Strategies to Collect Bonsai Trees

When I first got interested in the art of bonsai, in January 2018, I went to Home Depot and looked around at all of the stock they had. The selection was ultra trim and several trees were covered up by white tarps. I noticed some 3' tall Blue Point Junipers that were not covered up and the price was $20. Without putting to much thought into it, I just bought one and took it home. I was motivated to start practicing and purchasing plants from nurseries is what most of us know. It's how I have always expanded my garden.

As we grow in Bonsai it helps to understand all of the different ways to collect trees. Home Depot doesn't have a massive selection of the type of tress I want. There are several options available but they all have their pros and cons. I'm practicing all of these techniques to grow my collection.

  1. Air Layering - This is one of the best techniques to get mature specimens as long as you have access to trees. I happen to have a lot of trees around me so I always have several air layers going. Don't underestimate air layering. You can buy small trees but it takes many years for them to mature. You can air layer large branches and within a few months the roots are strong enough to sustain a new tree. This technique shaves off years and costs far less than buying large trees! To learn more about this technique see my How To Air Layer Trees article.
  2. Nursery Stock - This is how I started. I bought a Blue Point Juniper from Home Depot and it's my first official bonsai tree. There are several varieties available at nurseries and depending on your area you can find some really amazing specimens. Some more expensive than others. Starting small is best as a beginner. 1, 3, 5 gallon type plants are excellent. Some great starter plants could be Blue Point Juniper, Blue Rug Juniper, Ficus, Boxwood are all excellent starters and common in most zones. As you develop and gain experience you can really find some amazing specimens out there. Take a look at the Mugo Pine, Japanese Maple, Eastern Red Cedar trees next.
  3. Digging Up a Tree - Collecting and transplanting trees in the wild is a great technique as well as you can get great mature specimens. Obtain permission from the land owner. Digging is hard work and timing is key. Do your research and get to digging. Many local clubs have season excursions where they go onto pre-approved land and dig up trees.
  4. Buying a Bonsai - Fast track a bonsai tree by purchasing one. Many local nurseries have a small selection of bonsai trees and if they don't you can find them online. Who sells them? Brussel's Bonsai Nursery or Eastern Leaf are great companies. They have massive selections to choose from and ship all over. Most budget friendly specimens that I've seen have been air layered and lack trunk taper. They don't appear mature so you should still expect that they require development to build a strong nabari ie. root flare.
  5. Seeds - I mentioned planting seeds to an expert bonsai enthusiast and they chuckled and said "Good luck with seeds, it's going to take a long time to achieve a bonsai from seed." I certainly agreed with them. Although, bonsai is not a rush hobby so it would make sense to attain trees in many different ways. It's an investment to sew some seeds and nurture them in an area of your yard or greenhouse. After a couple years you will be able to work with them a bit. Another reason for planting seeds is they are really cheap and easy to get varieties that the stores don't sell. I really wanted a Japanese Black Pine, Spruce and Frasier Fir and Home Depot doesn't really sell those. Neither do the other plant stores in my area. Now, the Frasier Fir isn't for a bonsai, it's so I can have live Christmas trees instead of chopping them down or buying them year after year. It's also really fun to grow from seed and the kids love planting them. I have 6 Japanese Black Pines growing healthy and in a few years I'll have something to enjoy styling.