Picking nursery stock

One of the most rewarding experiences with designing bonsai is the choosing of nursery (untrained) material, styling it and then putting it into a suitable bonsai pot.

This post will be exclusively about picking nursery material, what to look for, when to buy and what to expect after buying a tree.

What to look for:

  • Good looking surface roots or roots that aren’t crossing over each other or the trunk. Remember surface roots (nebari) can be made overtime.
  • A good trunk taper. For a smaller tree this isn’t as important but it’s always one of the first few things that people look at.
  • Even branching. This means that branches are all up and down the trunk and on all sides.
  • Small leaves. A lot of the time nursery stock will have normal sized leaves and would look out of proportion on a bonsai. Remember leaf and needle size can be reduced.

Some things are nice but not necessary. These include:

  • Good bark
  • Fine branches
  • Good leaf characteristics
  • Etc

When to buy

This isn’t saying don’t buy at certain times of the year but it’s sometimes better to buy at these times. Everyone has their preference and there isn’t a wrong answer, but some times provide more information than others.

For deciduous trees the best times would be between early spring and autumn. The reason why these times are the best is because the tree shows it’s leaf characteristics (size, colour, shape, etc), if it has anything wrong with the leaves, if the growth is extremely fast or extremely slow. My personal favourite time is just as the buds have broken and this is because I can see what the leaves look like and therefore can see if there’s anything wrong but also it is still in the dormant looking stage so the framework of the tree is easily visible.

For evergreen there isn’t really a specific time but to buy one before the candles have set would give a bit more control over the size of needles.

What to expect after buying a tree

A lot of the time a tree won’t look that good after the first year or even the next few especially deciduous species. This is because with bonsai there’s a lot of letting a branch grow out then cut it back, wiring, repotting, etc. The amount of time it takes for a tree to look nice could take years and don’t be disheartened because that’s the main reason people do this hobby. To grow and style the tree over years and to see the finished product. By going into bonsai you will inevitably learn more and more over the years and the nursery stock that you decided to buy this year will inevitably become better and better over time due to your experience and knowledge growing; hopefully from reading this blog. ?

One of the main things people don’t take into account is what it takes to look after a bonsai. These include watering whenever it needs it, fertiliser at times of the year (between the time that the leaves harden off in the spring to when its lost most of it’s leaves), wiring, pruning, repotting, etc.

The first thing to look for is the cost. Yes it’s all well and good to buy an untrained tree but if it costs a lot more than what you want it for then it becomes too expensive. Its always good to shop around or ask locals who shop for nursery trees where they go. The general rule of thumb that I use is that if it’s going to be a small tree (can be carried in one hand) once it’s the finished product, I wouldn’t spend anymore than $10. A larger tree (to be carried in two hands) $20-$30. And any larger up to $100 as long as they’re in good health. If you’re starting out bonsai or in the first year I’d highly recommend taking someone who has experience with the hobby, and if that isn’t possible then then only get a medium sized tree at most to gain your own experience and to understand the limits that untrained material has in it’s first few years of training.


A buxus like this is a perfect example for a very good choice for a beginner to buy. It’s hard to see in this picture but it has a nice trunk, surface roots and small leaves.


And to cap off this tree it already has nice looking bark and there are a few smaller roots that can be seen and in a few years will turn into surface roots giving the tree an aged look. Something that I didn’t talk about before is the shape of the trunk. If you look at a table of bonsai then those with reasonably straight trunks and no real character don’t stick out and seem uninteresting. This tree here has a nice curve to it which immediately gives a sense of interest.


In most larger nurseries there’s an abundance of common species (buxus, maple, elm) so there’s always a number to choose from. In this case multiple species of box (japanese, english, dwarf, faulkner)


Here’s a trident maple that was bought from a bonsai nursery as untrained stock. The problem with this is that it was in a bonsai nursery so everything will definitely be more expensive and doesn’t give the same amount of accomplishment as a tree from a regular nursery. That being said some things can only be found in bonsai nurseries.

So to cap off

Buying nursery stock is a very rewarding experience as you get to grow with the tree knowing that you were the one who did the work to get it to where it is today.

p.s if you’re actively reading this blog please leave a comment on what you’d like to read about or anything I could improve upon. Most trees in these posts are for sale and are at a very reasonable price so if interested contact me and I’ll try and write back as soon as possible.


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