While this not a guide on how to grow bonsai and train trees as bonsai, it is more of a general guide on how to be successful with bonsai. Bonsai is not an exact science but an art form.
Bonsai are plants
Bonsai are trees and trees are plants. The art of growing and caring for plants is known as horticulture. It is right to say that learning general plants and horticulture technique will help you being successful. Knowing how and when to water your tree, knowing when to fertilize and when not to fertilize, knowing when to trim your tree and when not to trim, light requirements and so on are of these basics horticulture skills you must be familiar with if you decide to endeavour into the art of bonsai
Bonsai requires patience. If you donít have patience and you endeavour into bonsai, you will learn the hard way. Bonsai learning is not different then other learning processes. You learn from your mistake. In bonsai, learning from our mistake simply means you will be killing trees. Sometimes, one of your favourite tree will have been neglected, will suffer a too audacious root trim and other mistakes you can make while you perfect your bonsai care
As said before, bonsai needs patience. I once heard that bonsai is like painting. However, you can only make one or two brush strokes every year. The nearest instant bonsai satisfaction you can get is styling a nursery stock. This means going to the garden center, looking for the best material, taking it home and styling it to what look the most as a bonsai.
Another venue is to collect trees in the nature. Some trees have already been shaped by nature and the trunk as a lot of character to offer. However, before really styling a tree that you have collected in the wild, you must make sure it will survive the transition from nature to pot. To really be sure the transition is supported and the tree as regain new growth in a pot, it usually takes a 2 years period or 2 growing seasons.
Other then styling, bonsai tree can be achieved by propagating trees by various methods.
The slowest of the methods to achieve a tree suitable in size and girth for bonsai would be sowing seeds. Seeds, is starting from zero. One advantage of seeds, is that out of the multiple seedlings that will emerge, you can choose the best material. For example, some seedling will have different color of leaves, some will grow faster, some will have small leaves, and if you are lucky, one of the seedlings will have all you need to create the next popular cultivar. Every seedling has a different genetic set then the parent plants and the other seedlings. This is because we never what pollen and from what tree this pollen came from, to fertilize the mother tree.
Another method of propagating trees is taking cuttings and rooting them. This method will reproduce the specific set of the mother plant. This method is faster then seeds but slower then others. Cuttings can be taken from soft or hard wood. Cuttings from hard wood are harder to root but will produce a mature tree sooner. This is most true with flowering species as taking a cutting from hardwood will make the juvenile tree flower sooner.
Air layering is another method to propagate trees. It is an interesting method, as it reproduced the exact same plant as the mother plants but if you find the right place on the parent plant you can get a nice trunk and branch structure on the baby tree. This is a fast method of propagation for bonsai.
Other methods of propagation are also possible but less frequently used in bonsai. You can search for them in your favourite gardening books or the internet.
Bonsai never ends
Bonsai is a never ending task. Some debates on when a bonsai is finish have occurred in many forums on the internet, and I believe that many clubs meetings have debated on the subject. A tree is a living organism, and till itís dead, you have work to do on them. You wouldnít want your beautiful bonsai to grow wild and out of proportion. All those year of hard work would be going down the drain.