Which bonsai species to start with?

As a beginner of bonsai one of the key questions that you will always ask is, which species to start with? Craig Coussins explains your options.

The best species to choose largely depends on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere. Popular outdoor species in temperate areas of globe, such as northern USA, Canada and northern Europe, parts of South Africa, New Zealand (South Island), Japan, and other temperate areas of Asia, include junipers (Juniperus), pines (Pinus), maples (Acer), larches (Larix), cotoneaster (Cotoneaster), hemlocks (Tsuga), oaks (Quercus) and beeches (Fagus).

These are also many local species that have their own particular requirements.  In the USA these include buttonwoods (Conocarpus), cypresses (Taxodium) and desert junipers (Juniperus). South Africa has acacias, white olives (Buddleja), peaches (Kiggelaria) and figs (Ficus). Australia also has figs as well as gums (Eucalyptus), while New Zealand has Tortaras, Pohutukawas and Rimus. Local climate differences will determine the species used.

For complete beginners cotoneasters are almost impossible to kill, and cypresses, such as the Chameacyparus pissifera, are very easy to develop. Maples are excellent, except that you must keep them out of frosts, but conversely they are also a temperate species, and conifers, pines, larches, cedars etc., are a little slow to grow.

Elms (Ulmus) and Zelkovas are excellent for bonsai and can be grown almost anywhere in the world because there are so many varieties of indoor and outdoor elms these days. Any of the indoor species used in temperate climates such as Sageritia, Serrisa and Chinese elms, are also very to grow. It is a good idea to find a species that are quick-growing, so that you can see the result, or else growing a bonsai could end up like watching paint dry!

Seed culture is extremely slow, and in my opinion should only be tried in addition to other methods.

Buying a bonsai is easy and is the usual route into the hobby, but only buy a tree that is workable. Avoid pines to start with, as they can be slow to develop if you are a beginner. A maple, juniper, or cypress will be an excellent first tree as they are all vigorous plants. In colder climates, the indoor varieties consist of tropical trees. These include figs, a succulent known as the money tree (Crassula), sageritia, serissa and many other species. 

Shohin Bonsai has gone mobile!

Morten Albek, the Shohin Bonsai master has just launched the first ever Shohin Bonsai application on Android. 

So what does the application offer?

You get access to the Shohin Blog with useful information on guiding you on developing and creating Shohin Bonsai, the Shohin gallery with some beautiful trees that have been created by Morten, access to Mortens personal blog and Mortens studio.

Why are mobile apps so handy?

Your out in your greenhouse and get stuck on a method and what to do next. You reach for the mobile and get a visual or text reminder on what you can do. Very straight forward.

Check out the application yourself and tell us what you think.

To find the application go to the Android marketplace by clicking here or scan the QR code on the left.shohin qr code






What is Penjing

Penjing gets its name from the Chinese word penzai which means tray plant. This art is also known in other terms such as potted landscapes, tray landscapes and potted scenery. It is an age old Chinese craft of growing miniature trees and plants. By skilled pruning these trees are then shaped to depict landscapes and beautiful scenery.

Penjing has been there for thousands of years much before the advent of Japanese Bonsai. It is divided in to three broad categories.

  • The first category is Tree Penjing (also known as Shumu), which is very similar to the Japanese Bonsai and depicts images of trees.
  • The second is Landscape Penjing (also known as Shansui) depicts distant landscapes of mountains using trees and rocks.
  • The third category is Water and Land Penjing, where trees, water and rocks are used to recreate a natural landscape.

