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Beginners Books

Our reviews include most of the very best of bonsai books available. If you have a favourite book that is not mentioned, please email us and we will do our best to review it.

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Beginners Books   

There are now so many bonsai books available that choosing a good one has become a bit of a minefield. These are some of the best and are in no particular order. With thanks to the Internet Bonsai Club and particularly Jim Lewis for their major contribution in these reviews. You can find the IBC here

Hover over the title for an Amazon preview (if your browser is capable) The prices should accurately reflect what is currently available and there are some real bargains to be had. Remember to check vendor ratings, where you are buying from and what their postal rates are.

Bonsai For Beginners Craig Coussins, Publisher D&S Books.2000 Hardback 128 pages
This is a book in two parts. The first provides guidance on keeping trees alive, healthy and in shape. The chapters include; Choosing your bonsai, Caring for your bonsai, Keeping Bonsai Healthy, Keeping your bonsai in shape, Repotting Bonsai and Growing your own bonsai
The second section “Bonsai School” is a must see. There are numerous excellent photographic sequences showing quick stylings to projects that took more than five years.
The 16 chapters here include; Rock Planting, Species information for Elms, Pines, Maples, Larches and Flowering Trees, Using nursery trees and garden material for bonsai, Correcting Design and Growth, Refining bonsai with 33 before and after studies and creating trees of various styles.
At the end of the book there are three “Bonsai quick-reference Tables. These are a brief guide to some of the main species – repotting, pruning, wiring, and special issues to watch out for. A page introducing Suiseki or Viewing stones precedes the final useful reference on where to learn more, that includes many of the best Internet resources. Overall a well organized book with lavish illustration of good to excellent trees. A must have for beginners.

The Bonsai Book: The Definitive Illustrated Guide by Dan Barton Publisher Ebury Press 1989 Hardback  

Dan Barton's background as a Teacher of Graphic Art's makes this one of the easiest and comprehensible books on Bonsai ever written. It consists of nine chapters from one of the UK’s leading lights in Bonsai. Opens with a thoughtful chapter on Bonsai as a way of life, continues with chapters on Getting started, Composts Styles and Styling, Training Techniques, Propagation, Pests and Diseases, Case Histories, Culture and Techniques, a very useful Bonsai Calendar and concludes with Appendices on a five year planner, Suitable Species, a glossary and index.

A poetic, lavishly illustrated volume with the authors own photographs and full of original research. A must have for beginners and old hands alike

The Complete Book of Bonsai  by Harry Tomlinson  Pub. Abbeville Press 1990. Hardback, 224 pages.

Six chapters on Art, Creating, Species Guide, Maintenance, Propagation and a Compendium of Trees and Shrubs. Captioned colour guide to bonsai techniques. The  text is concise with UK specific cultural information.

Techniques and procedures are explained in detail, with excellent photographic sequences. The species guide is detailed and useful, especially the "Dictionary" of trees and shrubs at the end, which provides summaries of the cultural needs of many trees and shrubs with bonsai potential. There is a useful glossary at the end. Illustrations are good, but the bonsai photographs vary from mundane to excellent. This book is one of the standards for beginners to the art of bonsai.

Bonsai School by Craig Coussins 2002 Hardback Publisher Silverdale Books

The Art of Bonsai: Creation, Care and Enjoyment  By Yuji Yoshimura & Giovanna M. Halford  Pub. Charles E. Tuttle, Soft Cover, 220 pages. paperback.

The Art of Bonsai is a reissue of The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees & Landscapes  published in 1957. A classic early book, though still highly informative, with eight chapters: Introduction, Propagation, Potting and Repotting, Training, Rock and Group Plantings, Care of Bonsai, Pests, and Judging and Exhibiting Bonsai.

Few books written since this one have explained bonsai so well. There are some colour photos, but most pictures are in black and white. Some excellent and well known bonsai are featured. This book should be on every hobbyist's shelf, as it will be referred to often. There is a fascinating set of appendices covering tools, soils, and plant data, though this takes some effort to understand, giving English, Japanese, and scientific names for common bonsai plants, along with cultural information.

The Bonsai Workshop by Herb Gustafson Pub. Sterling Publishing. 1996. 128 pages. A book that you will return to frequently as a good guide with straightforward explanations of  trees and their problems.

