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Number 3 on the list of things I’ve been doing wrong for twenty years: Working with tiny plants. 

Bonsai is a hobby that can eat up a lot of money, but… well, I haven’t had much of that. One of the errors I made because of this is collecting little seedlings with hopes of one day training them into bonsai. This is a rediculously slow way to end up with a good bonsai!

This collection of azaleas is a good example. They are not remotely tree-like and are years from being anything worth the time it takes to water them. This is the kind of thing I am now getting off my bench and back in the ground where they belong. If they show promise 5 or 10 years down the road, then I’ll reconsider. 

There are ways to get bigger, better stock to develop your collection at little to no cost. Larger plants can be purchased at garden centers (watch for sales!) or they can be collected, including from your neighborhood. I continue to be surprised at how often neighbors have old shrubs removed and discarded as they redesign their gardens.
You always need to get permission before digging a plant, but to get permission, you have to ask for it. So look around, and if you see something that would make a good bonsai, ask about it. You might get turned down a lot, but you may be surprised how happy someone can be to have you remove a plant they didn’t even want in the first place.