The history of Penjing is a mix of myth and facts. Penjing was invented by Buddhist monks travelling from India. In fact a legend even says that Daoist persons possessed power to shrink landscapes and seal it in a vessel. The very first literature on Penjing was a scroll which was written 1200 years ago. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the practice of Penjing art, was at its peak. Also many scrolls and Penjing manuals were found during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD). The container which holds the tree is called pen (an earthen dish with a foot) and its origins can be traced to the Yangshao culture.
Many cultural and religious ideas have been brought from China to Japan. And it is widely believed that travelling Buddhist monks introduced the art of miniature plants to the Japanese people. So in a way Penjing gave birth to Bonsai. For many years, this art was known as hachi-no-ki (meaning tree in pot) in Japan. Only during the 19th century the word Bonsai was used in the famous Bonsai centre of “Azakusa Park”. Though the Chinese found the art of growing miniature plants it was the Japanese who spread this to the rest of the world.
The initial trees used for Penjing were age old, got from the wild and full of twists and knots and were considered sacred and believed to possess special energies. Later even younger plants were used but even to them special horticultural techniques were employed to increase the age.
The Penjing art is said to be influenced by the principles of Taoism and tries to depict natural beauty through contrasts. It specifically depends on the popular theory of Yin and Yang (two opposing yet complementary forces). The Chinese artists try to capture in Penjing the contrasting variations inherent in nature like upright and curved, dense and sparse etc. Initially the Chinese considered Penjing as an art of the scholar. The Penjing was believed to depict the taste, emotion and education of the creator. Penjing tries to recapture the spirit and moods of natural landscapes.

Since Penjing is practiced in China from time unknown there are various regional styles and schools. These styles vary based on climatic conditions, trees availability and appearance and regional practices. Also the style is dependent on the artist’s skill, philosophy and education.

The northern Yangzhou style in Penjing uses neat, distinctive foliage layers. The Guangdong style is known for its natural appeal. The Sichuan style is simple and well-knit. The Sichuan style is known for its flowering curves and upward spirals. The Liaoning style uses petrified wood and depicts steep mountain sceneries. The Shandong style uses tortoise vein rock and green Laoshan rock. The Shanghai style is based on traditional Chinese painting and this style gave birth to Bonsai. In the Beijing style the branches are horizontal and the crowns of the trees resemble a folding fan. The Zhejiang style is a little contemporary. It is inspired by the Shanghai style but with foliage shaped into, distinctly shaped layers.

You cannot find any classical Chinese garden without Penjing. In fact these are considered as a three dimensional poetry. The artistic value in Penjing is equivalent to poetry, painting and garden art. This art is in fact an innovation in gardening and uses miniature plants to portray landscapes. In fact it is beautiful tribute to mother nature and an excellent example for the Chinese artistic skills.


penjing-bookAnyone interested in reading more about Penjing should take a look at the forthcoming book by the Penjing master Zhao Qingquan. Penjing, The Chinese art of Bonsai. (A Pictorial Exploration of Its History, Aesthetics, Styles and Preservation)

This book is due to be released in April 2012 and will be published by Shanghai Press (ISBN-13 9781602200098)

Satsuki Flower Trophy, France

Initiated by Jerome Hay, President of Satsuki Flower and organized with the support of the FFB and kyookaï, this unique event in France aims to reveal to the public, amateurs and professionals, the most beautiful Satsuki in Europe. Nearly a hundred satsuki will be displayed. Through this initiative, we want to support the work of the various federations and also anonymous persons giving them the opportunity to have their Satsuki come to public attention.

The event will be held at 

Le Jardin du levant
St Germain du Pinel, Brittany, France on May 19′ and 20′ 2012.

During this first, important personalities are expected such as Master Hiromi Tsukada, who will honor us with his presence. Applicants wishing to participate at the Satsuki Flower Trophy 2012 can register for free until April 15th, 2012. 


Completely free to enter, participation in the contest will also allow three people to be rewarded by a grand jury composed of members of the FFB, professionals and personalities from the world of bonsai such as Master Hiromi Tsukada.

General class (three honors)

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  • 1st Prize: € 500 euros gift voucher and a trophy,
  • 2nd Prize: € 300 gift voucher,
  • 3rd Prize: € 200 gift voucher.


In addition, all satsuki will appear in the book of the event with the picture and the name of its owner.


Professional category

In the category dedicated to bonsai professionals, three trees will be distinguished, no price, nor trophy, but the professional acknowledgment and reputation of the event.
After the event, all the Satsuki presented will be displayed on the Satsuki Flower Trophy website in a virtual gallery, with free access, to serve as an efficient link between amateurs, professionals and the public.


