jamian
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starting from deciduous seedling/young plant?

Hi, I'm interested in starting a deciduous flowering bonsai and wondering if it is possible to take a seedling or young plant from a nursery and develop it as a bonsai? I saw some beautiful flowering bonsais online including star jasmine and gardenia and would like to learn how to start a plant like this myself. Questions I have:
*Do these types of plants make good bonsai? Other suggested deciduous flowering plants?
*How young does the plant need to be to start developing it as a bonsai?
*Any specific tips for initial shaping/training/pruning? When can/should I start those in relation to season and age of the plant?
*What size pot should I use initially (start extremely small, or start with a smallish size I want it to grow into)?

Thanks very much for any advice.

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jamian,

Those are some good questions to ask if you are just starting out. I'll try to answer.
star jasmine and gardenia...Do these types of plants make good bonsai?
As you know both are used but I have no experience with either so I can't say anything specific. Gardenia is, I believe, evergreen and I don't think either are frost hardy.
Other suggested deciduous flowering plants?
Crab Apple, Azalea; both deciduous and evergreen, Wisteria, Pears (not very common as bonsai), Bougainvillea, Japanese Flowering Apricot, Firethorn, Quince.
How young does the plant need to be to start developing it as a bonsai?
You seem to bu under the impression that bonsai must be started as young plants, this is not true. While young trees can be utilized it is by no means a necessity, indeed most fine old bonsai have been collected rather than grown.
Any specific tips for initial shaping/training/pruning? When can/should I start those in relation to season and age of the plant?
One of the main advantages of growing your own is to get the root system off to a good start that will in time grow into an attractive nebari. I have been starting seedlings in pots for two seasons (re-potting and root-pruning in the spring of the second year) and then planting young trees out in the garden. This is one of the best ways to get the vigorous growth that is required to get young material to put on the girth necessary to make a credible bonsai.
What size pot should I use initially (start extremely small, or start with a smallish size I want it to grow into)?
as noted above, young plants need several years of growth before much in the way of training can be done. In this light it is apparent that deliberately keeping young plants restricted is counter-productive. This does not mean that an overly large pot is beneficial though, this practice has its own pitfalls. The best situation for young material in the growth phase is to regularly pot up as the tree requires it, keeping the pot neither too small or too large.

I hope this begins to answer some of your questions, don't hesitate to inquire further. Here is something to take a look at.

[url]https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/bonsaibe.htm[/url]

Norm

jamian
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Thanks Norm, your info, and the article are extremely helpful! I was thinking that bonsai were dwarfed by always keeping them in a small pot from the beginning, I see now that this is incorrect.

I looked at some 1gal plants at Home Depot earlier before I made the first post, but they seemed too big and bushy already and not dwarfy like a bonsai, but I guess that is my job lol. The gardenias were all quite bushy with dozens of twiggy little 'trunks' so I didn't think they'd be good starter material. I'll keep reading and keep looking.

So I'm thinking I'll go to a bigger, better nursery and look at the 1 gallon potted gardenias and star jasmines and see if one (or more) of them wants to follow me home, or if anything else inspires me (I like the idea of rosemary too, I like nice smelling things whether floral or herbal). Then trim off up to 1/3 of the foliage to do some preliminary shaping, and then just let it recover for a couple months, right? Winter is a safe time to prune, right?

I live in southern CA, so the winters are very mild (frost extremely unusual, normal winter lows in the 50s) so I figure I can leave them outside, and then do some more shaping just before spring...

Does this sound like the way to go?

Oh, the suggestion of the Japanese apricot sounded lovely, are those hard to find? And as for pear, do you mean a regular pear, or do I need to look for a special dwarf version?

Thanks very much for the tips!

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jamian,
Thanks Norm, your info, and the article are extremely helpful!
Glad to help.
I looked at some 1gal plants at Home Depot earlier before I made the first post, but they seemed too big and bushy already and not dwarfy like a bonsai, but I guess that is my job
Yes that is the essence of creating a bonsai, to visualize and reveal the "inner bonsai" Don't discount the bushy plants though. Two important aspects of bonsai design are taper and movement, (repeated change of direction). These can be accomplished by cutting the top out of a bush plant and allowing a new leader to form from a low branch. Repeat this several times and you create an interesting trunk with taper and movement.

