made into bonsai, such as: gingko, winterberry, Japanese red maple, camellia, rhododendron, various berry plants and almost all fruit trees. (The picture on the right shows a grape bonsai.)

Simply put, almost all plants can be made into bonsai, as long as you are patient enough, willing to experiment, and fear no challenge.

Brief Processes Of Bonsai Making – 6 Steps

Step 1: Choose The Tree

Generally, evergreen trees, deciduous trees, flowering plants and foliage plants are all suitable for made into bonsai as mentioned above.

But for bonsai beginner, we suggest to choose foliage plant, which is more easy to cultivate.bonsai-tree

Another aspect we should take into consideration is the growing environment of the plants. If you are living in temperate zone, while want to keep tropical plant. Then there might be problems with temperature and sunlight.

When choosing bonsai tree in the garden or nursery shop, we should note whether the plant is healthy or not (the leaves are brightly green, the trunk and branches are strong). Moreover, pay attention to the overall shape of the plant: whether it is suitable for “shaping” in the future.

Most bonsai trees get only one main trunk, so it is advisable to choose a tree with robust trunk, convenient for trimming and fixing in the future. The leaves need to be bright green and healthy, without any pests or diseases.

Step 2: Cultivate The Trunk

Before making bonsai, one important job need to be done is cultivating the thickness of the plant’s trunk.

Normally, the bonsais that we see get very thick tree trunk, disproportionate thick, making the trees look age-old and magnificent.

If the plant is grown directly in the bonsai tray (pot), its roots will be confined into a small basin, which will definitely slow the growth of its trunk.

In order to thicken the tree trunk, we cannot use small tray (pot) to cultivate the tree at the very beginning. Contrarily, we have to cultivate the tree in a large pot, just as we do when grow potted plants. Or more simply, plant the tree directly in the ground to boost its growth.

The trees absorb nutrients mainly through their roots. The better development of their roots, the more nutrients they will provide to the trees, leading the tree’s trunk grow more thick.


Apart from allowing the roots to absorb more nutrients and transport to the trunk, we should control the height of the tree as well to create a thick trunk. Cut off the top of the tree to prevent the tree from growing higher, making the nutrients accumulate in the trunk.

After cutting off the top of the tree, usually a new branch will come out from the highest burl on the trunk.

When this branch is thick enough, you can cut off the top of this branch as well. You will see another shoot coming out of this branch soon.

By following this method, you will create a small tree that has three curves.

You may have heard that some designers use extreme methods to make the trunk thicker, including split the trunk in half with a knife or axe, then separate the two halves with wood strips. Finally, wrap the split with cloth strips, and let it heal itself. This way does work and will make the trunk grow thicker.

But it may take years for the split to get healed. And not every tree can bear such violence. Only fast-growing trees, such as:Elm, Banyan, Juniper, and Boxwood can work well in this way.

After pruning or in case any branches break, we can apply a small amount of tree paint (also known as wound dressing, is a substance applied to damaged surfaces of a tree intended to improve the health of the tree) on the wound to prevent infection.

However, trees generally have self-recovery instinct. Unless the situation is special, horticultural experts usually will not recommend the application of tree paint, and even think improper use may cause more harm than good. The so-called special situation, including heavily infestation of mildew near the bonsai tree’s planting area.

Step 3: Shape The Bonsai Tree

It may take several years to cultivate the trunk. Moreover, to create a trunk that has certain form, manual intervention is indispensable to twist the trunk or branches.

The biggest difference between bonsai tree and normal garden tree is: bonsai tree’s shape is curved or inclined, rather than growing vertically.

So at the beginning, you should choose the tree with the shape you prefer. Then shape it according to the original form of the tree. It will achieve twice the result with half the effort, and avoid doing too much correction.


Manual intervention refers to the usage ropes, cloth strips or even steel wires to bend the trunk or branches to desired shapes when they are still young.

Sometimes in order to bend thick truck, we can make one incision with knife on the trunk to help to bend it (be very careful when doing this process to prevent breaking the trunk). Then wrap the incision with cloth strips. This will help to fix the shape and protect the cut against bacterial infections as well. The cloth strips have to be very clean and the handwork should be exquisite.

Some people will cover the cloth strips with another layer of electrical tape, to avoid the incision from getting wet, thus prevent breeding mold.

For some vulnerable plants, such as red maple, pomegranate, etc., it is best to wrap the trunk (or branches) with cloth strips before using steel wire to twist and shape it, to avoid injury to the trunk.

