There are many good candidates for bonsai at any tree or plant nursery, but it may take years, if not decades, to achieve the desired results. In spring, there are many nursery specimens to choose for bonsai. These very young trees and shrubs will be starting their seasonal growth cycles and can make excellent candidates for new bonsai stock. If possible, choose specimens with straight, tapering trunks, or for a more unique look, the beginnings of an interesting bend or knot that can be used in your design. Remove any dead leaves or needles to really inspect your potential choices. Many of the branches will have to be cut to create the initial design, so try to look at the structure of the trunk and major branches to get an idea of the basic shape of the tree. It will help for you to have an idea of the type of bonsai style you want to create. This will give you an idea of the best starting stock to choose.
For a trained specimen that has already been started in classical bonsai style, there are some qualities you should look for. Bonsai trees can vary in price depending on the species of plant, its age and its artistic or aesthetic value. Many of the most valued bonsai plants are never offered for sale, but pass privately from hand to hand.
When you shop for bonsai, you will probably have a selection of relatively young plants and a range of styles and varieties to choose from, including deciduous trees, evergreens and flowering trees. There are a few qualities all these plants should have in common. First, they should always come from a reliable supplier. Dealing with an importer or retailer who understands bonsai is a good first step in acquiring a superior specimen. The second step is to inspect any potential purchase carefully. Make sure that the plant shows no signs of disease or insect activity. Verify that the soil is evenly moist and packed firmly around the roots of the plant. A robust bonsai will show vivid foliage when in season.
Look for specimens that appear old. The appearance of the roots and trunks of these trees will often give the impression of age by their texture, contour or coloring. These plants have greater value and aesthetic appeal. Standing at the front of the plant, make sure the branches radiate to the sides and back, not forward. Check the trunk, and pass on any trees with distinctive old scarring from removed branches. The overall appearance of the plant should be in proportion and be enhanced by its pot. It should look vigorous, healthy and balanced, both up close and at a distance.
In the next section, we'll talk about starting a new bonsai tree.