There are sections on soil and planting, an extensive guide for species,.covering soil needs, pruning, pests and sunlight requirements. A seasonal description of tasks and how they should be done. Seasons are broken down into sections to help spread the care through the period. The checklist for care is invaluable: symptoms are listed, followed by treatment. The three-step watering procedure and discussion of water in soil, offer more on the topic than most other books. Simple tasks such as weeding are also covered. As well as his own excellent photography, the artistry is plentiful and inspiring.

The Bonsai Handbook: By David Prescott. Publisher New Holland, 2001. 148 pages. Hardback.

A well illustrated volume giving the right amount of detail on the horticulture of bonsai, the biology of plants, the art behind bonsai, and the traditional information on styles, pruning, watering, fertilizing, wiring, etc. Pictures of excellent bonsai from Walter Pall, Colin Lewis, and others. There’s a directory of plants suited for bonsai that is a bit smaller than those in other books, but useful nonetheless. A good glossary and index close the book.

Bonsai Survival Manual: An Essential Guide to Buying, Maintaining and Problem Solving by Colin Lewis, Storey Publishing 1996.

The first half of the book contains pretty much the standard bonsai text; finding trees, caring for trees, shaping, pruning, soils, pests, etc. but in addition it describes what to look for when you want to buy good trees. The second half covers fairly detailed profiles of 50 species of trees that are used for bonsai. It is aimed at what to look for when you buy a tree and it contains all necessary cultural and training information on the trees that are covered.

The Living Art of Bonsai: Principles & Techniques of Cultivation & Propagation by Amy Liang Pub Sterling Publishing 1992. Hard and Paperback, 288 pages.

Opens with a chapter on Bonsai Appreciation that has many pages of colour photos of some excellent Chinese and Japanese bonsai. The text is detailed and informative. Techniques are described along with colour photos, providing step-by-step guides. Includes a section on plant physiology. The concluding chapter, “A guide to Bonsai Appreciation” describes what makes a good bonsai, something that is largely ignored in most other books.

Bonsai Sunset Books, Paperback. 2004. 128 pages.

Look for the latest version of this very well written book on the art and cultivation of Bonsai, by the publishers of Sunset Magazine in the USA, it is inexpensive and well organized..

There are many colour photos of some excellent to very good bonsai. There is a seasonal care chart for various bonsai jobs for a large number of species. Not as detailed as other texts. This is a basic bonsai book for anyone “interested” but not yet committed to the art.  

Bonsai: The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees By Peter Chan, Thunder Bay Press. 2002. 176 pages.

This looks like a coffee-table book with the large format and large colour illustrations showing some excellent bonsai. There is also a considerable amount of very useful information here, ranging from a detailed history of bonsai, a thorough discussion of the many way one can grow trees, sources of bonsai from nurseries to the wild, styles, and more detail on care and feeding of bonsai than many other books contain. The book concludes with informative sections on Pines, Japanese maples, Junipers, flowering trees, Satsuki Azalea, and Wisteria.

The Masters' Book of Bonsai (Nobukichi Koide, Saburo Kato, Fusazo Takeyama) Kodansha Int. Ltd. 1967. Paperback, 144 pages, 9 chapters.

Contains a colour photo gallery of some very old and fine bonsai. Many Black and white photos. Some well known bonsai are used throughout the text. Text is thorough and has good illustrations covering most important topics. The appendix contains a chart of activities and timing of procedures for most species. Inexpensive and complete.

Practical Bonsai (Paul Lesniewicz & Hideo Kato) Foulsham 1991. Paperback, 127 pages,

This book has 8 sections on: Historical Background, What is a typical bonsai?, How to Grow a bonsai, Training a bonsai, Buying a bonsai, How to look after bonsai, Recognition and Control of Pests, and a Table on Care and Training. Nice little book covering many aspects of bonsai in just over 100 pages. Some good colour photos of some nice bonsai. Good diagrams of techniques. Has a good pinching and pruning guide for a number of typical bonsai species. Inexpensive. Out of Print.

Bonsai Complete Guide to Art and Technique (Paul Lesniewicz) Blandford Press 1984. Hard Cover, 194 pages,

Has 7 chapters and 6 appendices. Complete, well illustrated, but not extensive text. Text is short; topics are covered in 4-5 paragraphs. Illustrations to procedures are well drawn and clear. Some good colour photos of some good bonsai. Basic beginner's text. Clear, easy to understand instruction. Treatment of subject matter is superficial. Photo quality is not great.

