How to Start a Bonsai Plant


Bonsai is the process of creating a dwarfed tree or shrub by artfully pruning and growing it in a shallow container. Beginners should attempt to create a bonsai out of a shrub type plant first as there are more branches and structure to work with. Bonsai plants produce best when they are trained and grown in their natural outdoor conditions. The process of training a bonsai plant will take 3 to 4 years to complete.

Training a Bonsai Plant

Step 1

Purchase a one-gallon-sized nursery shrub to train as a bonsai plant. Keep the plant in the container it came in.

Step 2

Style the top of the shrub before working on the root structure. This may take 2 years to complete. Shape the top gradually, making sure you do not remove more than one third of the foliage and branches in one cutting session.

Step 3

Find the trunk line by removing any branches or secondary trunks that are competing with the main trunk. Leave the branches that grow on the outside curve of the trunk.

Step 4

Refine the plant by continuing to pinch back new foliage and forcing more growth close to the trunk. This will make the shrub dense and compact in size.

Step 5

Prune branches to form pads on the shrub. This is a grouping of foliage on one branch that simulates a cloud coming out of the shrub.

Step 6

Root prune the shrub 1 to 2 years after shaping the branches and trunk. Prune during the dormant stage in early spring as the process will damage the shrub.

Step 7

Unpot the shrub and comb the roots in an outspread pattern being careful to not damage the root structure. Prune the circling roots and tap root. Shorten the storage roots and leave the small hair roots as these roots absorb water more efficiently.

Step 8

Remove the lower portion of a one-gallon-sized root structure, as a bonsai plant requires a shallow root system.

Step 9

Pot the shrub in a pot that is shallower than the original. Root prune the following year to complete the process. Transplant the shrub to a shallow bonsai pot.

Things You'll Need

  • One-gallon shrub
  • Hand pruner
  • Shallow pot
  • Bonsai pot


  • Bonsai: Starting Out
  • A Beginner's First Bonsai
  • Root Pruning for Bonsai
Keywords: training a bonsai, how to start a bonsai, beginner bonsai

About this Author

Jennifer Loucks has over 10 years of experience as a former technical writer for a software development company in Wisconsin. Her writing experience includes creating software documentation and help documents for clients and staff along with training curriculum. Loucks holds a Bachelor of Science major from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls specializing in animal science and business.