5 Tips for Starting a Bonsai Collection

5 Tips for Starting a Bonsai Collection

Collecting is a great way to show off your passion for something. As renowned author, journalist, and broadcaster Hunter Davies wrote in a 2014 article for The Guardian, “Collect things you love. The value to you is simply pleasure.” If you love plants and nature, building a Bonsai tree collection can be a beautiful and rewarding hobby. Bonsai is an ancient living art that began in China over 1,000 years ago and gained popularity as a craft in Japan over the centuries. It’s now popular worldwide, especially in Brazil, Europe, and the United States. Bonsai is simply an ornamental tree in a pot, grown and styled to create a miniaturized and sometimes stylized representation of a tree in nature. 

A great way to satisfy your love for bonsai is by developing a personal collection. Here are five tips for starting a collection that you can enjoy:

Focus Your Collection - Specialize on What You Love

Next time you go for a walk in your neighborhood or a hike in the woods, take notice of the trees and plants that catch your eye. You may want to begin your collection by focusing on the species of trees you love to see in nature. While the most popular species vary by climate, in general Juniper, Elm, Ficus, Pine, and Maple are perennial favorites. You may realize you love variety and end up with one each of a hundred different species, or decide that you want to focus your collection on a hundred trees of the same species. Focus on what makes your collection delightful and fun for you. 

Add to Your Collection - Start Cheap and Work Your Way Up

Bonsai are not the same as an orchid that blooms and is then discarded, or a succulent that can survive for years with little care or attention. Bonsai offer an exciting and rewarding horticultural challenge; they can live for decades or longer, and you need patience and perseverance to care for them properly. Because of this many people choose to start with inexpensive bonsai trees with a goal of building a larger and more specialized collection as they gain experience. The health and maintenance of your first few plants will help reassure you that you’re ready to provide the long-term care a bonsai needs to thrive. As you gain confidence, you can add older and more refined (e.g. more expensive) trees to your collection. 

Research Your Collection - Do Your Homework

As you begin to focus on the species of trees you love, you will also need to determine the ideal style and tree - container combinations that fit any particular bonsai. Scroll Instagram and Pinterest to see how others are styling similar trees. Each species, each style, and each tree - container combination produces a unique aesthetic. Examine how the branching structure is created, and how the tree is paired with a container (e.g. pot). Use this knowledge to help you improve the trees in your collection. 

Organize, Display, and Share Your Collection

You can create wonderful visual compositions with your bonsai trees. The more simple the background, the better for displaying your collection. A bonsai set in front of a fence or with a solid wall as a backdrop will be a more interesting display than one set in front of large flowering bushes or among wild grass. You can create permanent places to show your trees, like a stand in the corner of your garden or deck, or temporary places like a wooden slab on your dining table. Group trees by size and species; this can help you examine the different and overlapping needs of each tree. Once you’re satisfied with your display, snap some photos and share them with your friends, or invite others to enjoy the work you put into the display. 

Maintain Your Collection

Bonsai is not a static art - you cannot “finish” your living tree and expect it to stay that way. In addition to regular watering, fertilization, and access to direct sunlight, you should plan to study and learn the appropriate techniques and timing to care for your trees. Develop and maintain a regular schedule of tree care with notes to ensure you can replicate things that work well for your local climate. Keep in mind that to stay healthy, some of your trees may need to be relocated for more direct sunlight or for shade, based on the species, your climate, and the season.

There are many bonsai exhibits and collections available for public viewing across the United States, from the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum located in Washington, D.C., to the Golden State Bonsai Federations collections in Northern and Southern California. You can find inspiration virtually by visiting these and others online, using this complete list provided by the American Bonsai Society. You can also visit Eric’s personal IG @ericschraderbonsai page to see his collection.

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