In Japanese, the word “bonsai” is written as 盆栽. “Bon,” the left-hand character, means “shallow dish.” “Sai,” the right-hand character, means “a tree that is planted” (as opposed to growing naturally). Hence, the term “bonsai” refers to a tree planted in a shallow bowl. Bonsai is an art rather than a species. There is no such thing as a “bonsai seeds,” per se. Bonsai uses ordinary tree seeds (if you planted them in the ground, they’d grow into full-size trees). Bonsai is the art and practice of training the trees to grow according to your wishes, and there are many kits available if you’d like to try this fascinating hobby.
The Japanese say, “Aged trees cannot be bent. If you would bend a tree, do it while it is young.” This encompasses the art and goal of bonsai. You must begin training, bending, and shaping your tree from the moment it sprouts. Every day, you must tend to its needs — prune it, pinch it, trim it, and guide its growth — while hiding any evidence that you’ve done so.
Bonsai kits include much more than seeds. Keep reading and we can help you choose the right one. We’ve included some of our favorites, too.
Because there is no such thing as a “bonsai tree” in and of itself, you’ll have to devote some time and energy to the care and shaping of your trees. You can’t simply plant the tree and forget it. You have to water it each day, as well as nip and prune it. You have to check the training wires to make sure they’re not cutting into the wood, which would leave scars. Tending one tree doesn’t take much time, perhaps 15 to 20 minutes a day at most. If you have more than one tree, multiply that amount by the number of trees to find out how much time you’re going to be investing in your hobby each day.
The ultimate shape of your bonsai tree determines the amount of time you’ll need to spend tending it.
Formal upright: This is the full-size tree in miniature. You’re attempting to copy the way it looks in the wild, only smaller.
Informal upright: In this form, the trunk of the tree is trained to grow upright but with bends and curves as it rises. Think of the tree trunk as a squiggly line from top to bottom.
Slanted: In this form, the bonsai is trained to slant to one side as it grows. In other words, it grows at an angle of 45° or less.
Semi-cascade: This is probably the form most people think of when they think of a bonsai tree. The tree is trained to grow sideways, almost in a 90° turn. Most of the foliage grows off to the side of the pot.
Full cascade: In this form, the bonsai has been trained to grow over to the side and down, so the top of the tree is lower than the bottom of the pot.
How much space do you have available for your bonsai trees? They can grow inside, but they need some sunshine, so an area near a window is required. You might want to have a work area where you can prune and train them and a separate display area. Decide ahead of time how and where you want to take care of your bonsai, because you’ll also need to have all your tools available to you as well.
Shaping and tending one or more bonsai trees requires a certain degree of dedication. They are living things, so there is never really a stopping point when your work is finished. A bonsai tree can live for 50 or 60 years, so you need to think of this as a lifelong project, and that requires a certain measure of dedication on your part.
Seeds: It’s common for bonsai starter kits to come with the seeds of at least four different types of trees. Some may come with five or even eight different types. Depending on the type of tree in question, the seeds may be bigger or smaller, which will affect how many of each one you’ll receive. Since there is always a chance that any individual seed will fail to germinate and grow, you should make sure you get at least two seeds for each species of tree in your kit.
Type: Almost any species of tree can be trained as a bonsai, but some are obviously prettier than others. Take a look at the pictures in the description of each kit to decide which ones are right for you. Given the low cost of the kits, there’s no reason you can’t get more than one in order to increase the variety of trees you receive.
If a kit doesn’t include tools, it’s not much of a starter kit, since the word “starter” implies you’re a beginner who doesn’t yet have any of the tools of the trade. Your bonsai starter kit should include, at minimum, pruning shears for cutting the branches and a pair of tweezers for picking up the tiny bits of debris and leaves that fall into the pot. You don’t want to hurt your tree by poking around with your fingers (and there’s usually not much room in the pot anyway).
Instructions are a necessity in a starter kit of any kind, bonsai or otherwise, but not all instructions are created equal. Some aren’t books but pdf files from the company. There’s nothing wrong with pdfs, but when you’re working on your bonsai tree, it can be nice to have the advantage of a book you can lay beside you for quick reference. It’s easier than trying to read print on the little screen of your smartphone.
Did you know?
Nebari, a Japanese word that means “buttressing,” refers to how much of the roots are visible. The more visible roots, the older the tree appears to be.
Bonsai tool kit: Planters’ Choice Premium Bonsai Tool Kit
This tool kit from Planter’s Choice contains all the bonsai tools you need: wide spade, narrow spade, rake, pruning shears, bamboo brush, scissors, and tweezers. A Bonsai 101 Essential Tips book and stylish case are included, too.
Bonsai training wires: Kebinfen Tree Training Wires
This kit from Kebinfen has four spools of aluminum training wire (three black and one green) for a total of 120 feet of rust- and corrosion-resistant wire to help you shape your trees and direct their growth. A wire cutter is included in this kit.
Bonsai guide: Bonsai 101 Essential Tips
This paperback guide to the care and training of bonsai trees by Harry Tomlinson has 101 different ideas, tips, and tricks to guide the beginner and experienced alike. It’s also filled with captioned pictures to guide you every step of the way.
Bonsai tree soil: BonsaiOutlet Bonsai Tree Soil
Normal potting soil isn’t appropriate for bonsai trees, so use this mix from BonsaiOutlet that is specially blended to deliver the correct nutrients to your bonsai trees.
Bonsai starter pots: BonsaiOutlet Bonsai Tree Starter Pots with Trays
Everyone has to start somewhere, so why not begin with these 6-inch starter pots from BonsaiOutlet? Made from heavy-duty poly-resin plastic, these black pots will help you get started without breaking the bank.
Bonsai glazed pots: Happy Bonsai Mini Glazed Pots
These 12 tiny, blue-glazed bonsai pots from Happy Bonsai are perfect for your miniature bonsai trees. They come in four different shapes, all with drainage holes in the bottom. These decorative pots will give you years of use.
Bonsai starter kit prices
Inexpensive: Under $20 is the low range for bonsai starter kits. These are basic kits with minimal instructions.
Mid-range: The average price for most kits is $20 to $25.
Expensive: Anything above $25 is considered the high price range for a bonsai starter kit. These are kits that come with starter trees that are already two to three years old or have wooden containers that can be used as planter boxes.
- Be consistent. With some work every day you can go from a seedling to a bonsai in as little as three months.
- Use the right tools. The basic tools you need for shaping a successful bonsai tree are pruning shears, bud scissors, wire, wire cutters, knob cutter, root hook, and root cutter.
- Use the right soil. The three main types of bonsai soil are Akadama soil, a naturally occurring, clay-like soil that is found mostly in Japan, Kanuma soil, which is a very light pumice-filled volcanic soil, and peat soil. Each tree requires a different mixture of the three soils.
Q. Can all bonsai trees be grown indoors?
A. No. Remember, these are regular trees that you’re training to be small. Deciduous trees especially need winter and summer seasons to remain healthy.
Q. What is the size range for bonsai trees?
A. Traditionally, the smallest size is the Keshitsubo, which is 1 to 3 inches tall. The most common size is the Shohin, which is 5 to 8 inches tall. The largest is the Imperial, which is 5 to 6.6 feet tall.
Q. Is bonsai an art form or a horticultural practice?
A. As practiced over the centuries, it’s a bit of both.