Which bonsai species to start with?

As a beginner of bonsai one of the key questions that you will always ask is, which species to start with? Craig Coussins explains your options.

The best species to choose largely depends on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere. Popular outdoor species in temperate areas of globe, such as northern USA, Canada and northern Europe, parts of South Africa, New Zealand (South Island), Japan, and other temperate areas of Asia, include junipers (Juniperus), pines (Pinus), maples (Acer), larches (Larix), cotoneaster (Cotoneaster), hemlocks (Tsuga), oaks (Quercus) and beeches (Fagus).

These are also many local species that have their own particular requirements.  In the USA these include buttonwoods (Conocarpus), cypresses (Taxodium) and desert junipers (Juniperus). South Africa has acacias, white olives (Buddleja), peaches (Kiggelaria) and figs (Ficus). Australia also has figs as well as gums (Eucalyptus), while New Zealand has Tortaras, Pohutukawas and Rimus. Local climate differences will determine the species used.

For complete beginners cotoneasters are almost impossible to kill, and cypresses, such as the Chameacyparus pissifera, are very easy to develop. Maples are excellent, except that you must keep them out of frosts, but conversely they are also a temperate species, and conifers, pines, larches, cedars etc., are a little slow to grow.

Elms (Ulmus) and Zelkovas are excellent for bonsai and can be grown almost anywhere in the world because there are so many varieties of indoor and outdoor elms these days. Any of the indoor species used in temperate climates such as Sageritia, Serrisa and Chinese elms, are also very to grow. It is a good idea to find a species that are quick-growing, so that you can see the result, or else growing a bonsai could end up like watching paint dry!

Seed culture is extremely slow, and in my opinion should only be tried in addition to other methods.

Buying a bonsai is easy and is the usual route into the hobby, but only buy a tree that is workable. Avoid pines to start with, as they can be slow to develop if you are a beginner. A maple, juniper, or cypress will be an excellent first tree as they are all vigorous plants. In colder climates, the indoor varieties consist of tropical trees. These include figs, a succulent known as the money tree (Crassula), sageritia, serissa and many other species. 

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