Skip to Content

BEST Tips When Buying a Unique Bonsai Tree

This article may contain affiliate links. We get paid a small commission from your purchases. More Affiliate Policy

There are three approaches to becoming a Bonsai tree owner. You can either cultivate a Bonsai from scratch, purchase a tree still in development, or acquire an established Bonsai tree that only needs maintenance.

“Bonsai” means a tree in a container and can be any species cultivated as a miniaturized version (Small Bonsai Tree) in a small container.

The care and maintenance of a bonsai tree is a rewarding art form that can be easily mastered and provide years of enjoyment and beauty. 

Housekeeping

Simplify Gardening would like to welcome visitors from bonsaigarden.net. We are excited at our acquisition of the site and commit to providing you with the best Bonsai How-To information. Check out the acquisition information here.

Bonsai Background

Small bonsai tree on rock

Contrary to popular belief, bonsai trees are not genetically shrunken variations of more giant trees.

Several plant species are used to make bonsai trees through careful pruning and wiring to produce smaller copies, reflecting the character and form of more giant, older trees or shrubs.

Any plant with a wood stem and branches can be used to create a bonsai tree, though types with naturally small leaves are often selected as this adds to the miniature appeal of a bonsai tree.

6 Tips when Choosing an Axolotl
6 Tips when Choosing an Axolotl

Bonsai Buying

In this article, I’ll cover the primary considerations when buying a bonsai or growing your first Bonsai tree. Things you will need to consider are:

  • Do you want an indoor plant?
  • Do you want to show your Bonsai?
  • What skills will you need to develop to succeed in growing or buying a Bonsai?

Bonsai Location Preference

yellow flowers on bonsai trees

Most bonsai trees prefer to be kept outside, even though they are often considered indoor plants. Keeping the relevant tree species out supports their natural growth cycles and the season dormancy essential to their well-being.

Dormancy occurs when temperatures drop and daylight hours decrease, best achieved outdoors.

That said, some tropical tree species and subtropical bonsai trees, like a constant warm temperature and a humid atmosphere, are better reproduced indoors.

Wherever you choose to grow your Bonsai tree, remember that the limited foliage means that the bonsai tree will require ample light to ensure it can produce the needed food.

Top Indoor Bonsai Tree Species

When buying a bonsai It is worth noting that in purist circles, indoor Bonsai trees are considered a misnomer.

However, indoor Bonsai trees are common in the West, and various species are grown. Don’t be afraid of this when buying a bonsai. Below are five of the most common tree species for indoor bonsai.

  • Fiscus Bonsai Tree
  • Carmona Bonsai Tree
  • Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree
  • Dwarf Umbrella Bonsai Tree
  • Snow Rose Bonsai Tree

Several others are worth considering for indoor bonsai, including the Japanese Pepper Tree, Serissa, and the Big Leaf Jade. Indoor bonsai make excellent houseplants.

Outdoor Bonsai Considerations

outdoor bonsai mature bonsai are all the rage in the west

Outdoor bonsai like all plants, five elements are essential to growing healthy plant specimens, with variations for each tree species.

Temperature

Outdoor trees can withstand frigid and high temperatures if they are correctly cared for. For the majority of species, winter protection from severe frost is crucial. Make sure the trees are covered from even a slight nighttime frost in the spring as the new leaves begin to appear.

Light

Outdoor bonsai trees require a lot of light to grow, and if they don’t get it, they will slowly start to die. Trees generally need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, depending on the species.

Watering and fertilizing

The most important rule is never to water on a schedule. Keep an eye on your bonsai tree, and only water it when necessary. Depending on the weather, species, and size, this may happen once every three days or multiple times daily. It is up to you to decide when to water your outdoor trees.

Humidity

The bonsai tree may experience low humidity on hot days when they are located in a paved area surrounded by walls.

By setting your bonsai tree on a humidity tray with water and spraying it a few times per day, you can enhance the humidity in the area around it.

Wetting the walls, floors, and bookcases near the trees also helps.

Choosing A Bonsai for Showing

fruiting bonsai tree

It is always easier to achieve your goals if success is quantified – knowing the outcome you’re hoping to achieve. I’ve outlined some of what competition judges consider when viewing Bonsai trees.

Suitability Of Species For Bonsai.

A suitable species for the Bonsai tree (ficus retusa) The ficus retusa is one that can reduce leaf size. Some unsuitable species include ample palate (Horse Chestnut) and large pinnate (Mountain Ash).

Trunk Taper

 Trunk taper is a significant factor in creating the impression of age and grandeur in many species and styles.

General Health of The Tree

  • Trunk; was an orientation selected that best shows the trunk’s character?
  • Bark; does it show maturity and plating? Is it clean and free from algae?
  •  Foliage; Judges look at leaf color and size. There should be no apparent blemishes or evidence of windburn.

Branch Positioning, Ramifications

Branch development is a large category and includes several aspects; The proper placement of branches is one.

The development of an exemplary network of secondary and tertiary branches is another.

Finally, the components need to be thick enough and tapered, in other words, in good proportion with the trunk, appearing as mature as the trunk itself.

  • Is the main largest branch and the counterbalance branch well defined?
  • Are the main branches positioned correctly without obstructing or obscuring one another?
  • Was it pruned adequately so that no stumps show? Are pruning cuttings completed enough?
  • Is the negative space between the branches distinct?
  • Does the shape of the branches make sense to the style and trunk movement?
  • Is the apex well-defined?

