Written reviews from a rural perspective for the sassy shopper in all of us

10 June 2006

The Mini Bonsai Kit

About a year or so ago, I received the Mini Bonsai Kit as a little gift from a friend. I expressed an interest in the art of bonsai and I didn't know where to begin. She gave this to me as a token of our friendship.

Needless to say, I was very excited about entering the world of bonsai with my two not-so-green thumbs to guide me. I have never been much of a gardener, to say the least. Usually, I left that role up to my mother who has a variety of plants and garden projects.

I think the majority of the people who receive this kit are clued out about bonsai and that included myself. This can be both good and bad. It was good because it inspired an interest within me to learn more about this fine living art. It propelled me to discover the history and do my own research. The negative side to this kit seems to outweigh it as it fills you with some sort of false hope that you too will grow a seed that will eventually turn into a smashing bonsai tree.

Truth be told, you will NOT have a smashing bonsai tree until about 40 years down the road!

The kit itself is very cute and ideal for a stocking stuffer. It contains 4 to 6 seeds (typically Jack Pine seeds), a small and shallow ceramic pot, wee scissors for trimming, and a mini bonsai book. It's a nice introduction to bonsai but not the ideal or wisest path to educating yourself. After looking at several bonsai message forums online, it seems these kits get into the hands of all the wrong people. The kits are not highly recommended from these experts.

I think this kit is a waste of money, actually, even though it is a quirky and fun gift. It almost leads you to believe that you will have a bonsai tree within a year which is far from the truth. My kit came with only four seeds. Chances are, most of the seeds that come in this kit are not fresh seeds. There is a very good chance that after you stratify them (by placing the seeds in a wet paper towel in a plastic bag to be placed in your refrigerator) for about a week, your seeds will NOT grow. Out of the four seeds provided, only two grew. The instructions tell you to place one or two seeds to a peat pellet but really there should only be one seed per pellet. They tell you to remove the weaker plant - but I can't see why you cannot plant that one as well. The small, shallow pot provided is not correct. When the seed grows, it has to be in a regular sized plant pot until it is ready for creating a bonsai. If your seed is growing into a healthy seedling, it will root outside the peat pellet within months and that will happen within month. There is no way you should wait a year to replant, as the instructions suggest.

Basically, this kit is ideal for frustrating those interested in bonsai and it will most likely lead you to kill your wee seedlings through the unclear instructions that is provided. It may also kill your enthusiasm to further pursue the art of bonsai.

As I mentioned previously, only two out of four seeds grew. The first seedling unfortunately died due to an unforeseen windy day. The second one is a year old and still only about two inches tall. The kit fails to mention that Jack Pine seedlings are best kept outdoors at ALL times. As well, it fails to mention that the first few years of Jack Pine growth are quite slow unless you use a growth fertilizer which is probably not recommended in the first place. This kit lacks proper information about the seedling variety that you are growing. It's best that you do your own research on the internet. This is a good website that tells you a lot about
Jack Pines.

I almost killed my second Jack Pine seedling. Like most people who seem to grow via the Mini Bonsai Kit, I kept my seedling indoors most of the time as though it was some sort of ornament. I was misinformed about many things - soil types for the variety of seedling, containers, the proper amount of water to feed it, and insect infestation (he had a problem last year with very tiny, jumping white bugs - it was cured by cigarette ashes mixed in water). I was also under the impression that this would be a fast project and I will have something to work with in a year or two. If you are growing any kind of seedling, it takes many years before you can get into creating a bonsai tree out of it.

I don't recommend this kit, even though it is very quirky and a fun stocking stuffer. You can do this yourself for a lot cheaper. All you have to do is go foraging for your own seeds (or, I suppose, you can buy them online) and do a bit of research. Eventually, you can forgo the cheap mini scissors and buy yourself proper tools as the scissors provided in the kit can't even cut paper! Recently, I found one of those twirly maple seeds (that look like little helicopters!) and planted it for kicks. It's growing better and faster as it was simply a fresh seed from the wild. This cost me nothing but a little time to plant and take care of it. This might seem like a good gift idea but you could build your own kit for a lot less. As well, if you are interested in getting into bonsai without the length of time it takes to grow from seeds - you can always rescue plants/trees from a garden center and start some real, hands-on learning.

My opinion:
It's a funky little stocking stuffer but not worth the coin in the long run. Find your own seeds and above all - do your research before starting a plant project with no clue! Not recommended!