Growers Guide: How to Make a Bonsai Tree

Here’s How to Make a Bonsai Tree — for Beginners!

Many people think the word “bonsai” refers to a specific type of tree, but that’s not the case! Bonsai is an art form that involves intentionally stunting the growth of a normal-sized tree and shaping it into a visually compelling specimen. In fact, with the right care, almost any type of plant can be grown in bonsai form!

So, you want to learn how to make a bonsai tree?

There are several ways to get started with the rewarding art of bonsai, and this novice-friendly guide will tell you everything you need to know. Let’s jump in! 

How to Make a Bonsai Tree From a Normal Tree

Select Your Tree

  • Purchase from a nursery: It can be difficult for a novice grower to stunt a juvenile tree. Skip the headache by purchasing an established tree from a nursery or garden center. This way, you can get started mastering the art of bonsai care, and won’t get discouraged by the technical early stages. 
  • Harvest a wild specimen: You can also harvest a small sapling in the region where you live. The pro: Naturally, these species are well suited for the climate in which they’ll be grown. The con: It will take more time and technical care than starting with a nursery bonsai. 

Pick Your Container

A nursery specimen will already be in a pot well suited for making a bonsai tree. If you’re growing a harvested specimen, look for extremely shallow containers with one or more drain holes. That’s because restricting root growth and enabling proper drainage/aeration is the key to stunting growth. 

Bonsai Pro Tip: At this early stage, traditional bonsai pot aesthetics don’t matter. (We’ll touch more on those later!) 

Soil & Soil Maintenance

Your tree will be grown in an extremely confined space, so choosing the right soil is essential. We recommend using a specialty bonsai soil and lining the bottom of the pot with a layer of sand or pebbles to enhance drainage and prevent waterlog. Refresh your soil each time you repot (roughly every two years for younger trees). 

Perplexed about repotting? This handy guide takes you through the process step by step.

Master Watering Techniques

When it comes to watering, no two trees are the same. Some prefer their soil to dry out between waterings, while others hate being thirsty. Do your research and follow the guidelines suggested for your specific tree; a moisture meter ensures you get your timing just right

Provide Proper Nutrients

Your bonsai tree powers new growth by absorbing nutrients from the soil. And limited soil means limited nutrients, so it’s on you to keep your tree well-fed. We recommend using a gentle, urea-free fertilizer every time you water to keep your tree healthy and strong. 

Want more? This bonsai fertilizer cheat sheet is a beginner’s best friend!

How to Make a Bonsai Tree: Training Your Tree

Stunting growth is only one part of making a bonsai tree. Pruning, trimming, and training—along with intentional design—are what separate tiny trees from bonsai masterpieces. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to master bonsai aesthetics. 

Pruning Branches

Pruning allows you to define the shape of your bonsai tree by removing haphazard and unwanted growth. It also limits upward growth, encouraging your tree to grow shorter and fuller. 

  • Maintenance pruning involves trimming small stems and branches to shape your canopy and can be done throughout the growing season. This is how to grow a bonsai tree that looks the way you want it to! 
  • Structural pruning involves cutting off thicker branches to guide the shape of your tree. This should generally be performed right before or after the growing season. Since structural pruning can be quite stressful, you’ll want to look up specific recommendations for your tree’s species. 

Trimming Roots

As above, so below: that’s how to make a bonsai. A healthy dwarf tree above the soil needs healthy, dwarfed roots beneath it. When it’s time to repot, trim the roots so they don’t touch the sides of the pot. You’ll want to trim in a radial shape and cut out any diseased or damaged sections to ensure your tree grows evenly and healthy. 

Leaf Trimming

Perfect your tree’s appearance through leaf-trimming techniques. Trimming and defoliating triggers smaller, denser growth in the affected canopy. Over time, this can achieve a balanced, full canopy or asymmetrical leaf growth for a “windswept” effect. The best techniques vary from tree to tree, so research the specific variety before defoliating.  

Wiring & Wrapping

Although wiring can be intimidating, it’s an essential part of training a young, healthy tree to grow in the direction you want. Wiring may seem complex, but it really comes down to mastering a few key elements. Our guide to bonsai wiring will teach you how to make a bonsai tree using this technique.

Pick the Perfect Pot

Once your juvenile tree is well established, you’ll want to move it to a traditional bonsai tree pot. Bonsai pots should be selected to enhance the elements of balance, harmony, and simplicity in your tree’s design. Make the most of this meaningful, exciting decision with our post on selecting the perfect bonsai tree pot.

Patience, Patience, Patience

The art of making a single bonsai tree can last a lifetime, even generations! Because they require diligent, nourishing care, these pint-sized specimens often live even longer than their life-sized counterparts—and the longevity comes down to you. “Bonsai” doesn’t happen overnight, it requires you to show up day after day and course-correct along the way. 

When we learn how to make a bonsai tree, we’re also learning how to nurture a more present, mindful version of ourselves. By dutifully tending to your tree’s health and appearance, you learn to look toward the future; to pick up on the little things; to make small decisions today for rewarding results in the future. 

And that is bonsai’s true reward. 

Have more questions about how to make a bonsai tree? Start a conversation in the comments section below!

Bonsai With Us!

The Bonsai Resource Center is here to help you learn how to make a bonsai tree and provide you with the tools you need to keep your tree healthy and strong. Explore our other articles, visit our online shop, and connect with other bonsai lovers in our Facebook group to learn everything you need to know about this rewarding hobby!

More Bonsai Tree Care Resources

How to Keep Your Bonsai Tree Small

The Ultimate Bonsai Plant FAQ Cheat Sheet

5 Easy Tips to Master Advanced Bonsai Tree Care

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