It started two years ago. As a leaving present at my last job I got a scrappy little Zelkova mallsai. For those unfamiliar with the word, a mallsai is a mass produced bonsai sold in big garden centres that are generally produced in China by people wanting to make easy money. Obviously there is nothing wrong with that but these trees do tend to be barely alive when sold across the ocean. Most of the time they are grown in very bad soil with nearly no drainage and the pots are too small and heavily rootbound. When left untouched a tree like this generally dies within a few years. Garden centres call them Bonsai but in the state they are sold they’re as much a bonsai as I am a supermodel. Their style can be best described as what a uninformed person, say a child, would deem to be a Bonsai. I think the (horrible quality) picture below says enough.
Regardless of quality I was very happy with the little fella. Mostly because it was given by people I worked with for 6 years and getting something that lasts from them is a lovely gesture, but also because a little tree like this can completely transform when you give it some attention. Also quite often they are Zelkovas which is a really good breed for Bonsai that is very rewarding to work with and reacts well to pruning and proper care. Another upside of Zelkovas is that they have good ramification and leaf size to start with making it a lot easier to look Bonsai-esque than most other european deciduous trees (Beeches, Oaks, Hornbeams).
A bigger pot, some light pruning, a nice root treatment and fresh well-drained soil with a bit of fertiliser. And within two summers you can see the effect already.
The tree is much fuller and is teeming with dense foiliage that is on it’s way to proper Bonsai quality ramification and form. The only thing I did was to remove the most bottom branch and angled the trunk a bit forward. The pictures below are from this summer, only 3 summers after I got it.
And there you go, on it’s way to be a proper Bonsai! And that for just €40,-, a bit of soil and a fresh pot. If you know what you’re doing it’s by far the easiest and cheapest (time-wise) way to get some good trees into your collection.