Step 4: Make The Leaves Smaller

In addition to thickening the trunk, we have to make the tree’s leaves smaller in order to create a delicate bonsai scape.

The height of the bonsai tree is around 15 inches generally, if the leaves are as large as normal tree’s, the overall scape will be out of proportion.

So after choosing a suitable tree, you have to find ways to reduce the size of the leaves. Here are 3 tricky ways to get the job done.

  • Bath The Bonsai Tree With More Sunlight

Put the bonsai tree outdoors, bathing as much sunlight as possible if the weather is good. (But be careful not to expose it to harsh sunlight to avoid sunburn.)

The rule is: when the plant feels there is not enough light, their leaves will naturally grow larger to absorb more light. (The leaves of the plants in the rain forest are very large, while the desert plants’s are very small. This is the case in point.)

  • Control The Amount Of Fertilizer

Rich water and fertilizer will definitely boost the plants’s growth, including their leaves. So we have to control the fertilizing amount, especially in the spring, when plants grow vigorously. In order to reduce the leaves’ size, fertilization is not required unless the plant is already in a state of lacking fertilizer.

  • Trim The Leaves

The more often the germination occurs, the smaller the leaves of the subsequent germination will become. Following this biological phenomenon, the leaves can be trimmed several times during the bonsai tree’s cultivation.


But the premise is the tree should be healthy enough, otherwise it will bring damage to its growing. For most plants, cutting off the leaves will have unfavorable influence to its growth, so don’t trim too much at a time.

While for fast-growing trees, such as banyan, elm, maple, etc., some bonsai designer will remove all the leaves at once. After the newly-developed leaves mature in April and May, all the leaves can be cut off, so the branches could send forth new leaves soon. And each time such an operation is performed, the leaves will be reduced a little. The leaves will become smaller by repeating in the way.

Step 5: Choose The Bonsai Tray (Pot)

When the trunk’s thickness, shape, height of the tree has grown to your expectation, it can be transplanted to the bonsai tray.bonsai-azalea

Generally, the depth of the bonsai tray is shallow. But it should hold well the cultivated tree and cover its roots as well.

Most importantly, there should be enough drain holes on the bottom of bonsai tray. Good drainage favors the healthy growing of the tree. Some designers will put metal meshes on the drain holes to prevent the soil blocking the holes and ensures good drainage as well.

Due to shallow depth, the bonsai tray could not hold too much soil. So make sure the soil is rich, preferably sandy fertile loam. Whether the soil should be acidic or alkaline is up to what tree you plant.(Most plants prefer slightly acidic soils or neutral soils.)

Step 6: Trim The Roots

After getting ready the cultivated tree and planting tray, you can proceed to trim the bonsai tree’s roots. The basic tools you need would be: scissors, pliers, steel wires etc.

Wash out the soils on the roots after lifting up the cultivated tree from the pot (or ground) and trim the roots to accommodate the tree into the new bonsai tray. Make sure to leave enough room in the tray for tree’s future growth.

Acutally, many bonsai’ roots get high ornamental value as well. So when talking about roots trimming, it means not only


trimming the roots under the soil, but also the root part that above the soil level.

The trimming method could be very unnatural (even cruel). For example, tightly lock the base of trunk with steel or copper wire, preventing nutrients from being transported up from the roots to the trunk and branches, thus forcing the tree to send forth new roots above the wire. The exposed new roots will become another eye-catching spot on the bonsai.

Another method is lifting a bit the roots of the bonsai tree when relocating the tree to a new tray or changing its soil.

For normal plants, we are well aware that its planting depth should be roughly the same when relocating them to new planting pots. However, in the case of bonsai, in order to make its roots protrude above the soil, we should lift its roots a bit higher during each relocation.

Repeat this operation each year, so there will be more and more roots exposing in the air. When there are enough exposed roots, you can shape the roots to achieve the designs that you prefer. Picture on the right side is one banyan bonsai with many of its roots exposed, creating a touch of vigorous and forceful.

Apart from the trimming ways that I mentioned above, I have ever seen some bonsai designers incorporate some nice stone into the tree’s roots.

The idea is inspired by the wonderful phenomenon that we might see in the natural world: During the growth of the plant, there is large rock hiding underneath the soil, and the roots of the plant will naturally stretch around the rock.

The designer will deliberately put one rock underneath the roots of the bonsai tree and let the roots grow twined around the rock.bonsai-with-rock

The rock will be an important part of the bonsai. Take the shape, color, size into consideration when choosing the rock.

