Like with just about anything in miniature, there’s something about bonsai trees that’s just so cute. Although it might seem like you could never do such intricate gardening yourself, the art of bonsai does not need to be terrifying. If you choose carefully out of the many trees for bonsai and follow the care instructions, you’ll soon have a tiny tree of your own.
Just like their normal-sized counterparts, bonsai plants come in a variety of shapes, styles, and colors. Whether you’re looking for a striking silhouette or tropical flair, read on to discover the perfect bonsai species for you.
- Ideal Tree Species for Bonsai
- The Best Soil for Bonsai Trees
- How to Grow Trees for Bonsai
- Ficus Bonsai (Ficus retusa)
- Chinese Elm Bonsai (Ulmus parvifolia)
- Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai (Juniperus procumbens 'Nana') – A Low-Growing Bonsai Tree
- Pomegranate Bonsai (Punica granatum)
- Fukien Tea Bonsai (Ehretia buxifolia)
- Money Tree Bonsai (Pachira aquatica) – A Tropical Bonsai Tree
- Satsuki Azalea Bonsai (Rhododendron indicum)
- Brazilian Rain Tree Bonsai (Pithecellobium tortum)
- Dwarf Jade Bonsai (Portulacaria afra) – A Drought-Tolerant Bonsai Tree
- Bougainvillea Bonsai (Bougainvillea glabra)
- Japanese Maple Bonsai (Acer palmatum)
- Snowrose Bonsai (Serissa japonica) – A Stinky Bonsai Tree
- Common Boxwood Bonsai (Buxus sempervirens)
- Japanese Black Pine Bonsai (Pinus thunbergii)
Ideal Tree Species for Bonsai
If you’re new to bonsai, you may not know where to start. Bonsais are different than your typical houseplants that need little light. They usually need some extra care to do well.
Before thinking about planting or pruning, prepare a suitable soil mixture and determine your plant’s light requirements.
The Best Soil for Bonsai Trees
Bonsai plants do poorly in ordinary garden soil that you typically use for small low light indoor plants. Their ideal soil is well-aerated and drains well yet retains some water.
Possible components include akadama, a hard-baked Japanese clay, pumice, a soft volcanic product, and lava rock. You may also add organic potting compost or fine gravel or grit.
How to Grow Trees for Bonsai
Grow your own bonsai, plant seeds or cuttings, or buy a bonsai starter kit or partially trained or full-fledged bonsai. In small bonsai pots, the soil tends to dry out and be nutrient-poor.
Check your bonsai’s water level often, but don’t overwater it, and feed it a little fertilizer. Prune established trees to keep them small and your desired shape.
Grab your bonsai tools if you have two branches at the same height, twisted limbs, or thick branches high up. Use wire to bend branches. Bonsai plants require regular repotting, often every other year.
Ficus Bonsai (Ficus retusa)
The ficus is one of the most beginner-friendly indoor bonsai trees. Its curved trunk bears dark-green leaves. Grow this bonsai from seeds in the spring, air layering in April or May, or midsummer cuttings.
It survives outdoors in the summer in full sun in temperatures above 59℉. Put it in basic soil, watering well whenever it’s dry and misting daily.
Distribute liquid fertilizer or organic pellets every week or two during the summer, and every two to four weeks in the winter. Prune after branches boast six to eight leaves.
Chinese Elm Bonsai (Ulmus parvifolia)
Propagate this elm tree with small, double-toothed leaves using cuttings. Its frost tolerance varies; in milder climates, leave the tree outside in the winter. In any case, grow it in full or partial sun and well-drained soil.
Water this bonsai generously once the soil is dry, ensuring that it doesn’t get soggy. Feed it solid organic fertilizer and balanced liquid chemical fertilizer during the growing season. Prune dense branches frequently and branches with three or four nodes in late fall.
Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) – A Low-Growing Bonsai Tree
This evergreen has blue-green needles, berry-like cones, and silvery-white deadwood. Plant seeds or cuttings in standard, well-draining soil.
Place this outdoor bonsai in a sunny location with protection from extreme cold. Only water when the soil has dried, but mist regularly.
During the growing season, give organic fertilizer pellets or balls monthly or liquid fertilizer weekly, and high-nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Remove some needles at the base to let light enter. Styling juniper bonsai branches is common.
Pomegranate Bonsai (Punica granatum)
This deciduous tree or shrub produces trumpet-shaped red flowers and large, round, many-seeded fruit. Propagate the pomegranate bonsai with seeds, air layering, or cuttings.
It thrives in a warm, sunny spot with good air circulation and protection from the hot afternoon sun. These fruit trees to grow in pots prefer fast-draining, slightly acidic or neutral soil. Give your bonsai non-calcareous water when the soil is dry.
Apply low-nitrogen solid organic fertilizer monthly or liquid fertilizer weekly while it’s growing, except during flowering. Prune during the winter, also trimming new shoots once they’re four to six inches long.
Fukien Tea Bonsai (Ehretia buxifolia)
This tree’s dark-green leaves have white dots on top and hairs underneath. It may produce small white flowers or reddish berries. Propagate it with seeds or cuttings in the summer in well-drained soil.
This bonsai needs lots of direct sunlight but should only live outdoors if nights are warm. In the winter, consider installing a plant light and placing the pot in a wet gravel tray to increase humidity.
Keep the soil moist but not wet. Fertilize year-round, but less often in winter, using solid organic fertilizer or liquid fertilizer for damp soil. Trim the bonsai regularly.
Money Tree Bonsai (Pachira aquatica) – A Tropical Bonsai Tree
This evergreen has leaves with many leaflets and, potentially, flowers with red-tipped stamens and woody fruit with edible seeds. Although its trunk is often braided, the braided strands may crush each other.