Event Information:

Badge: 2 badges will be provided to each selected participant

Opening hours for the public:
Saturday 19th of May: from 9.30am to 6.30pm
Sunday 20th of May: from 9.30am to 6pm

Installation opening hours:
Friday 18th of May: from 2pm to 8pm
Saturday 19th of May : from 6am to 9am

Packing hours:
Sunday 20th of May : from 6pm

With Highway N157 (E50) : Paris-Rennes, “Piquet” exit, in the direction of La Guerche de
Bretagne (Latitude : 48.002253 & Longitude : -1.1548890000000256)

Hotel Le Cheval Blanc- 1 rue d’Anjou – 35370 Argentré-du-Plessis – Tel: 00
Citôtel Le Petit Billot 5a Place Du General Leclerc, 35500 Vitré- Tel: 0033 2 99 75 02 10
Balladins Vitré / Erbrée – Tel: 0033 2 99 49 49 99

Visitors € 5 : exhibition, conferences and demonstrations (for spectators).
Workshops: €90 per day, € 150 for 2 days with Master Hiromi Tsukada (reservations required)
Free for children under 18
Half price: € 3 for FFB members on presentation of your member card
Free entrance for: The park, the Garden and the Exhibitors Village.

Hay Jérôme
SARL Le jardin du levant – Les Haies – 35370 St Germain du Pinel – France
Tel : 00 33 2 99 96 69 51 / e-mail : [email protected]
All the information is available on the website : www.lejardindulevant.fr


10 Bonsai Tips for American Moms

Most of the time, the first bonsai most people buy is chosen at random on an impulse buy, usually the most reasonably priced.  Most people also learn the hard way that it turned out to be not so inexpensive if it didn’t make it past its first month.


  1. Buy your first bonsai at a merchant who specializes in the cultivation of bonsai (a bonsai nursery). This way, you can be sure that the tree has received proper care before you become its owner.
  2. Understand that a tree is not necessarily a bonsai just because it is in a pot. If you buy a preformed bonsai, make sure it meets the quality criteria of a bonsai cultivation.
  3. The more perfect the bonsai, the more it will cost. Many consider bonsai to be works of art, and this is reflected in the price. It takes many years of careful culture to attain a mature bonsai, so don’t think you will get one for $10 or so.
  4. Look for healthy exposed roots and make sure the tree is well rooted in its pot. You should not be able to move the tree from side to side; the roots should hold it in place firmly. The roots system of a bonsai is very important.
  5. Make sure the trunk of the tree is tapered, wider at the bottom than at the top. The trunk should also not demonstrate too many scars. (Wires are used to shape the tree, but they should be used carefully so as not to ruin the asthetics.)
  6. Look for branches that are evenly distributed around the trunk. The largest branches should be on the bottom, decreasing in size the higher up they are. There should be few to no branches for the first third of the trunk.
  7. Make sure the foliage is dense and healthy looking. The foliage is generally a good indicator of the health of the tree.
  8. The older a bonsai is, the more expensive it will be. (The oldest bonsai in the world is about 600 years old and worth approximately half a million dollars.)
  9. The look of the pot must be consistent with the tree for best aesthetics. Generally, conifers are placed in terracotta pots and deciduous trees are put in glazed pots.
  10. Choose a species that suits your environment. Tropical species require a temperature above 60 ° F all year. However, they do not require a rest period during the winter and can therefore be easier to keep indoors in winter. Hardy and semi hardy species need a rest period each year so they can go dormant. For this, they need to be below 55 ° F for two months of the year.

Don’t expect your bonsai to survive for 600 years, but if you follow these tips and you will enjoy your bonsai for many years to come.

Did you know that people search can help you find anyone in the world. Try contacting any of the thousands of Bonsai enthusiasts and experts for tips, tricks or just sharing your hobby.

Bonsai Learner Permit

Someone once told me a long time ago to get a ‘Learner Permit’ for a Bonsai. I wasn’t too sure at that stage of my early Bonsai life what they meant. After all it is only a tree that just happens to live in a pot!