Additional Tips For Caring The Bonsai


Keep the freshly planted bonsai in partially shaded location with good ventilation. And avoid putting it in direct harsh sunlight. As generally the bonsai tray contains little soil, the scorching sunlight will dry the soil’s moisture quickly.


Pay attention to the cultivating temperature of the bonsai, mild temperature will be optimum.

The most favorable temperature is 20-27℃ (70-80 °F) in summer. And bring the bonsai indoors during chilly winter, preferably with indoor temperatures around 5-10℃ (different plant prefers different temperatures). But not necessary to be too warm, as trees need hibernation in winter as well.


Enable the bonsai to shower enough moderate sunlight, which will quite beneficial for its healthy growing.

Even we have to bring the bonsai indoors to sheer off the tough winter, bring it outdoors again to bathe some warm sunlight when the weather is nice.


As bonsai tray contains little soil, the moisture in the soil is easy to evaporate. In addition to watering the soil regularly, you can spray water on the leaves of bonsai (especially for foliage trees and evergreen trees) from time to time.

But we should reduce the watering in winter. Reducing refers to the watering frequency instead of watering amount. The soil should be soaked when watering and excessive water should be well drained, avoid water accumulation in the bonsai tray.


pine-bonsaiCultivating bonsai is more of art than common gardening. Unlike conventional potted plants, bonsai requires artists to harness unique imagination to plant tree into a small tray and create a variety of vivid forms.

It will take several years or even decades to cultivate one bonsai. With gardening knowledge alone is far from enough, but also requires consistent patience and carefulness.

While looking from another aspect, a successfully cultivated bonsai will be very valuable, which may worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Above are some bonsai instructions for beginners, hope will have some reference value for the bonsai lovers. Welcome to chime in if you have any comments or questions.

11 thoughts on “Bonsai Instructions For Beginners-Lighten The Pathway Into The Bonsai World

  1. Hi Shaun,

    Lovely article. I am a complete novice with bonsai’s. I had no idea they took 5 to 10 years to cultivate! Wow. You definitely need patience for sure.

    Obviously people who do cultivate them devote many many hours to the craft and have a massive love for the bonsai.

    This is a really thorough article on bonsai’s and has really great tips. Thanks so much for sharing,


    1. Hi Kevin, thanks for stopping by and checking the article. Yes, apart from gardening knowledge, the patience and carefulness is requisite for cultivating bonsai tree. Hope this post will be helpful to you and have a rough idea about the bonsai.

  2. Thank you so much for your post Shaun! I love Bonsai and I have one that I am trying to cultivate myself – it is a fig tree. It has a very good trunk but the leaves are still large at the top and I didn’t know how to prevent this – now I have some better ideas! I was also a bit scared to cut the growing branches as they are spreading out too large at present, but I will be brave and prune it at the top. I have been growing mine for about 3 years and I’m actually just glad it is still alive as I really am a novice. Thanks again and I will pay some extra attention to my little tree now.

    1. Hi Lindsay, thanks for stopping by and sharing your bonsai cultivating experience. Concerning the too big leaves on your bonsai,i do recommend to prune the tree’ leaves. Typically, the more often the germination occurs, the smaller the leaves of the subsequent germination will become. I do hope that this post will give you some inspirations and help a little to your bonsai cultivation.

  3. Hello Shaun,

    These are stunning pictures of Bonsai Trees, its so lovely and breath-taking. I do lots of gardening too myself with seasonal flowers, herbs, and green vegetables and we have one Bonsai Tree managed by my husband, he does a lot of care so I understand that you need patience and proper care on this delicate and amazing miniature-like trees.

    Thank you for sharing this information, it would be very helpful for beginners.
    Best regards,

    1. Hi Lynn, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. Hope you like this post and will be helpful to you. Have a nice day!

  4. These are stunning pictures of Bonsai trees, it’s lovely and breath-taking. I do lots of gardening myself with seasonal flowers, herbs, and green vegetables. We have several Bonsai trees managed by my husband, he does a lot of care so I understand that you need patience and proper care on these delicate and amazing miniature-like trees.

    Thank you for sharing this information, Shaun and I wishing you a nice day.

  5. This is so cool, I always loved Bonsai Trees but had no idea the work that goes into their beauty. I didn’t realize the look of the roots could be manipulated to grow a certain way! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Hi Amber, thanks for stopping by and checking this post. I hope this article will lend more knowledge of bonsai to you!

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