On the other hand you are right to be selective, there must be at least the beginning of a trunk-line. Sometimes these young plants have been pruned so low that there is no semblance of a trunk, avoid this type of material. Earlier I mentioned the term "nebari" this is the exposed surface roots that gives the impression of age and stability. Look for this and an attractive trunk-line. These are the at the heart of quality bonsai and are the first things to look for. Branches are, species dependent, easily re-grown, quality rootage and trunk-lines are not.
I'll keep reading and keep looking.
Continue your research, no need to rush. If you are serious about this it will be a life-long endeavor, a few weeks/months are of little consequence. Explore the rest of the Evergreen Garden Works web site, this can take quite some time to digest.
So I'm thinking I'll go to a bigger, better nursery and look at the 1 gallon potted gardenias and star jasmines and see if one (or more) of them wants to follow me home, or if anything else inspires me
Expect to spend some time and wear your work clothes. Dig around for surface roots. Look for an interesting trunk-line.
Then trim off up to 1/3 of the foliage to do some preliminary shaping, and then just let it recover for a couple months, right?
One of the mistakes I made early one was to reflexively remove all low branches. If you have a trunk that you are satisfied with OK, otherwise low branches serve to thicken the trunk and should be left alone, but then you will not be doing bonsai. So it all comes back to choosing quality material.
Winter is a safe time to prune, right?.. I live in southern CA, so the winters are very mild (frost extremely unusual, normal winter lows in the 50s) so I figure I can leave them outside, and then do some more shaping just before spring... Does this sound like the way to go?
A lot of this is dependent on what species you end up. Also since I am in a much different part of the country than you I hesitate to speak in generalities. It never hurts to slow down and do some research, I have made some first class blunders by acting first and researching second.
Oh, the suggestion of the Japanese apricot sounded lovely, are those hard to find? And as for pear, do you mean a regular pear, or do I need to look for a special dwarf version?
I can't really say what you might find in your area, go out and see. As far as using genetic dwarfs, it can be done but it is not a necessity. Bonsai are usually standard varieties and are dwarfed via cultural practices.


Norm

arboricola
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Hi Jamiam;
You're doing it the right way. research first, then decide what will grow best in your environment. Don't forget that light is the # 1 factor with indoor plants. I DO NOT reccomend gardenias as a plant to start with. They are difficult plants to grow indoors or out.. They require high light, low temps, and high humidity to thrive.

Rosemary will do great in your area.

A local nursery, unlike Home Depot, will stock plants that do well in your area. Maybe even gardenias...

Phil...

jamian
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Well, I picked up 2 azaleas, and a star jasmine to play with. The gardenias all had too many trunks (like 4 or more), I think they were pruned pretty much at the ground level when they were really young, to bush out, and they were buried down far.

One of the azaleas has a bit of a natural curve to the trunk and some nice, well-spaced branches up a bit and a nice taper already. The other has tons of low branches that I can think about and use to take the trunk in interesting directions. I'll read up on azaleas, but do have you worked with them? Any tips on how/when to prune? Forgive me for asking before I do my own research, just thought you might have some insider info.

The jasmine has two main branches, one with lots of nodes, and one without. I figured it was like 2 vines with two different personalities for the price of one, and I can just see how they respond to pruning as far as back-budding and such and just experiment. Don't think it will be a long term keeper though as far as a nice overall shape. Figured there aren't a lot of people doing bonsai on jasmine so I'll just experiment and figure it out.

Thanks for the help, I'll let you know how things go once I get them established and shaped a little.

~ Jamian

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jamian,

As I said earlier I don't work with Jasmine so I'll leave that alone. I have done some work on Azaleas though. I've had mixed results so far with only one survivor at the moment.
One of the azaleas has a bit of a natural curve to the trunk and some nice, well-spaced branches up a bit and a nice taper already. The other has tons of low branches that I can think about and use to take the trunk in interesting directions. I'll read up on azaleas, but do have you worked with them? Any tips on how/when to prune? Forgive me for asking before I do my own research, just thought you might have some insider info.
In order to answer this question I think it is necessary to define what you wish to accomplish with this particular plant. Are you looking for short term results along with a learning experience or are you looking to develop it as more of a long term project? If the latter is the case you will want to leave your low branching intact in order to induce further thickening and taper to the trunk.

If you allow low shoots to grow freely they will serve to thicken the trunk below them, this concept is known as using "sacrifice branches". Allow several to grow at any one time. After a few years remove the oldest of the branches and allow new shoots to form. This is repeated until the trunk is satisfactory. At this point new shoots are chosen/retained to become the finished branches.

