Bonsai is the art of growing small trees in the style of older, established trees that grow in harsh conditions. This effect is created by limiting tree size by root pruning and careful pruning and training of the upper portion of the tree. These aspects of bonsai culture are suitable for beginner bonsai growers. Avoid advanced techniques like driftwood effects or jin effects. Jin effects are the intentional breaking of branches to give a weathered look.
Bonsai require frequent watering. Depending on the variety, some trees may need to be watered every day. Most, however, will need water every two or three days in the summer. If you are very new to bonsai, consider a succulent as your first tree. Succulents store water in their stems and leaves, thus reducing the risk of plant damage if you forget to water. Jades are popular succulents for bonsai. Jades, in fact, suffer when over-watered.
Novice bonsai growers may want to consider starting with a tree that does not need much wiring and training. Through growing a tree that does not need much training, it is easier to become accustomed to the watering and care of bonsai. Although purists will argue that a bonsai without training is nothing more than a tree in a pot, trees like sago palms make good first bonsai. Many sago palms sold at home and garden centers have a layer of rocks glued to the top. If you buy one of these trees, be sure to break up these glued rocks and remove them. Replace them with loose gravel or aquarium rocks for the health of the tree.
Some trees are susceptible to certain pests in some areas. For example, in very dry areas, junipers can be susceptible to spider mites. In extreme cases, the mites can be very difficult to get rid of and may kill the tree. Check with your garden center about plants that might have certain susceptibilities in your area. If you have a dedicated bonsai nursery in your area, a quick call can help you avoid problematic trees.
Bonsai trees need to be repotted every one to two years. When you repot a bonsai, you will need to remove one-third to one-half of the roots to discourage growth in the upper parts of the tree. Most trees have no issues with being removed from the pot and having the soil removed from the roots, a technique called "bare rooting." However, as a beginner avoid pine trees. Pine trees will not tolerate bare rooting. Therefore, they are harder to repot than other varieties.
For indoor growing, be sure to select trees that do not require long periods of dormancy. Tropical and subtropical trees like jades, palms and ficus are easier to care for as year-round indoor bonsai trees. Do not choose trees like maples or any trees that are going to need a long period outdoors for health. Trees like Japanese maples may grow well indoors for a couple of years. However, they will eventually go dormant without cold, and that sudden dormancy will often kill the tree.