As a bonsai enthusiast I was introduced to show prep almost immediately after I started doing bonsai. My first teacher was preparing more than 15 trees for an annual show and put me to work adding moss to a saikei. Years later I was doing the same thing to my own trees. When I teach, people sometimes indicate that they just want to grow bonsai, not show them. My advice to them is to take it one step at a time; and not to limit themselves in what they will do until they understand the entire process.
My decisions on what trees to show and when are driven each year by the success and failure involved in growing trees into top condition. When a tree really starts to look great I start to think about showing it. The road to that point can be long, somewhat like a marathon. But, in the final year leading to the show, the tree will typically take much more time and effort than it has leading up to that point.
Show prep starts with the decision to show a tree. Then continues with the wiring, fine branch setting, and trimming. If the styling comes out well, not ending up with the tree needing to fill in again, then it’s getting close. Finding an appropriate container and getting the tree to fit into it is a major hurdle. Then the last one is to spit shine, shoe polish, and moss the tree.
For my Blue Atlas cedar, after having grown it for a long time, then getting it largely prepped and into the container; the final step is to apply some moss and clean up any remaining issues. This year I am showing four trees in the Bay Island Bonsai show, and they all need final prep.