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Must-See Bonsai Exhibits Across the USA

Most people don’t realize that there are bonsai all around us – possibly even in a museum near you. Here are some of the best exhibits across America for enthusiasts and admirers alike to visit:

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum
Location: Washington, DC
Admission: Free

This exhibit in the nation’s capital was established in 1976 and is considered the premier destination for those interested in the art-form. Located in the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., the exhibit boasts many beautiful specimens including the famous 390 year old tree that survived the Hiroshima explosion. Don’t miss this expansive display of Chinese, Japanese, and American subjects.

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt
Location: Oakland, CA
Admission: Free

This exhibit in Oakland, CA is maintained by the Golden State Bonsai Federation and contains an impressive collection of literally hundreds of trees, from Trident Maple and Korean Hornbeam to Redwoods and Shimpaku Junipers. The list is exhaustive, and there is something for virtually every enthusiast in this beautiful, colorful collection.

The Huntington
Location: San Marino, CA
Admission: $10 (Kids) – $23-25 (Adults)

The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA is the second of the two exhibits maintained by the Golden State Bonsai Federation. The Huntington’s collection is considered one of the finest of its kind in the United States, and their ever-changing exhibit contains trees ranging from relatively young to around 1000 years old. The collection numbers in the hundreds, with a multitude of species. The trees span two peaceful courtyards, with the shohin collection residing against the soothing background of a beautiful water feature.

The North Carolina Arboretum
Location: Asheville, NC
Admission: $12 (Parking fee only)

The bonsai collection at the NC Arboretum is fairly new, having been established in 1992 upon the generous donation of a number of trees from a private donor. The Arboretum took off with the concept of a display and assigned caretakers to the precious trees. Since that time, the exhibit has grown to over a hundred specimens, including some cultivated from seeds or cuttings right onsite. The Arboretum takes particular pride in their local species, such as the Eastern White Pine and American Hornbeam, which represent the Blue Ridge region and allow the exhibit to retain a local flair.

Marie Selby Botanic Gardens
Location: Sarasota, Fl
Admission: $6 (Kids) – $19 (Adults)

The story of the Sho Fu Bonsai Exhibit at Selby in Sarasota, FL is an interesting one. The Sho Fu Bonsai Society approached Selby in 2007 with the idea of instituting a bonsai exhibit. It took two years and much negotiation and fundraising on the part of the society, but in 2009 the exhibit finally opened, appropriately timed during the Asian Festival. The display is small but elegant, and is a testament to the devotion and perseverance of enthusiasts. Volunteers from Sho Fu maintain the exhibit.

If you have the opportunity to visit one of these beautiful exhibits, you won’t be disappointed. It might even inspire you to donate a tree or two to your own local botanical gardens. As awareness and popularity of the art-form spread, more and more people will be exposed to bonsai through amazing displays like these.

Which Bonsai Shape is Right for YOU?

There are so many ways to train and shape a bonsai, you will want to spend some time perusing photos of the various forms until you find the one that speaks to your soul. Some shapes are more complicated than others to achieve, such as Windswept, so try to choose one of the simpler forms if you’re a beginner.

Some of the most common shapes include:

Informal upright – Moyogi

Informal upright is frequent in both nature and the art of bonsai. The trunk is tapered, from wider at the bottom to narrower at the top, with a discernible “S” shape, and leaves branches occurr at all of the curves.

Formal upright – Chokkan

Formal uprights also have a tapered trunk, but no curving. This tree shape is very common for bonsai and occurs frequently in nature as well. The very top of the formal upright is one single branch. Conifers are well-suited to this shape, and the finished tree is a clearly recognizable triangle.

Broom – Hokidachi

The broom has a straight trunk which ends and branches out about a third of the way up the tree. The branches spread out into a large, rounded broom shape – a sight which is very familiar in nature, particularly in winter when all the branches are bare and the full broom effect is recognizable. Fine-branched deciduous species take particularly well to this bonsai.

Semi cascade – Han-kengai

Possibly one of the most stereotypical shapes that appear in our imagination when we think of bonsai, the semi-cascade has a trunk that is only upright for a small portion, then bends down to the side. The tree’s crown remains above the level of the pot, while the branches dip down below the rim, but not below the pot’s bottom as they do on a regular cascade bonsai.

Slanting – Shakan

Slanting occurs in nature when the wind blows consistently in one direction or when the tree is forced to bend in order to obtain sunlight. With a tapered trunk that may contain some curvature, the tree should be at approximately a 60-80 degree angle from the surface of the soil. The root system is stronger on one side in order to keep the tree upright. While almost any tree can be trained to slant, pine and maple are especially suited.

Double trunk – Sokan

One of the less common styles in bonsai art, the double trunk is often seen in nature. Its defining characteristic is the two trunks that share a root system, although sometimes one trunk will grow from the other just above the surface of the ground. One trunk is more substantial while the other comes out to the side a bit and is typically thinner, and the tree is topped by a unified crown of leaves.

It’s easy to get caught up just looking at all the different bonsai shape options; each is unique and beautiful, and one of our bonsai trees may just be perfect for you!

