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Beginners Corner - Recommended Trees

by Gail Theron

I feel that it is very important for a beginner to start with a tree which will prove rewarding in a relatively short time as one can very easily become frustrated and discouraged if there appears to be no results from all your labours of love.

One of the biggest mistakes we make as beginners is to buy a potential bonsai and rush to put it in as flat a pot as we can - a tree will develop much faster in a large container with all its roots intact and it is possible to feed it more vigorously than if it were in a shallow bonsai pot.

Patience plays a very important part in the art of Bonsai and if you train and feed diligently, withhin a couple of years you could have the start of a promising bonsai. That is the time to put your tree into a Bonsai pot.

Design your tree on paper and then prune it and wire it. After that feed it regularly fortnightly during summer using 2-3-2 or Seagro or Liquid manure. I like to feed with a different food each fortnight. It is no use feeding your tree if at the same time you do not control the growth that ensues from feeding. Take off unwanted new branches and twigs, allow branches to grow long that you want to fatten up. Watch the apex very carefully as most species tend to send strong heavy growth to the top of the tree, to the detriment of lower branches.

Trees that I recommend for beginners are:

  1. Olea europa var. afr.(Wild Olive}. These are evergreen and hardy; the leaves miniaturise very well; they sprout an abundance of new branches on hard wood; they can be obtained from nurseries, grown from cuttings and dug from the wild.
  2. Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm) - a deciduous tree, delightful in spring when it gets its new foliage. As with the Olive, leaves miniaturise well and it breaks back well on hard wood. Available from nurseries; I have had a great deal of success with root cuttings and air layering.
  3. Ficus natalensis (Natal wild fig) - ideal for root over rock style. It is very flexible, can easily be wired and sets in position very quicckly. It is one of the few subjects that one can actually notice increasing in girth in a bonsai pot. It grows well from heavy cuttings rooting within 5-8weeks in summer.

When starting on your Bonsai collection it is best to start with a subject that has proved itself rather than some obscure variety. Have a look at more experienced growers collections and you will save yourself many a year of trial and error.

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Random Bonsai Tip

Where the primary branch is thinner than the secondary one, prune back the secondary hard, keep it trimmed back and allow the primary branch to grow unhindered until it has thickened.