October 17, 2004 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I've decided that I need a new hobby and am thinking that growing bonsai trees might be it. [Guess what waits inside...]

I'd love to hear from anybody who has experience with this. Some specific questions: What is required of me in terms of time and money? Would it be best to start with a seed or with a young plant? are there trees that grow well in apartments?

Anything you can tell me will be appreciated.
posted by shotsy to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My Dad had a longtime bonsai hobby and may still. The growing and shaping of bonsai trees doesn't have a lot in the way of starter costs. Small plants are in the $10-30 range, or were when I was last paying attention. Starting from seedlings is okay but if you really want to start messing with your plant, starting with a larger plant is a better idea. You can get pretty fanatical with just one or two plants, you don't have to have a whole stable of them. The required accessories are fairly minimal. Plant shaping tools, some watering devices, maybe some bonsai food. Where things really get pricey is all the little extra stuff: special pots, fancy saws and trimmers, little xmas lights for your bonsai, some certain kind of plant, travel to bonsai conferences, you get the drift.

Bonsais are easier to keep alive than, say, orchids. You can get super into shaping and messing with them, or you can just appreciate them aesthetically and make sure they stay healthy and happy. Many types of bonsais are sort of, by nature, good for small dwellings, you just need to make sure you're getting the right sort of plant for your area/location/situation. However, many people really believe that they are outdoor plants, though if you live in a cold northern area, they should be protected from totally freezing. There is no one "bonsai" tree, it's really a method of plant shaping, but there are standard types of plants that are frequently used. It's a good hobby, better suited for peopel who are patient, somewhat nurturing, and have a little bit of the "vision thing" since you basically spend a lot of time waiting to see if the plant is growing in to the shape you want it to grow in to.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on October 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

shotsy, you read my mind. I've read a couple books on the topic, but never got around to trying it. It's a pretty daunting artform, and I've thought it would be ideal to join a "bonsai club", where beginners would work under those with more experience on established trees, and would start new trees on their own later.

Only my complete lack of experience has prevented me from forming such a club.
posted by Eamon at 8:14 PM on October 17, 2004

It takes a looong time, spread out over many years, not all at once.

I remember reading an anecdote online about a woman who pruned and watered and loved her tree for a year or two, and decided to take it to a competition. One judge commented, "great work, in 10 years that will be a nice tree!"
posted by falconred at 8:38 PM on October 17, 2004

OMG. Thanks for this question, shotsy! I think I could happily get into bonsai, too. Great hobby, it'll go well with my eventual saltwater aquarium!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 AM on October 18, 2004

Response by poster: For me that time frame is part of what is attractive. I feel like so much of my life is about immediate gratification and fleeting interests, so I'm looking forward to something that forces a longer view.

Thanks for all the great answers.
posted by shotsy at 9:17 AM on October 18, 2004

I raised a couple from seeds a couple of years ago. I found it very fulfilling, but they are extremely delicate in their first year or two. They need daily attention. When they were about 18 months of age, I went away for the weekend and the person in charge of watering them forgot to do so. When I came back, they were both dead. I'm still a little heartbroken.

I suppose if I were to start again, I wouldn't start from seed--but instead would go with a young tree. I couldn't bear to lose any more "babies".
posted by jpoulos at 10:42 AM on October 18, 2004

I've heard that bonsai kittens are very rewarding.
posted by troutfishing at 4:25 PM on October 18, 2004

You've got to keep your bonsai kitten hobby hush-hush, though, or the SPCA gets all upset. They've simply no sense of art, beauty, or humour, those guys.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:50 PM on October 18, 2004

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