When taking your first steps in the bonsai world, most newbies start with bonsai purchased in big department stores like Home Depot or Ikea or the local nursery. We choose a pleasant plant that catches our eye and most probably we are unconsciously buying a “potential failure”. In our eyes this little “bonsai” is the best we have ever seen and although we care for this little something that was sold to us as a “bonsai,” this is not the case. But don’t be discouraged. I have been there, like most, and I’m still at it.
My personal advice as a newbie would be to continue challenging yourself and not to let yourself be discouraged because of the loss of one plant. You should know that this kind of “department store bonsai” is not really a bonsai tree, it’s more like a factory made plant raised in a greenhouse in very humid conditions, flooded with light, pushed with fertilizer, grown to bring profit not to make you happy. The happiness comes in the process of seeing it through, not in the object itself.
If you are aiming to keep a plant for years, or at least until next winter, I advise you to start with garden plants. Keep them as they are in their own training pot at least for a year and learn how they grow and develop, when they bud, if they’re more prone to sun or shadow, if they like more water than other plants, etc.. Observe the plant during one or more growth seasons and start to prune, re-pot and style only when you know the real needs of the plant: starting with pruning… how do they react? How do they respond? In my humble opinion, bonsai is not really an art, it’s more of an observation and series of following actions. Only those who have learned how to react and communicate with the plant have understood the meaning of each single step towards increasing the strength of the plant. Those who know the impact that stress can have on it, can be defined as artists in cultivation. The styling process is another thing and yet it is linked to the first one and somehow they intertwine. Simply put: learn to cultivate your plants and the rest will follow.
Although I have been cultivating my plants since 2010, most of the early plants are still alive and kicking, the new ones are already cultivated in bonsai pots so I have to learn how they will react to stress.One example of stress reaction in juniperus is when the normal scale vegetation switch to needle as shown in the photo. Another sign of stress is certainly the appearance of parasites and the alteration of the foliage.
So learn to “read” your plant, learn what the plant needs and how it reacts, and you are on your way to becoming a good bonsai “artist”.