The basis of "quality"
The left tree is young with no training yet while the right tree is 4-5 years in training.
Even an expert would not be able to do much with the young seedling while even a novice can do a lot with the high potential bonsai stock on the right!
At Fuku-Bonsai, we get two
basic types of customers: those who purchase plants for
themselves or for gifts, and those who want to learn to train
bonsai. We try to help each type of customer, but in
different ways. Many of those who purchase bonsai for
themselves or for gifts are buying our Hawaiian Lava Planting as
they are the easiest and most successful gift bonsai for anyone,
anywhere who can grow houseplants.
The plants are pre-trained before rock planting, and once established they grow very slowly and this is a plus for beginners. We try to teach them the proper care and best growing situation to supplement the information on our cultural sheets. And of course we encourage them to call or email if they suspect problems or need help. But for those who want to learn to train, we provide a lot more assistance and "how to buy" recommendations and this paper is a summary.
In bonsai, you get what you pay for.
A bonsai gift should be a personal gift that will be a special new relationship that will endure and become more personal with each additional year. While bonsai can become very valuable, it's true priceless value is the relationship between the plant and its owner-trainer!
A bonsai truism: "The results at the end of a bonsai training workshop is in direct proportion to the quality of the stock plant before the start of the workshop!"
Another: "To create a masterpiece bonsai, simply start with extraordinary prepared bonsai stock with the potential to be a masterpiece and train with an exceptional exciting idea or strategy!"
There are very few secrets remaining in bonsai. The best bonsai in the world were trained in extremely harsh environments by Nature over many years. A very tiny few were developed from standard nursery stock. If not collected, the odds are that the original prepared bonsai stock began in a high-quality bonsai nursery and this becomes clear once you understand how bonsai develop.
Start by evaluating the bottom 1" of trunk where it enters the potting media and the surface roots. This part of the tree is almost impossible to train once the tree is older, so you need to have a lot of promise in this area. Compare the two trees in the photos. The one on the left is just a few months old and never trained while the right tree is 4-5 years in training. It has been pruned dramatically and early to create a stout trunk with strong low branches that are already also developing additional growth points. It's been rock-planted and roots are growing over the rock into the potting media. It promises to be an interesting bonsai!
The greatest amount of skill is required when the tree is very young as this produces the character on the trunk base and surface roots. Skill is required to force low branches and create lower trunk character and training then becomes easier. Once there are at least three good lower branches facing different directions it becomes easier and easier. Semi-trained trees with an overall character and good branches move into maturity with careful attention and good care to keep the plant healthy. But the level of skill required is much lower.
At Fuku-Bonsai, we grow both gift bonsai and prepared bonsai stock for bonsai hobbyists. Our lava plantings are the most popular gifts as they are very easy care, grow slowly, and more durable because the roots are well protected by the rock. We recommend our potted bonsai for those who want trees in semi-trained stages that already have good potential. Our website, written materials, and our workshop handbook explain how the tree was trained and if the hobbyist becomes excited about learning the art and culture of bonsai, we offer complete workshop packages that feature high potential prepared bonsai stock and all needed components. These are very high success packages.
Quality vs. price!
Highest quality bonsai require a high-level of skill, care, and many years to produce. Training must begin early as part of the propagation process and with each year, the plant takes on more character and increases in value. But age alone does not automatically increase the quality although it will increase the price. Old low-quality trees can be very expensive and poor values as it is much more difficult to improve character and interest of older trees that are less vigorous and less able to throw out new branches where they are needed.
Bonsai pricing is very straight forward if you're dealing directly with a highly reputable professional bonsai grower who is willing and able to allow direct contact and who will provide assistance when necessary. If this professional is efficient and has a large inventory to achieve economies of scale. It is likely that trees are grouped into "model standards" with each model having a written and photo standard with all plants in that model priced the same.
Trees would carry a satisfaction and safe arrival guarantee allowing return within a limited number of days. This protects the buyer against shipping damage or plants falling below published standards. Fuku-Bonsai adheres to these professional standards. We generally post photos when a new model is introduced and that introductory photo sets the standard. But a few years later, actual plants being shipped may greatly surpass the standard!
Generally, it's better to purchase a younger high-potential tree instead of an old poor-quality tree. You get the best value if you also make known that you plant to transplant into a larger container and request "older plants ready to pot up into larger containers." Most of Fuku-Bonsai's repeat customers understand and make these requests when they purchase plants with larger conversion kits. Some are now purchasing bulk media and specialty supplies such as repackaged Nutrient Granules.
At Fuku-Bonsai the most costly plants are our older, larger Custom Collection. These are our highest quality as only select superior plants are moved into Custom Collection training. Plants in this category are individually priced with a written description, measurements, and a photo that includes a specific assigned identification number. While the most expensive, Custom Collection are also our best values that are not sold to beginners. Most go to our repeat customers who have already mastered how to grow and train our plants.
Just as bonsai should focus on the personal relationship between the living bonsai and it's owner-trainer, any buyer of bonsai should try to establish a personal relationship with the seller of bonsai.
Don't purchase from a source that will not be willing and able to assist you if you have problems. If you're purchasing locally, is it from a reputable dealer with a known address and phone number? If you purchase strictly based on lowest price, there's little or no room to assist you and you take your chances. Increasingly bonsai are being purchased on the Internet directly from the grower. These professionals have created sufficient inventory to have economies of scale. You can get a good feel for each seller by sending them an exploratory email on any topic.
At Fuku-Bonsai, we try to help trainers from the start and recommend they join our Beginner Study Group to get personal assistance. They become members off the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation ($12 annual dues) and purchase four Introductory Workshop Packages. Those who visit us in Kurtistown can get assistance with our Introductory Workshop Package at no additional charge.
If they are on a tight schedule, the first basic workshop can be completed in as little as thirty minutes with follow-up assistance by email. If more time is available, some are doing the "basic Sumo" and "basic Roots" here with an introduction to rock plantings. We'll ship the plants to them after they arrive home and continue via email. There's a lot of information on our website and some of the study group reports are featured in the email Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.
Upon completing and "graduating" some join our Fast-Track Study Group for continuing assistance and contact. They plan their own custom projects and have access to special older premium prepared bonsai stock. They send drafts or information of the project they are planning and request plants of specific size, age, styling, etc. We'll quote and include recommendations and some of these projects also appear in the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai.
Most of our customers were introduced to us when they purchase one of our pre-packaged certified rock plantings at a Fuku-Bonsai Authorized Retailer a while on a Hawaii vacation. Our products include contact information and our website so most get to know a lot about us even before first contact. But true trust only develops after transactions or a personal visit to Fuku-Bonsai!
(END OF HOW TO BUY SERIES OF ARTICLES)
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