How wrong could I be. You see Bonsai or as I used to say ‘bon-sigh’ (Its still alive) is more than just a tree in a pot. Every aspect of the wee tree can be trained. From the root structure below ground, the root structure above ground, the trunk, dead branches hanging off the tree, if its windswept, cascade, upright like a broom, indoor, outdoor, Mame (the baby bonsai 3″ tall), shohin (slightly larger) or even three foot tall. Many things to learn old wise one!

So where do you start with your ‘Learner Bonsai Permit’?

The Single Bonsai Tree Lover.

Okay, lets look at it this way, you can have a Bonsai as a beautiful decoration with one tree that you can pay alot of attention to, even give it a name. I have never named my trees. I wonder what you would name your Bonsai as? (be clean)  

Having a single tree is the easy path to learn. In that way you can name your tree ‘Bert the Bonsai’, learn how the balance of the tree works. Watering at the right time at the right temperature, keeping the roots and leaf growth balanced, keeping a pleasing shape and when Bert the Bonsai gets too big for his boots, eh pot then having the confidence to repot your tree. 

Learner Permit Bonsai Tree

My first Bonsai was a Serissa also known as the ‘Tree of a Thousand Stars’ or the ‘Snow Rose’ for its tiny white flowers. Its the typical tree that most of the planet starts with. Other trees would be the Ligustrum also called a Privet.

Any indoor Bonsai in temperate climates can be difficult to maintain. For the first couple of weeks you have to make sure your little Bert has enough light, not direct but enough. Also that his soil doesn’t dry out too quickly. Bert is not too fond of direct heat. The soil will dry out too quickly and become very flaky and not retain water. There is a difference between water clogged soil and good water retention. If you see small pools on top of the soil or the water is not draining enough on what has gone in, then change the soil.

My first Bonsai back in 96′ was gift bought in a supermarket. If you bought your Bonsai (Bert) from a supermarket give it a once over health check and beauty treatment. You see Bonsai bought in supermarkets have a short shelf life 9excuse the pun) after spending too much time in a box, been cared for by people who are not gardeners. They dont have the best of starts. If you do happen to buy a tree from a supermarket here are some quick tips to ensure your little Bert will stand some sort of a chance.

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  • Before buying, check that leaves and branches are not damaged. 
  • Check that it is not pot bound. a pot bound tree is sure to be drained of nutrients
  • That the soil is not too flaky. It can retain water but drain properly.
  • Dont buy a tree in a cardboard box. If you must, buy one in a transparent container.
  • Make sure the Bonsai comes with a drip tray. this will ensure that the water will drain clearly and it has not been sitting in a damp container.


Try to buy your first Bonsai from a specialist dealer or garden center, at least you have some come back and professional advice.

Three Months on and Graduation!

If your tree has survived its first three months, you can kiss your beginners indoor learner permit goodbye and look at more interesting Bonsai challenges. By now you have a strong appreciation of Bonsai although it does seem difficult it is not. Your first three months is learning about balance, the yin and yang and that patience in growing a tree educates.

Whats next? You could join a club, read copious amount of Bonsai books, spent hours reading and researching, writing articles for your favourite Bonsai website (me) about your Bonsai journey or discover the other aspects of Japanese gardening and art. 

Perhaps after a couple of years when you become a Bonsai teacher you too can tell people how you started with your ‘Bonsai Learner Permit’.


Over the next few weeks I will be bringing you more articles from ‘Bert the Bonsai’ and the ‘Bonsai Learner Permit’ series.


Other articles for the Bonsai Learner Permit!

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If there are any topics that you would like to see covered on bonsai.ie please email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this article. 


Snow Rose Bonsai image courtesy of LinuxArtist.





Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging

A Tokonoma is a time-honored architectural detail of many older Japanese homes. These alcoves occupy a corner in a room, and often hold a scroll, an ikebana flower arrangement or other artwork. More than a display area, a tokonoma is seen as a sacred space that is not to be invaded, and the seat closest to it is often reserved for the most honored guests.

Ikebana is an important part of such a display. First developed by Chinese monks in the 1500s, its principles were a closely guarded secret for many centuries. When the art arrived in Japan, this method of floral arranging was practiced only by Japanese royalty and samurai families. Much later, it became better known to more people, spreading eventually to the West.

