Basic ways to start:
  1. Nursery plants.
  2. Young plants from seeds or cuttings.
  3. Stunted trees collected from hedges, mountains, forests etc.

At the nursery look for plants with sturdy bases and two or three low branches. Avoid trees that start thinner at the base and then flare out.
Poking about around the base of the tree may reveal a flaring trunk bole under the soil or one or two good surface roots.

Cuttings are easy, as many Indian trees root happily from cuttings. Ficus varieties will root even when much thicker than a thumb. Bonsai training should start when the cutting is at least three years old.

The first time a tree is potted into a flat bonsai pot is the trickiest. This is the time to cut the tap-root and other thick vertical roots. The rest of the roots are also shortened to fit the tree into a flat pot.
Take care to leave enough roots for the tree to survive; if it has mainly thick roots and a vigorous tap root, it is best to shorten them about two inches and complete the removal over two or three years when the tree will have acquired a mat of fibrous roots to take over.Prune the branches at the same time aiming to take off as much on top as the roots removed below, so as to minimise the strain on the reduced root system.

The front of the tree should be decided at the first re-potting. This is the side from which the tree looks its best: the trunk should be clearly viewable, the roots should be evenly balanced extending further to the right and left than to the front or back, the top of the tree should lean a little forward and there should be a good branch to the back of the tree to give it depth. Once the front is decided the tree should be placed centrally in a round pot, to the back and slightly to left or right in an oval or rectangular one.

Pruning is the main technique by which a bonsai is formed.

    It has several aims:
  • To create taper in the trunk and branches and to change their directions of growth.
  • To remove unwanted and unsightly branches and to maintain form.
  • To make the branches ramify i.e. multiply into numerous secondary sub-branches and tertiary twigs.

A tree's natural tendency is to grow upwards, with the maximum growth energy concentrated at the top or the apex of the tree. It is necessary to prune hardest at the top, taking off more at the apex and progressively less as we move downwards,reversing the natural cone of vigour.

No part of a trunk or branch is allowed to grow unchecked at the same thickness for any appreciable length of time.The trunk is cut with bonsai cutters or heavy duty secateurs just above a branch growing in a suitable direction, which is then wired upwards to create a thinner continuation of the trunk. This new trunk is itself cut when of a proportional thickness to the base of the trunk, and the process is repeated year after year till a shapely tapering trunk is obtained. The branches are treated in the same way.