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Bonsai may be created from any woody or semi-woody plant, and there are several ways to obtain good material. Plants may be propagated from seed or cuttings, by layering or any other technique, or they can be found already grown in nurseries or naturally. The selection of material is important. Many people believe that they must wait 20 or 30 years before they have a finished bonsai, but this is not so. With the proper selection of material, a good bonsai can be created in a few hours. A few years' refinement will strengthen the root development and increase the twigginess.
Growing bonsai from seed is a lengthy proposition, although frequently it is the only way to include uncommon specimens in a collection. Seedlings are transferred to individual pots or to the open ground until they are fit for training. Seeds grown directly in the ground produce quicker results, but are less convenient to shape. Cuttings are also handled in the usual way. Once the roots have developed, the cutting is placed in a pot, and training is started when the material is woody enough for shaping.
Layering has one advantage that the other propagating methods do not: you can start with a well-developed tree in a short time. The rooted material will have the trunk, branches and twigs necessary for a fully formed bonsai. There are several simple methods of layering, all variants of two chief types, ground layering and air layering. After the roots have formed, the rooted portion of
the tree or shrub is severed from its parent and planted in its own container, where it is grown just as any other bonsai. Training can begin as soon as the plant is established.
However, the best way to obtain material is in the form of nursery stock. The plant is fully established with a good fibrous root system, and training can be started immediately. Material that has been nursery-grown in tins or pots is superior for bonsai because the plant has already become conditioned to its reduced environment, and the procedures of root trimming and training will not cause excessive shock.
Naturally dwarfed material collected from fields, mountains and seashore is excellent. Weather and wind have already given the specimen some "training". However, collected material tends to have poor roots and may have to be replanted in the ground for a year or two until a fine network of roots has a chance to develop. Then it may be planted in the container and trained.