You’ve seen these fascinating little trees either online or perhaps in a friend’s home and you’ve decided that bonsai seems like a great new hobby. Before you jump in with both feet, however, you should realize that many new enthusiasts give up long before reaping the rewards of their hard work because they simply don’t have all the necessary information to succeed. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
1. Choosing the wrong tree: this often happens when people see an eye-catching display marked “bonsai”, down at the local big-box hardware store. Given the tongue-in-cheek term “mallsai” by the enthusiast community, not all of these trees make bad bonsai, it’s just that they may not be in the best health and the prominent display inspires impulse purchasing – which means you might take one home before you even know what to do with it. Your best bet is to order a quality tree from an experienced grower and use the delivery time to research care.
2. Lack of understanding the commitment: some enthusiasts like to say it’s easier to have a pet than a bonsai, because the pet will be very vocal when it needs something. While there are many easy care trees, like ficus and juniper, you will still need to commit to checking on your plant regularly, repotting it when needed (generally every 1-3 years), and arranging for its care if you’re away for extended periods of time. The enjoyment and visual rewards you get out of your bonsai will be commensurate with the effort you put into it.
3. Over-enthusiastic trimming: the minute that exciting little botanical beauty arrives, it’s very tempting to go full-on Edward Scissorhands so that you can get a head start on turning it into the shapely bonsai of your dreams. Because the art-form is one that requires years of training, pruning, and pampering, you should resist the urge to try for the “instant bonsai”. If you think you might be a little too gung-ho about trimming, try a fast-growing plant like juniper or jade; that way your leafy little friend will regenerate more quickly if you accidentally go too far.
4. Getting discouraged too quickly: just as with any type of gardening, you’re probably going to kill a tree or two. No one is perfect at any hobby right away – we fall when we’re learning to ice skate, and we end up with plenty of ugly cakes no one would pay for when we try our hand at bakery-level decorating. Identify your mistakes and try again. You will get it right!
5. Lack of patience: few factors defeat more new bonsai artists than simple lack of patience. Don’t expect miracles overnight – this art-form is not end-goal oriented, rather it’s a years-long process of waiting, and learning, and trimming, and waiting some more. In reality just a few minutes a day can give you a relaxing, visually rewarding hobby that becomes an ever-evolving gift lasting years and years.
Start out right with a healthy plant and reasonable expectations, and these tips will help you bypass common mistakes, giving you an even more satisfying bonsai experience!