10 Best Bonsai Tree Species for Beginners

When you’re first getting into the art of bonsai, the amount of information can be overwhelming – what kind of plant to choose, what kind of container, how much to water it, and most importantly – how to trim and train it into the zen tree of your dreams!

It all starts with choosing the best tree for your particular needs and desires (Check out our selection of beginner bonsai kits). Here are some great choices, most very suitable for beginners:

  1. Green Mound Juniper
    Green Mound Juniper

    Juniper – one of the most typical, the evergreen juniper is a good beginning tree and can be formed into almost any bonsai shape except upright formal and broom. Chinensis is a good choice of sub-species, both for its availability as well as its beauty and ease of shaping. We have a Windswept Juniper Beginner Kit with everything you need.

  2. Trident Maple
    Trident Maple

    Maple – popular due to its stunning appearance both in winter and when in leaf, the deciduous maple is a hardy tree, easily trainable and can be rooted from cuttings. The leaves, while fairly large, take well to leaf trimming (the practice of cutting the leaf bunches off, tricking the tree into producing new, tinier leaves).

  3. Buddhist Pine
    Buddhist Pine

    Pine – the evergreen pine makes for good bonsai of all types except broom. You should have a little experience under your belt first as pines do require some fussing to get exactly right.

  4. Chinese Elm
    Chinese Elm

    Elm – elms are fantastic bonsai. They are forgiving, easily grown from seed or cuttings, and are native virtually all over the United States. Chinese and Zelcova are the most common cultivars.

  5. Dawn Redwood
    Dawn Redwood

    Redwood – ironically known as the record-holding giants for height, actually make good bonsai. Two sub-species, Coast Redwood and Dawn Redwood, have flat-needled foliage, making for beautiful shaping.

  6. Satsuki Azalea
    Satsuki Azalea

    Azalea (Rhododendron) – known for their gorgeous, bright flowers, rhododendrons make a surprisingly suitable miniature “tree”. They do have a delicate system of roots that must be kept moist, either by frequent watering or a shield like moss.

  7. Golden Gate Ficus
    Golden Gate Ficus

    Ficus – this traditional bonsai favorite is excellent for two reasons: it’s forgiving of mistakes often made by new growers, and it’s one of the few species that can be grown indoors. We have a beginner kit with a ficus available here

  8. yewYew – this evergreen shrub is tolerant to shade and takes to shaping. It is a thirsty species, so water frequently, and the foliage is poisonous if ingested so use care with small children.
  9. Dwarf Umbrella
    Dwarf Umbrella

    Dwarf Umbrella – or Schefflera arboricola, great for beginners and considered a true indoor bonsai. While this plant doesn’t take well to typical bonsai shapes, it is easy to keep alive and possesses its own unique beauty.

  10. Bald Cypress
    Bald Cypress

    Bald Cypress – this cypress is a deciduous conifer with needle-like foliage that turns colors in autumn. Cypress have high water needs, and should be finger pruned rather than with scissors or other tools.

View our Beginner Bonsai Kits

Our beginner bonsai kits include EVERYTHING you need to get started with bonsai, including tools, fertilizer, a specific care guide and a Bonsai 101 book

Most of these species should be easily obtained from nature itself or from a reputable bonsai dealer like Dallas Bonsai. The hardest part is choosing!

New Year Giveaway Winners

This New Year we gave away a $450 and $250 gift card to two lucky winners. Our New Year Giveaway is complete and all winners have now been notified.

Congratulations to Douglas D. with ticket number 5218066 for winning our $450 gift card and Lauren H. for winning our $250 gift card with ticket number 5218124.

Thank you all for participating in the giveaway! We look forward to doing more giveaways in the coming months!

What Tools and Supplies Do I Need?

When first beginning on your bonsai journey the array of available tools, supplies, and equipment can be dizzying. There are literally hundreds of items that can be used in bonsai care, from the bare basics all the way to top-of-the-line extravagant specialty tools. Where to start?

What You Really Need in the Beginning:

  • Bonsai scissor: these are an essential basic, and it’s better to go with a high-quality pair of Japanese shears (available at than a cheap substitute. You will use these for lots of leaf and branch trimming so you want them to last, and not damage your tree.
  • Concave cutter: concave pruners are a staple for bonsai owners because they allow branches to be cut away from the trunk without leaving a huge, ugly scar. This tool makes a slightly indented cut that will heal nicely.
  • Wire cutter: it’s useful to have the specific set made for the art-form because they have a special rounded head that protects your tree while cutting and removing wire.
  • Small plier: you will be doing quite a bit of bending and manipulating wire while training your tree, and a quality pair of pliers will make this job much easier.

Tools That Are Handy to Have:

  • Root cutter: specially designed to make pruning roots easier, these cutters have very strong blades that are able to slice through the thick fibers of a hefty root system.
  • Root hook: while a chopstick is often used and can be sufficient with smaller bonsai, a root hook is useful when working with a larger tree that has stronger roots.
    Japanese watering wand: these have a very fine shower stream, allowing you to water and wash your plant without fear of soil disturbance.
  • An assortment of brushes: there are a multitude of brush choices, from nylon to steel and more. These can be helpful in cleaning your bonsai’s trunk, as well as rubbing branches to stimulate growth in desired areas.
  • Soil scoops: these come in handy while measuring out various components of your potting mix, and can also filter out dust at the same time.
  • Saw: depending on the size of your bonsai, you may need a small saw to cut branches. There are specific Japanese saws made for cutting bonsai.
  • Turntable: a turntable makes it smooth and easy to turn your tree as you’re pruning, trimming, and wiring. A luxury item perhaps, but still very useful.