The word itself means “the way of the flower.” Its purpose is to create a harmonious balance between flowers and the environment. Where Western flower arrangements are often a profusion of wide-open blossoms, ikebana’s art is based on the idea that less is more. Arrangements are spare, and emphasize the linear rather than the circular. An arrangement consists of three main parts, each with its own spiritual meaning. The center section is the tallest, and represents Heaven. The second section on one side represents Mankind, and the third section on the opposite side represents Earth.

Proportion is also very important. “Mankind” is designed to be three-quarters the height of Heaven, and “Earth” is meant to be three-quarters the size of Mankind. Thus, a beautiful proportion of descending height is created, bringing the spiritual into balance with the corporeal and human worlds. After the three main stems are established in their proper proportion and place, a few carefully selected, smaller stems may be added, but it is always a good idea to add as little as possible so as not to overwhelm the eye. Also of great importance is the choice of container as an added artistic element. Containers may be wide and shallow, such as the type used in bonsai arrangements. They may also be tall and slender. The base of the container should hold a heavy piece of metal with closely-set prongs called a kenzan, to hold the stems in place.Ikebana-Yoshiko_Nakamura

There are three main styles of ikebana: Rikka, which is upright and vertical, Nageire, which has a natural form that can be upright or cascading, and the lower Moribana, which means “piled flowers.”

Much like the art of bonsai, this type of floral arranging can take many enjoyable, meditative hours. The life of the arrangement can be extended by various methods such as charring the ends of stems, crushing them and adding salt, vinegar or even rubbing alcohol, however, it is best to research the best method for each particular type of flower before applying one of these methods.

To learn “the way of the flower,” begin simply. There is no limit to the type of arrangements that can be made if the basic philosophy of heaven, mankind and earth in proportion is observed.




  • Shiko Ikebana image with permission from Junko. Ikebana training school and shop.
  • Image on right side. Photo taken by Joe Mabel. Artwork created by Yoshiko Nakamura.
  • If you are interested in antique Ikebana pots see the Craig Coussins Tokonoma page.



Bonsai, the silent garden

Life is hectic and perhaps stressful at times. Everyone needs an outlet to discharge those struggles and anxieties of the day and growing Bonsai can help you achieve this much-needed balance in one’s life.

Bonsai’s offer a uniqueness to the grower. They allow you to feel liberated as you release your creativity in designing your tree to be natural, mimicking nature from a wind-swept tree that could be found in West Cork to a cascade hanging off a cliff in the Mourne mountains. The benefits of growing a Bonsai tree continue farther than the realms of imagination alone. Bonsai gardeners feel an immense reduction in stress as this silent garden grows.

Growing this intricate plant takes time and patience. It is not a request but a requirement. This amazing plant will grow, develop, and thrive with each passing year. A sturdy plant that necessitates a patient set of hands to cultivate, trim, and water, it is what this particular plant appreciates. Be kind and gentle to the serene plant, and it will recompense the care with the progress of a relaxing silent garden. This is a garden that evokes tranquility by its mere presence.

Growing and caring for plants is directly related to caring for Mother Nature, and a sense of peace and serenity is most often felt by gardeners. The trimming and caring compels gardeners to relax and feel at peace. The time and patience involved with gardening creates the idyllic Zen atmosphere as one becomes a single entity with the plant. When one cares for a plant, they are focused, disregarding the materialistic world that surrounds them, and taking pleasure in the most basic forms of life. To be Zen is to be a part of the evolving universe. This plant allows one to take part in the evolution of life by caring for a living thing.

The silent garden also silently works hard to purify the air that surrounds it. As with most plants, Bonsai strive to rid the atmosphere of dangerous pollutants and toxins in the air. The better care the plant receives, the stronger it will be to filter the air. Cleaner air, decreased stress, and a real sense of achievement as the plant flourishes is only the beginning of the many rewards one will receive as the begin this life-changing hobby.

To learn more about bonsai, take a look at one of the following links:

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Beginner Bonsai – Juniper

A Juniper bonsai is one type of bonsai trees that is suitable for beginners because it is quite easy to be taken care of.