Propagate this tree with seeds or hardwood cuttings in well-draining, humus-rich soil, placed on a wet gravel tray in a bright location. Alternatively, leave your bonsai outdoors if temperatures stay above 54℉.
Water well once the soil has dried, but mist the leaves often. Apply liquid fertilizer weekly from spring to mid-fall. Prune the bonsai vigorously in late winter.
Satsuki Azalea Bonsai (Rhododendron indicum)
Azaleas boast spectacular flowers in May and June. In spring or summer, propagate cuttings in slightly acidic azalea soil. Put your bonsai in a sunny spot that’s protected from the hot sun, rain, and severe frost.
This evergreen must not dry out but does not appreciate constant wetness. Filter tap water, or mix it with rainwater.
Distribute solid organic fertilizer, and liquid azalea or rhododendron fertilizer weekly, during the growing period. During flowering, stop or reduce fertilizing. After flowering, remove wilted blooms and prune the strong lower branches vigorously.
Brazilian Rain Tree Bonsai (Pithecellobium tortum)
This plant has leaves that close when it’s dark and puffy white or pink flowers. Propagate it with seeds, cuttings, or air layering in fast-draining soil.
This bonsai does not tolerate frost, preferring full sun but requiring protection from extreme summer heat. Keep it outdoors if temperatures remain above 45℉. If indoors, spray its leaves or place the pot in a tray of wet gravel.
The Brazilian rain tree favors moist soil, so do not let the root ball dry out. Add liquid fertilizer weekly while it grows and monthly in the winter. Trim shoots regularly.
Dwarf Jade Bonsai (Portulacaria afra) – A Drought-Tolerant Bonsai Tree
This dwarf tree bears small, oval succulent leaves and, likely, white fall flowers. Propagate it via summertime cuttings in well-drained soil.
Put this jade indoors or outdoors in a bright spot with temperatures above 41℉. If they’re getting enough light, the leaves should develop red tips or edges.
The leaves retain water well, so water infrequently. In the winter, water only once every three weeks as long as it’s relatively cold. Fertilize monthly throughout the growing season. Prune your bonsai regularly.
Bougainvillea Bonsai (Bougainvillea glabra)
This evergreen bears tiny, trumpet-shaped flowers with bright bracts in summer through fall. Propagate bougainvillea using semi-hardwood or root cuttings in spring or summer, or air layering.
It thrives in a sunny location during the growing period and a well-lit room with fall temperatures between 50 and 59℉. Use well-draining soil.
Water your bonsai well when the soil is dry, but avoid constant wetness and calcareous water. Distribute organic fertilizer monthly or liquid fertilizer weekly as it grows, then every other week during the winter.
Cut the bougainvillea’s shoots after flowering and prune its thorny branches in fall or winter. Be careful with its delicate root system.
Japanese Maple Bonsai (Acer palmatum)
This maple’s leaves turn yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Expect greenish-yellow flowers in May or June. Propagate this tree with summertime seeds or cuttings or air layering in fast-draining, neutral or acidic soil.
Choose a sunny spot where air circulates well, relocating into shade during the midday heat and giving extra water. The Japanese maple tolerates frost but demands temperatures above 14℉. Water daily during the growing season with non-calcareous water.
Add solid organic fertilizer according to package directions or low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer weekly. Trim shoots and twigs year-round and strong branches in fall or summer. Every other year, remove all leaves in early summer.
Snowrose Bonsai (Serissa japonica) – A Stinky Bonsai Tree
This plant, also called the tree of a thousand stars, has white flowers from spring to summer. Grow semi-hardwood cuttings in neutral soil. Place serissa in a sunny site with warm nighttime temperatures and wind protection.
From fall through spring, move the bonsai indoors to temperatures between 50 and 68℉. Keep it moist with non-calcareous water. Feed healthy plants balanced solid organic fertilizer monthly or liquid fertilizer weekly throughout the growing period.
In a warm winter, apply liquid fertilizer monthly. Trim young trees once branches have four or five leaves, and prune old trees after flowering. Prune actively in early spring if necessary.
Common Boxwood Bonsai (Buxus sempervirens)
This hardy evergreen shrub has greenish-yellow flowers, but note that the whole plant is poisonous. Propagate it via springtime cuttings or air layering in soil containing pumice or lime rock gravel.
Grow boxwood outdoors in full or partial sun, but in a cold greenhouse in the winter. This plant tolerates frost but requires protection from extreme cold. During the summer, give it lots of water, but do not get it too wet.
While it’s growing, apply solid organic fertilizer monthly or liquid fertilizer weekly. Trim new shoots, and thin a dense canopy.
Japanese Black Pine Bonsai (Pinus thunbergii)
Remove this evergreen’s candles in early summer to prompt a second flush of dark-green needles. Propagate it with seeds or grafting in well-drained soil. Place the pine outside in full sun, with winter protection.
Do not overwater. Give healthy trees solid organic fertilizer at least three times four weeks apart between March and decandling. Once the second needle growth appears, fertilize again until late fall.
In the fall, after the second growth matures, remove old needles in sturdy parts of the tree, and extra shoots where there are more than two needles per cluster. Cut the tips off dormant buds.
Although you may look at bonsai trees and think you could never do that, growing a DIY bonsai tree or even bonsai collection does not need to be challenging. The key is to follow the requirements for soil, watering, fertilizer, and pruning.
The diverse trees for bonsai available mean that you can enjoy flowers, needles, leaves, and more. Bonsai make charming houseplants or additions to a garden.
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