Another option would be to choose a new leader and remove and remove the bulk of the tree, this is commonly called "chopping" which route you take is dependent upon your vision for this particular plant. When you do prune Azaleas don't prune close the trunk right away, instead, leave a stub and allow it to dry out naturally only later removing it flush with the trunk. Do not make a concave cut as you might with other species as the bark/cambium is so thin the depression would remain.

Those are both long term scenarios. If you are anxious to get started this season then you can but styling suggestions are all but impossible without pictures. It might be best to spend the first year on re-potting it though. It almost certainly is potted in a mix that is nearly 100% peat and getting it into a proper bonsai mix should be a high priority. Again it is your choice which path you follow. Re-pot this year or begin styling.

Sorry I can't say anything more specific but a lot depends upon the plant in question and more to the point your desires.

Norm

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jamian wrote: I'll read up on azaleas, but do have you worked with them? Any tips on how/when to prune? Forgive me for asking before I do my own research, just thought you might have some insider info.
Spring [Also it may be to your benefit to pinch off the flower buds to allow the plants resources to be used for foliage growth - Unless you simply have to see what color the blooms are ;) ]

One thing to note about azaleas is that while they respond well to [Well timed] hard chops, Do keep in mind that they are basally dominate [as opposed to apically]
Which means that they grow more strongly at the sides and base than at the top of the tree.

This is something to consider when planning your pruning [Or more accurately 'planning what you will be keeping'8)]

Read a bit more about azaleas at these sites: https://www.bonsai4me.com/SpeciesGuide/Rhododendron.html
https://www.bonsai-bci.com/species/satsuki-azalea.html
https://www.rockymtnbonsai.org/html/azaleas.html

ynot

jamian
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Thanks to both of you for the tips!

I pinched off the buds (luckily there were a couple of blooms already so I got to cheat and see the color before buying :wink: ).

I suppose I should re-pot them as suggested. The soil they are in does not seem to have good drainage. The plants are about 8" high in 6" diameter pots.

I have a few more questions before I start:
*should I keep them in the same size pot, or give them more room to grow?
*should I do anything with the roots while I have them uprooted? I read the article about using root and top pruning to get desired growth effects, but there are so many variables, it made my head hurt.
*Is there any pre-packaged soil mix that is decent to use for azaleas in pots? I don't feel like I understand this stuff enough yet to go picking out ingredients for a soil mix like all the articles I'm seeing suggest.

Thanks for your help!

~ Jamian

ynot
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Thanks to both of you for the tips!
Your welcome 8)
I pinched off the buds (luckily there were a couple of blooms already so I got to cheat and see the color before buying :wink: ).
They were blooming right now:shock:? As in from when you purchased it?

Do you know if these were in a green house or is your climate simply so warm that they are currently blooming?
I suppose I should re-pot them as suggested. The soil they are in does not seem to have good drainage. The plants are about 8" high in 6" diameter pots.
I am a bit confused by the blooming, Normally I would have said go for a repot [in your mild climate].

But since they just expended a bunch of resources blooming... I think it is an inopportune time to repot as they will need time to rebuild reserves.
I have a few more questions before I start:
*should I keep them in the same size pot, or give them more room to grow?
This has everything to do with how colonized the trees are within the pot. Does the root system fill the pot completely [with coiling solid roots] or is there plenty of soil remaining [so it is not pot bound].
*should I do anything with the roots while I have them uprooted? I read the article about using root and top pruning to get desired growth effects, but there are so many variables, it made my head hurt.
I think you should wait a bit before repotting [Get some advil and go through the articles again and again and again ;)....Comes with the territory :razz:]
*Is there any pre-packaged soil mix that is decent to use for azaleas in pots? I don't feel like I understand this stuff enough yet to go picking out ingredients for a soil mix like all the articles I'm seeing suggest.
Yes We will get to that, You have plenty of time to research it will also to help improve your understanding of bonsai soils.

ynot

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Jamian,

BTW, You may want to take a look about half way down this page [It is page 4 of 5-- So far] :
https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3343&start=45

To see what is possible with azaleas 8).

You may find that entire thread pretty interesting as it will show you a bit of the diversity of bonsai, I suggest you bookmark it as it is a massive thread :D.

ynot

jamian
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I'm in Southern CA, and I got the plants from Home Depot, a reliable hardware and garden chain that typically has great plants, but isn't a nursery so I have no way to know if they were raised in a greenhouse. The weather here is quite mild though. It has just gotten 'cold' the past couple of weeks, and that means lows in the 50s, high 40s at the lowest. I don't know if that is warm enough for them to bloom or if they were raised in a greenhouse. There are lots of tiny buds, all the way up to a couple of full blooms, and other plants at the store seemed almost in full bloom.

