Course CodeBHT320
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

The the Art of Bonsai

If you have ever marvelled at bonsai and thought to yourself that you would like to be able to create something like that, this course could be that opportunity you were looking for.

  • Learn to grow bonsai
  • Develop your ability to select, train and maintain appropriate varieties of plants in different situations to make bonsai
  • Indulge a passion, extend your horticultural skills or start a business.


Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • The study of Bonsai begins with a lesson in plant taxonomy. We will look at plant families and botanical classification. There is also a list of organisations that you will find useful to source information from.
  2. Propagation
    • Different methods of propagation from raising seed to taking your own hardwood cuttings. You will also learn about creating suitable potting mixes.
  3. Plants for Bonsai
    • We look at the various types of plants that are actually suitable for growing for Bonsai and selecting the right plant.
  4. Bonsai Styles and Techniques
    • This lesson includes classification of the various styles of Bonsai there are and we also look at important wiring techniques.
  5. Creating Bonsai
    • Pruning and shaping Bonsai, creating branch patterns, evaluating the root system, and potting up of Bonsai.
  6. Bonsai Culture and Maintenance
    • Specifics of Bonsai culture, soil maintenance and nutritional qualities are discussed. Also pest and diseases that effect Bonsai, and techniques for controlling and shaping Bonsai growth to achieve that special look.
  7. Landscaping Principles for Bonsai
    • Principals of Landscape Design with Bonsai and the applications they can have in creating your garden.
  8. Special Project


  • Demonstrate knowledge of the plant kingdom, an understanding of the taxonomic hierarchy, and an appreciation of the types of plants suitable for bonsai.
  • Explain the methods of propagation used in bonsai.
  • Select species of plants most suited to bonsai.
  • Describe a range of bonsai styles and techniques used to achieve them.
  • Demonstrate the process of creating bonsai.
  • Explain the basics of successful bonsai culture.
  • Discuss landscape design principles to better create bonsai landscapes.
  • Carry out research into a particular aspect of bonsai.

What You Will Do

  • Develop plant review sheets for different plants suitable for bonsai.
  • Make up a list of resources/contacts useful to a bonsai grower.
  • Research what constitutes a good propagating mix.
  • Visit a nursery and observe the nursery stock present to assess suitability for bonsai production.
  • Propagate different species of plant that have the potential to be used as Bonsai.
  • Select different plants and determine the style of bonsai each plant lends itself to.
  • Make a list of the most commonly grown varieties of plants you consider as being used for bonsai today.
  • Visit a bonsai house, bonsai farm, bonsai nursery or other facility where bonsai are available for viewing and classify the style of different bonsai plants.
  • Evaluate, prune, wire, shape and pot different plants as bonsai
  • Obtain soil from two different types of soils; test the soils for drainage, and name the soils.
  • Obtain (or make up) a potting mix which you consider appropriate for growing bonsai in.
    • Conduct tests to name the potting mix you have obtained. Test the drainage of the potting mix.
  • Visit a nursery or garden growing bonsai plants to assess the plants for pests, diseases and environmental anomalies.
  • Design a miniature garden pot incorporating a bonsai plant
  • Using your knowledge of landscaping principles, decide on the best outdoor locations three different bonsai, and the optimum indoor locations for short term display. Take photographs or sketch the locations in which you would place the bonsai. Submit these photographs with your assignment.
  • Obtain plants of different varieties and using what you have learned in the course, turn your chosen plants into bonsai and either photograph or draw what you have created; then report on this work.

An Art, A Science, A Culture Where You Never Stop Learning

Creating bonsai is often considered to be a complex skill which requires many years of practice and devotion to attain desirable results but this is not strictly true. Of course, is does require knowledge and commitment but it is possible to achieve worthwhile results in a relatively short space of time whether as a hobby or on a commercial scale. You just need enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

Before you can start to understand bonsai, you need to obtain a basic understanding of growing plants (horticulture); how to identify and select appropriate species of plants for bonsai, and how to keep them healthy.  Plants which are suited for bonsai in one location may not necessarily be suitable in another place. Not all plants are suited to bonsai; but with hundreds of thousands of plants to choose from, it would take several lifetimes to explore all of the possibilities with all of the different 'suitable' plant species available to you.

