A Beginner's Guide to Bonsai & DIY Bonsai Benches

Photo by  Kyle Ellefson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably encountered a lovingly tended Japanese garden with a stunning bonsai tree as a focal point.  However, bonsai isn’t just for Japanese garden masters; you too can create a unique, attention-getting bonsai tree in your very own garden.

Many people assume bonsai are a specific species of tree, but really, bonsai is the art of deliberately pruning a tree into a specific shape or style.  

Most any tree can be transformed into a bonsai tree, but success depends upon selecting the right tree species for your environment. This beginner’s guide to bonsai will provide tips for success to get you started on the pathway to creating your unique bonsai tree.

Select a Tree

Before acquiring a tree, decide if it will live indoors or out. Indoor tree selections can range from tropical to native since the indoor environment is controlled. In most climates, outdoor tree selections are more limited as the climate will determine which tree(s) will do best. A non-tropical tree, preferably native to the region, will be happiest as an outdoor bonsai.   

Find the perfect location

Whether you’ve chosen an indoor or outdoor tree, you’ll still want to spend some time considering where to place your tree. Indoor trees should be located where they can get the amount of sun and level of humidity they’d like best.  If you’re adding your bonsai to a collection of other house plants, a unique plant bench, such as a Bonsai Bench, provides a great place to attractively keep all kinds of house plants in a the best spot for them.

For outdoor trees, find a location where there is some protection from heavy wind, rain, and snow.  Nothing would be more devastating than to have a serious storm damage your tree and threaten your care and attention.  Bonsai Benches also work great outdoors and are incredibly easy to assemble.  The unique design means your bonsai tree will have a great home for years to come.

Shaping and Styling

After the tree has been selected and planted in its permanent home, it’s time to begin the shaping and styling process.  To keep the tree in a miniature size and in a desired shape, you’ll have to commit to on-going pruning to keep it looking like what you want.

The bulk of the pruning should be done in spring and early summer when your bonsai tree is actively growing, but a few maintenance “snips” may be needed during summer.  However, if your tree is indoors, you’ll want to prune it whenever it is growing most actively.

For best results, invest in a pair of concave cutters for pruning thick branches.  While all types of cutter wound the tree, it is easier for the tree to recover and heal from the hollow wounds left by a conclave cutter.

While it’s impossible to give specific pruning instructions without actually seeing your tree, if you follow three key tips, we think you’ll be well on your way to maintaining your bonsai.

  • If two branches are growing at the same height, keep one of them and remove the  other.
  • Remove branches with unnatural twists and turns.
  • Remove disproportionately thick branches from the top of the tree.

These three pruning steps will get you started towards the right shape and style by removing branches that should not be on the bonsai tree. The fourth pruning step will be your free-hand styling to create the shape you want. Remember, less is more. You can always prune away more branches but you can never put back those that have been removed.

Bonsai care does not have to be an expensive hobby.  Nigel Saunders of the Bonsai Zone shows you how to create your own Bonsai Bench.

Wiring the Branches

Another important technique to shape bonsai trees is wiring. By wrapping anodized aluminum or annealed copper wire carefully around branches it’s possible to bend and shape them. Wiring can be applied all year, but make sure to remove the wire before it starts digging into the branches as they grow thicker.


Regular watering, sunlight, re-potting, and feeding of your bonsai tree will depend upon the species of tree you’re growing. Be sure you understand your tree’s needs when you select it so you can care for it properly.  Don’t be afraid to ask your local garden shop lots of questions before you take your tree home.

With a little planning and knowhow, your first foray into bonsai can be a fun and rewarding experience.  Before you know it, you might just need to start a second one!

Thank you for reading.  Please be sure to browse the shelving frames I have designed and support a Made in the USA Product.  ~ Shirley Designer & Founder of  Shirley's Simple Shelving

Thank you for reading.  Please be sure to browse the shelving frames I have designed and support a Made in the USA Product.

~ Shirley Designer & Founder of Shirley's Simple Shelving