While I love using collected trees for bonsai more than any other source, I also grow trees from cuttings and seeds. There’s really nothing at all wrong with bonsai grown from cuttings and seeds. After all, our goal is to create the impression of a larger and older tree in a small package, and this can certainly be done using material from any source.
I began growing material for bonsai in the ground some years ago. Ground growing results in quicker thickening of the trunks of your young trees, which of course helps them look larger and older. With the exception of the tiniest bonsai, the mame and shohin sizes, it’s really best to start with a basal trunk thickness of one inch or more. Growing small trees in the ground for just a few years can get you the thicker trunks you need. All it takes is a little guidance as the material grows out.
Here’s a good example of what you can achieve in just a few years. This is either a willow oak, Quercus phellos, or a water oak, Quercus nigra. It seems to have leaves of both species. Regardless, it grew as a volunteer in an old garden area I used years ago for vegetables. Isn’t the twin trunk awesome looking! With a trunk base of 1.75″, this tree could be lifted as early as next year.
I’ve had this blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica, in the ground for two years now. The trunk base is 1″ in diameter, and it has nice taper into a trunk line I’ll cut to next season. I plan to leave it in the ground for a while longer, as I’d like to fatten up the trunk some more before lifting it.
Next is a sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. I had this tree in a nursery container up until two years ago, then decided to put it in the ground to thicken it up. I’ve cut it back a couple of times, then let it grow out wild. The trunk base is now 2″ in diameter. You can see I also have a secondary trunk growing out near the base, which I can let continue growing to further thicken the trunk. What I need to do while this is going on is to manage what will ultimately be my desired trunk line. So I’ll do some judicious pruning in 2016.
Last but not least is this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia. I grew it from a cutting made a couple of years ago, and planted it out this year. The trunk base is just under 1″, and this has been largely achieved by leaving alone the long and thick main trunk you can see taking off to the right. I’ll remove this leader next spring, while allowing the one lower down the trunk on the left remain and grow untrimmed. This one can then be removed in another year or two, at which time I’ll have both a thick trunk along with very good taper. Then the tree can be lifted and grown from a bare trunk.