Their are many types of juniper that can be turned into bonsai, such as Shimpaku, Japanese Garden, Green Mound, Chinese Juniper, Sargents, and Needle. These trees are also adaptive as they can be placed outdoors or even indoors. This means that they are great for bringing a little greenery to a room where you might spend a lot of time reading, or spending some free time playing on websites like http://www.partycasino.com/. On the other hand, they can thrive just as well in an outdoor space, like a garden rockery. So you have plenty of options available to locate your Juniper and by following some basic rules in growing juniper bonsai, the plant will flourish without giving too many problems.

One of important characteristics of juniper bonsai is that it need a dormancy period. This period can be considered as hibernation or resting, which is required by the tree to revitalize during spring and summer.

Like other bonsai, proper watering is important for juniper bonsai. Although it prefers a dry period between each watering, you should never leave the plant dry for a long period of time as it will stress and kill it. The proper way to water the bonsai is to soak it in a tray full of water up to its trunk for five to ten minutes. Then you should allow the plant to drain properly because waterlogged soil can rot the roots of the bonsai.

On the other hand, if you use a tap water, you should repeat the process several times. You can water the juniper bonsai, wait for several minutes, and then start watering again. This repetition is to make sure that the soil and the bonsai has stored enough water to grow.

Maintain the right humidity is important for your juniper bonsai. To create the preferable environment, you can place the plant on top of tray filled with small stones and water. The stones prevent the pot to be soaked with water, while the water will evaporate and create humid environment around the plant. Another good strategy in this regard is to use moss on the trunk of the juniper bonsai. Moss will improve moisture retention and additionally it also gives a more natural look.

Sufficient amount of sunlight is another factor that you should pay attention at to take care of your juniper bonsai. Low intensity sunlight, such as in the early morning and late afternoon, is enough for the plant. If you put the juniper indoors, you can place it near a window to get the essential sunlight. Fluorescent lamps can be used as an alternative if there is no enough sunlight available. You need to expose the plant around twelve hours a day if you use this artificial light.

Every two weeks, you should fertilize the juniper bonsai so it will receive important nutrients. Organic fertilizer is the most suitable type for this purpose. Repotting the plant should be done once every year or two years. During this repotting, you should also prune the roots to keep the plant small and to reduce the pressure experienced by the roots as it is contained in a small pot.


Written by Cindy Heller

Tips for Buying a Bonsai

Maureen Massey brings you the beginner some great tips on looking after your first bonsai. With these simple bits of advice you and your tree will get off to a good start.



  1. Try to buy from a reputed bonsai specialist or garden centre where the staff can help you choose the bonsai that most suits your needs. Indoor or outdoor, light of shade, the correct temperature etc. They can give you advice on the best position to keep your tree and how to care for it. If they don’t know, don’t buy!
  2. Make sure that you know the type of tree you are buying and you are given comprehensive care instructions on how to mind it. A label isn’t enough.
  3. Check to see if the soil is wet and the foliage is plentiful, healthy and undamaged. (Deciduous tree are the exception to this in the autumn, as leaves are falling. These trees should be bare in winter
  4. Avoid buying in supermarkets and hardware stores. Chances are that the bonsai has not seen light or water for several days. They may be cheap, but it’s a false economy if they die soon after you buy them.
  5. Make sure the place you buy has an aftercare service, so you can return for further advice, re-potting etc. Anywhere else and you are on your own.
  6. Avoid bonsai that seem wobbly in the pot, or looks like a twig stuck in the soil. The tree should have a well balanced shape and good anchor roots and should be in a proper bonsai pot, with good drainage holes.
  7. Finally, choose the tree that appeals to you and you feel that you can mind properly. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as a bonsai is an ongoing project and there is always room for improvement. If taken care of it should last for years and give you hours of pleasure
  8. Make sure the person you are buying for would like a bonsai and will appreciate it.
  9. Be sure they will take care of it properly, and not shove it in the corner and forget about it.
  10. Don’t give a bonsai to someone who is away a lot or is not good at caring for plants.
  11. Don’t buy it too early before christmas so you have to mind it and hide it away until the day.Shoving it in the bottom of the wardrobe is not an option.