Bonsai Masterclass Peter Chan, Sterling Publishing 1988. Hard Cover, 160 pages,

A useful text, but it contains little that makes it stand out from the crowd of bonsai books aimed at beginning growers. Some of the illustrated trees are worth looking at, but many are quite amateurish. Out of print.

The Creative Art of Bonsai (Isabelle & Remy Samson) Ward Lock Ltd 1986. Hardback, 168 pages,

Broken into 2 parts; General Principles, and Selection of Trees Suitable for Training as bonsai. Part 1 has excellent drawings and photos demonstrating various techniques but is only 24 pages long. Part 2 has 1-2 pages devoted to each species used as bonsai. Well Illustrated, some good (and bad) examples of bonsai and useful tree-specific information. General Section is too short. Out of Print.

Creating Bonsai Landscapes: 18 Miniature Garden Projects Su Chin Ee and Colin Lewis, Storey Books 2003. Paperback.

This book is full of beautiful photos, illustrations and diagrams. It is a bonsai book, but also includes many craft techniques. The author includes step-by-step information on making artificial rocks. Begins with the materials used in the creation of the projects described, similar to the information included in other bonsai books. The basics discussed include selection of plants, planning, attaching the plants to the rocks, and soil. A planting plan for each project is included. A beautiful full-page photo of each of the finished projects is one of the best parts of the book. A delightful book if you’re not too fussy about “classic” bonsai styling.

About Bonsai (Ortho's All About) by Penelope O’Sullivan. 2004. 128 pages.

Overall, a good introductory book. It contains an extensive guide to trees and shrubs that make good bonsai and includes illustrations of many very nice trees. Its how-to sections are generally clear and well-thought-out, with excellent descriptions and illustrations.

The Bonsai Specialist: The Essential Guide to Buying, Planting, Displaying, Improving and Caring for Bonsai by David Squire. New Holland pub.2004. 79 pages.

One of the least expensive of the beginner books. While not truly “essential” it is certainly adequate. It covers the basics with no obvious errors and has a fair species list of plants suited to bonsai, indoors and out.

Dwarfed Potted Trees: The Bonsai of Japan Edited by K. Yashiroda. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record #13. 1953. Paperback, 97 pages

A compilation of essays on various bonsai subjects by leading Japanese growers. Topics include repotting, miniature bonsai, Bald Cypress bonsai, Wisteria bonsai, Yeddo Spruce, Satsuki Azalea, and Zelkova bonsai. A suggested list of plants suitable for bonsai. Good range of topics covered by leading Japanese bonsai growers. The essays are short but the topics are covered better here than in many other books. The text has remained the same over the years, but the illustrations have been updated in recent editions.

The Essentials of Bonsai by the Editors of Shufonotomo Publisher David & Charles 1982 Hardback 

Opens with 12 full page colour pictures of masterpieces and continues with chapters on Styles, Appreciation of Bonsai,  Plants Suitable for Bonsai, Raising bonsai, Care, Training, 12 more colour pictures of masterpieces, Shaping and concludes with some short picture essays of practical techniques. A small and concise volume with much good information. 

Bonsai: Special Techniques (Plants and Gardens) (K. Yashiroda Ed.) Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record #51. 1966. Paperback, 89 pages, U.S.

A compilation of essays on various bonsai subjects by leading American and Japanese growers (e.g. Perry, Hull, Murata, Yashiroda, Kawamoto, Nakamura). Topics include soils, winter care, Forest bonsai, Stone-clasping bonsai, and wiring technique. Some color photos. Inexpensive. Wide range of topics covered by leading bonsai growers. Color photos of some outstanding specimens from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens collection. Essays are short; some only one page. But topics are covered better here than in most books.

Simon and Schuster's Guide to Bonsai by Gianfranco Giorgi Publisher Fireside Books Simon & Schuster 1990. Paperback, 255 pages,

Begins with a fairly complete how-to section and a guide to bonsai styles. The main value of this book lies in its general guide to the plants suitable for use as bonsai. This section describes the plants including pictures of leaves, fruits and nuts. The bonsai section lists the cultural information for 124 species of bonsai on Repotting, Pruning and Wiring, Feeding, and has notes on their specific requirements. A glossary of plant terms concludes. Very good colour photos of each bonsai species described.


Intermediate and Advanced Books

Mame and Shohin Books

Indoor Bonsai Books



















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