Surface Roots or Nebari

Nebari plays a crucial role in defining the front of the bonsai tree and is one of the most important factors to observe for styling a good tree and one that is difficult to correct.

First time buying bonsai trees

Deadwood Effects

Deadwood, if any, should enhance the natural aspect of the work and must be well defined (jin, shari, and uro) without visible use of power tools leaving carving marks.

Wiring

Correct, minimal, and discrete wiring, but strong enough to hold branches in place without damaging the bark.

Surface Dressing

Judges are looking for the appropriate use of moss, surface material, and the definite lack of weeds.

Aesthetics

Judges look to see that your Bonsai is presented at the correct angle, demonstrating a balanced tree. The respective volumes of foliage and branches are necessary, as their comparison to each other, and the harmony of tree proportions.

Other Criteria

There are a few other things to consider when buying a bonsai. Judges want to find an absence of pests or diseases, the appropriate use of a pot (shape, color, and texture), and the tree’s position in the pool.

Finally, your choice of display stand, the appropriateness of size, color, and design matter.

Basic Bonsai Styles and Forms

Tree forms are grouped into five identities which derive their names from the tree’s angle of growth, trunk shape, and the arrangement of their branches.

Some bonsai tree shapes are not sufficiently unique to warrant a separate category. Also, pre-bonsai would fall into this category.

Forms Based on the Trunk’s Orientation

These six canonical trunk shapes are recognized:

  1. Formal upright or Chokkan
  2. Informal upright or Moyogi
  3. Slanting or Shakan
  4. Full Cascade or Kengai
  5. Semi Cascade or Han-Kengai
  6. Multi-trunk Cascade or Takan-Kengai

The system of styles has a variety of functions, some practical and some purely aesthetic. The most basic and widespread use of techniques is as a shorthand for describing bonsai specimens.

The succinct style word, which typically occurs in catalog descriptions and a species identifier, concisely characterizes the Bonsai in question.

Similar specimens can be grouped in bonsai competitions for comparative analysis using style names. The approach simplifies bonsai teaching and learning and offers generally accepted phrases (Canononical) for public communications on Bonsai, even when viewing the styles only as the descriptive name.

Form Based on the Trunk and Bark

DeadwoodSabamiki
DriftwoodSharimiki

Form-Based on Root Placement

Root-over-rockSekijoju
Exposed-rootNeagari
Clinging-to-a-rockIshizuka, ishitsuki

Multiple Trunks From a Single Root

Twin-trunk, two-trunkSokan
Three-trunkSankan
Five-trunkGokan
Seven-trunkNanakan
Nine-trunkKyukan
ClumpKabudachi, Kabubuki
Turtle, stumpKorabuki
Raft, straight-lineIkadabuki
Raft, sinuousNetsunagari, Netsuranari

Form-Based Multiple Trunks

Two-treeSoju
Three-treeSambon-yose
Five-treeGohon-yose
Seven-treeNanahon-yose
Nine-treeKyuhon-yose
ForestYose-ue

Not Styles Per Se

LiteratiBunjingi
BroomHokidachi
OctopusTakozukuri
Wind-sweptFukinagashi

Local USDA Hardiness Zone

The help you decide, below is a list of trees, their suitability for specific forms, their light requirements, and which USDA Hardiness Zones are most suitable for their well-being.

PlantUSDA Hardiness ZonesLight RequirementBasic Form
Japanese Fir (Abies firma)6b – 9aFull sunKabudachi – Clump
Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum)5a to 9aFull sunSekijoju – Root over Rock
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)5b -8aDappled lightYose-ue – Forest
Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’)6b – 8aFull sunKengai – Full Cascade
Chinese Hackberry (Celtis sinensis)7a – 9bFull sun to partial ShadeChocan – Formal Upright
Robust Green Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Robusta Green’)4a – 9bFull sunKengai – Semi-Cascade
Sargent’s Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii)4a – 9bFull sunMoyogi – Informal Upright
Olive (Olea europaea)8b – 10aFull sun >6 hrs a dayBunjin – Literati
Dragon’s-eye Pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’)4a – 7bFull sunIkadabuki – Raft
Black Pine (Pinus rigida)4a – 7bFull sun or partial ShadeSokan – Double Trunk
Higan Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella)4a – 8bFull sunWeeping
Hiryu Azalea (Rhododendron ponticum)6a – 9bPartial Shade (2 – 6 hours sun)Neagari – Exposed Root
Korean Lilac (Syringa oblata)4a – 7bFull sun or partial ShadeShakan – Slanting
Chinese Elm (Ulmus × elegantissima)5b – 8aFull sunHokidashi – Broom

In Summary

The art of Bonsai is millennia-old and ever-evolving. Only a few plants are as complex, graceful, and simple to maintain as Bonsai plants.

They provide a zen-like atmosphere wherever you put them, whether at home or work. Good husbandry and care keep these happy, healthy plants.

My first bonsai was a Chinese elm, but my favorite is a Japanese maple. I remember looking at them in bonsai articles and wishing I could own them. I later went out and bought them both. When you get your new bonsai and are wondering about bonsai care and what to do during the growing season, then consider this article.

If you want to keep current on Gardening, please email me your email address below, and I’ll send you the newsletter with all the new articles and special offers.