Be Prepared, Be Successful
Growing and styling bonsai can be a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby. However, there are a few things that you must be prepared to commit to in order to be successful.
Be prepared to invest some time in your trees nearly every day. Five minutes of your time may be sufficient on many days, but it must be on nearly every day; bonsai is not a ‘weekend only’ hobby. Vacations can be easily accommodated with a little planning, and if you grow only outdoor varieties, these will be dormant under the snow all winter. If you want a year-round hobby, try growing tropical trees. On about a weekly basis you will need to spend a bit more time with your trees inspecting them and possibly fertilizing or pruning them. This may take an hour or two for just a few trees, and is often the most enjoyable part of the hobby. Occasionally you may need to intervene in order to deal with insects or other pests.
You must accept that your trees will not look old and venerable overnight. They may look interesting in a few weeks, and pretty good in a year or two, but you must be patient. Watching them develop over time is part of the enjoyment of the hobby. Having trees that you have created at various stages provides great satisfaction.
You must accept that the trees will be outdoors in the summer, or on a patio, or at least get lots of fresh air and light. The image of a bonsai tree gracing our home, and adding a touch of interest to the decor, is a compelling one. The reality is that bonsai trees must be kept where conditions are best for the tree. Trees can be displayed indoors for a few days at a time, but they will not grow well there. Some tropicals can be grown reasonably well in a specifically designed area with dedicated lighting and air movement, if no outdoor area is available.
You don’t have to be a horticultural expert, but you must be willing to learn a bit about basic plant growth, types of trees, and their unique growing habits if you expect to succeed. There will likely be an occasional need to deal with plant pests or diseases, and some basic study of these and handling of remedies is required. Lots of support is available from the club on both counts, and an introductory course is highly recommended.
Bonsai is a combination of horticulture and art... there are some basic guidelines to the art form, which anyone can learn. There are also techniques to pruning and shaping. You must learn these bonsai basics, which also have some horticultural basis; trees grow in certain shapes because they are healthy that way. Once the basics are understood, you have the freedom and knowledge to create a bonsai as you want it to look.
With these few commitments, you can grow beautiful bonsai.