Okay, so I guess I have time to just sit back and learn then =)
Starting bonsais was kind of a challenge, or mission, presented by a friend, and I'm really enjoying it, but I didn't realize quite how complicated it was. Not that I'm discouraged, I like complexity! I just hoped I could have things to fiddle around with right away. The point was kind of to keep me busy and keep my mind as well as my hands occupied since I've been a bit idle lately. Guess I'll have to settle for the mind and find other things to do with my hands. I'll take a look at that thread.

Thanks again.

~ Jamian

alisios
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jamian -

Your area "suffers" from a coastal desert climate - the right kind of soil for your area will have to be investigated - When I was visiting SD over the summer, I went to "San Diego Bonsai" in Ocean Beach ( https://www.sdbonsai.com/ ) - it's a little but cute store - I picked up an Olive Tree from him -

He is very knowledgeable and can steer you in the right direction for So Cal climates, proper care and a home grown soil - you're going to have to add something to your soil to retain water... (dare I say the four letter "p" word? ;) )

Also, I wanted to check out the botanical gardens in Balboa as I think they have a whole Bonsai section over there, but I didn't get the time...

good luck!

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jamian,

Until now we have been speaking mostly in generalities but now that you have a species to concentrate on it is time to get specific. As I mentioned earlier I am still trying to get a handle on Azaleas myself and since my climate is so different than yours take what I suggest as just that, suggestions. In the long run you are the one who will be making the final calls.
I suppose I should re-pot them as suggested. The soil they are in does not seem to have good drainage. The plants are about 8" high in 6" diameter pots.
In Japan Azaleas are traditionally re-potted after blooming. This is because that time of year coincides with their rainy season. From what I understand from your previous posts your Azaleas have not fully flowered and therefore have not expended an excessive amount of their reserves in the process. If you consider these two facts then it may not be inappropriate to re-pot this year. I say may not because of my relative inexperience with this species and total unfamiliarity with your climate. alisios has made an excellent suggestion, you should seek local advice.
should I keep them in the same size pot, or give them more room to grow?
An experienced individual has stated that a somewhat deeper pot is useful for Azaleas in the training stage. His reasoning was that azaleas don't mind being a little root-bound and can stay in their pots a little longer than some other species. A deeper pot allows for roots to grow downward and not encircle the pot.
should I do anything with the roots while I have them uprooted?
Azaleas have a very fibrous root system and creating a conventional nebari can be a challenge. If you are lucky enough to discover several strong roots these should be favored by removing the dense roots that are likely present in between them. The roots at the perimeter of the root-ball can be clipped back a little.
Is there any pre-packaged soil mix that is decent to use for azaleas in pots? I don't feel like I understand this stuff enough yet to go picking out ingredients for a soil mix like all the articles I'm seeing suggest.
It is understandable that you are a bit bewildered, bonsai soils are one of the most debated areas of the hobby. As alisios allude to soils are adjusted to allow for differences in climate, not to mention species and watering habits to name just a few. There is an imported soil called Kanuma that comes from Japan and that is the preferred medium for Azaleas there. It is available here but is more expensive than "domestic" equivalents. Again, the best course of action would be to seek local advice.
Okay, so I guess I have time to just sit back and learn then =)
Starting bonsais was kind of a challenge, or mission, presented by a friend, and I'm really enjoying it, but I didn't realize quite how complicated it was. Not that I'm discouraged, I like complexity! I just hoped I could have things to fiddle around with right away. The point was kind of to keep me busy and keep my mind as well as my hands occupied since I've been a bit idle lately. Guess I'll have to settle for the mind and find other things to do with my hands.
Bonsai is as much about the journey as the destination and much time is spent doing essentially nothing, that is the nature of the game. The solution to the problem is to get more trees. :D

Norm

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jamian,

Here is a link to a video concerning re-potting Azaleas, it's 11 MB. There are other videos at the same site if you are interested.

[url]https://www.bonsaifarm.tv/content/view/77/37[/url]

Norm

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Azaleas

I too am attempting a try with azaleas - I have 3 plants in one 8" container, purchased at a floral counter (I understand that it is not frost hardy, and I intend to keep them as indoor plants). They have been blooming since purchase in Oct. and I am still waiting for the blooms to fall before separating the plants into individual pots. Is this normal for them to remain in bloom for so long?

arboricola
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Moulman;
Here's some Q&A on growing Azaleas in the North.

https://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/flowers/azalea.htm

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