Different Styles

There are many different sizes and styles on bonsai. Small bonsai may be up to twelve inches or 30cm in height, whereas medium sized ones might be as high as two and a half feet or 90cm. Bonsai do not have to be small. Indeed, there are some magnificent specimens six feet or more tall and hundreds of years old on display at Tokyo's Imperial Palace.

Style is of greater importance, though it is possible to create bonsai without knowing all the different styles which are commonly identified. Nevertheless, an understanding of what constitutes a particular style will make it easier to understand literature on the subject as well as to help describe one's own specimens to others.

There are many different ways of classifying the styles of bonsai. A broad classification is based on single trunk, multiple trunk and group plantings. Another way is to group bonsai into 5 main basic categories in accordance with the angle of the trunk compared to the container:
What Plants to Use 
Many different types of plant can be used for bonsai including perennial herbs or even weeds, however mostly only trees and shrubs are used. Specimens may be gathered from where they are growing naturally in the wild, provided that it is possible to remove the plant without killing it, and provided that no laws are broken in the process, or they may be grown from seeds, cuttings, layering or grafting as discussed in the previous lesson. Whilst a bonsai might produce seed, the seed produced will not germinate to produce bonsai. Any seedlings will have to be trained as for the parent bonsai.
Some plants are used far more often for bonsai than others.  These include:  certain conifers (pines, junipers, spruces, Japanese cedar and yew work best), small leafed deciduous trees, Azaleas, Berberis, Crateagus, Buxus, Cotoneaster, Eleagnus, certain Cornus, Ilex, Ivy, some gardenias, small leafed Citrus such as Cumquat, Pomegranate, Leptospermum, some of the small leafed Eucalypts, Grevilleas, Melaleucas and Callistemons. There are of course others not mentioned here.
Maples (Acer spp.): One of the More Popular Plants for Bonsai
A number of species of the extensive "Acer" genus make striking bonsai. They are deciduous trees and the native Chinese and Japanese varieties are renowned for their ornamental green or purple foliage which turns into shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.
Acer palmatum is one of the classic bonsai specimens and can be grown in a variety of sizes and styles. As well as the five lobed leaves, they also develop an attractive silver bark as they age. There are many other cultivars of Acer palmatum which can also be used. 
They are all well suited to all the bonsai styles save for 'literati' which have a twisted and curved trunk. Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum' has deep purple finely cut leaves, Acer palmatum 'Deshojo' has bright red spring leaves which turn green in summer and then back to oranges and reds in the autumn before leaf drop.
The ‘Amur Maple’, Acer ginnala, has three lobed slightly cordate leaves and is a bushy shrub to small tree. The pale to mid green leaves turn to vivid oranges and crimsons in the autumn. It is quite hardy. These trees make effective group bonsai plantings.
The ‘European Field Maple’ or ‘Hedge Maple’, Acer campestre, is a rounded tree with mid green leaves that have a downy underside. It is not so well suited to small bonsai due to its coarse twiggy nature and so is best used on a medium to large scale. It will suit most styles except literati.  
All acers benefit from a sunny aspect (but avoid intense sunlight) and daily watering during the growing season. Avoid frosts. They can be fed weekly when leaves first appear and fortnightly after the first month of feeding. Hardy varieties should be re-potted annually and new shoots can be trimmed back to just a couple of leaf pairs during growth. 
Less hardy species such as palmatum and campestre should be re-potted every two to three years.

Wo Will Benefit From This Course?

This course could not only indulge a passion for bonsai and help you to explore your creativity. It could also be taken as part of a certificate or other qualification. It might also help you to explore other study or work opportunities. It suited to:

  • Horticulturists
  • Gardeners
  • Artists
  • People with an interest in bonsai or setting up a bonsai business


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