Don’t worry about investing a ton of money right at first – as your bonsai experience grows and evolves you will learn through practice which items will be most beneficial to you.

Like any hobby or art, bonsai growing can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, but either way the reward is a beautiful living piece of artwork.

Indoors vs. Outdoor Bonsai: What’s the Difference?

Many people tend to think of bonsai as primarily indoor plants. This misconception was helped along by the movie “The Karate Kid” in which one of the main characters had a bonsai that he kept in the house. The truth is that the vast majority of trees and plants suitable for bonsai must be kept outdoors. These temperate species must go through a period of dormancy during winter, just as they do in nature.

There are, however, a few species that can be kept inside and lend themselves to the classic bonsai shaping and training. These are mostly tropical or sub-tropical plants which must be sheltered from weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the best indoor species include:

  • Ficus – the beloved ficus – or fig tree – is easy to care for and can be shaped beautifully, offering the traditional look of the bonsai we know and love. They require high humidity, and should be monitored for water needs rather than following a schedule. The leaves are poisonous to animals so keep out of reach of pets.
  • Jade – the Portulacaria afra is a succulent that is much less fussy than many tropicals. It retains a lot of water in its leaves so you probably won’t need to water frequently. It should be repotted every other spring and needs good drainage.
  • Privet – often used for hedges, privet is hardy and great for beginners. It requires average watering and fertilizing and bright light for at least some of the day.
  • Carmona – known as the Fukien Tea, this China native has small dark green leaves and can produce little white flowers, and sometimes berries, year round. The water level should be kept well-balanced, as it is sensitive to both over- and under-watering.
  • Sageretia Theezans – known as the Bird Plum, and another native to China, this tropical evergreen also produces white flowers. It needs to be kept moist all the time, and should at least have sun in the morning.

Outdoor species like juniper, maple, and flowering bush species are typically easier to care for because they are used to being in their natural, temperate climate, one with seasons and a period of dormancy in winter. Some outdoor species can be converted to indoors but it usually requires a very seasoned bonsai artist and special procedures. It’s better to start out with the kind of bonsai you want right from the start.

Keep in mind that indoor species will still need adequate light – this can be achieved by putting the plant in a sunny window for long periods during the day or by artificial light systems. If your species requires high humidity you can use a fish tank or other clear plastic container to provide the required level.

Myths and Origins of the Bonsai

Although the word bonsai itself is Japanese (literally translated “plant in a tray”), its origins can be traced to China, where the practice was much simpler than the art-form we know today. About 2300 years ago, the Chinese jettisoned their Taoist belief in the Five Elements Theory (wood, earth, water, fire, and metal) into “pun-sai” – the practice of cultivating dwarf trees in small containers. It took over a thousand years but eventually, somewhere around the 12th century, the art of pun-sai made it to Japan just as Zen Buddhism was spreading throughout the orient. At some point the trees broke free of their monastery homes and began to have exposure in important Japanese circles.

The Japanese ran with the concept, developing and refining it over the centuries into something like what we know today. The unique plants came to be revered and would be brought out among the elite on special occasions. The humble trees were embraced by Japan because of their representation of the bond between man, spirituality, and nature. After WWII, Americans were exposed to the art-form when people from all walks of life were exposed to Japanese culture and traditions. Its popularity then spread to Europe and across the world.

As bonsai became popular in the Western world, so did misconceptions about the fascinating little trees:

  • Myth: bonsai is a specific species of miniature tree. In fact, bonsai is not a species; the little “plants in a tray” can be formed from a wide range of trees and shrubs – almost any perennial, woody cultivar can be coaxed into a suitable bonsai. In fact one of the most popular flowering bonsai is the azalea. features a wide variety of appropriate trees.
  • Myth: bonsai are indoor plants. This myth was partly propagated – or exacerbated – by the movie “The Karate Kid”, in which Mr. Miyagi had an indoor bonsai. There are a few species that can be kept indoors but the vast majority need to be outside most of the year.
  • Myth: bonsai are like cacti and can be ignored most of the time, requiring little to no watering or care. These little trees are a commitment – there’s no doubt about it, they need to be monitored, watered, pruned, trained, and sometimes nursed back to health.
  • Myth: eventually they become “full grown” and will remain their miniature size for the life of the tree. In fact, they will continue to grow – albeit slowly – and need trimming and pruning.
  • Myth: a bonsai should look very old – the older and more gnarled the better! The truth is that the tree should look however its owner desires. Yes, traditionally scars and other signs of age have been attractive to bonsai artists, but they certainly aren’t necessary – your tree should represent whatever you want it to.
  • Rumors abound about this ancient mysterious art-form, which may just make it all the more captivating to our imaginations!

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