10 Beginner-Friendly Bonsai Plants

My Garden Life
December 26, 2018
Table of Contents

Bonsai, the ancient Japanese art of growing miniature versions of large trees and bushes in small shallow pots, is enjoying unprecedented popularity among modern gardeners in the western world. While any tree or bush can be trained to be a bonsai, the following ten plants are among those you’re most likely to find for sale near you. Here’s what you need to know about each:

Azalea

Azalea bonsai in pot
The vibrant seasonal colors of the azalea, a favorite of gardeners everywhere, is available in miniature in the azalea bonsai. Like its full-sized counterparts, an azalea bonsai should be fed with special azalea and rhododendron fertilizer during the growing season.

Chinese Elm

Chinese elm bonsai tree in a pot
The Chinese elm, which can grow to 65 feet (20 meters) in the wild, is slow growing and thus forgiving to the beginner who wants to learn the art of training his or her own bonsai trees. This is a tree that can be grown outdoors year-round if provided winter protection.

Ficus

Ginseng ficus bonsai tree in pot on windowsill
The ficus tree is one of the most popular choices for gardeners new to bonsai, as it is hardy and will survive some under or overwatering. Like the Fukien tea, the ficus can thrive as an indoor plant, but it also enjoys spending summers in a lightly shaded spot outside.

Fukien tea

Fukien tea bonsai tree in pot on windowsill
The Fukien tea is an evergreen shrub originating from China. Unlike many bonsai trees, this plant can be kept indoors all year round, so it’s a great choice for apartment dwellers with no space to set plants outdoors.

Hawaiian Umbrella

Schefflera arboricola bonsai tree in pot, Hawaiian schefflera
The Hawaiian umbrella is a favorite among bonsai enthusiasts because its roots resemble a mangrove’s and are attractive growing over rocks in a bonsai pot. A native of subtropical regions, the Hawaiian umbrella should never be subject to temperatures below 59°F (15°C).

Jade

Jade bonsai tree in potAnother great choice for anyone new to growing bonsai trees or houseplants is the hardy jade plant, a succulent that can withstand neglect and still flourish.

Juniper

Juniper bonsai tree in pot
There are around 60 species, both trees and shrubs, in the genus juniper, and many of these have been used for centuries as bonsai subjects. Juniper bonsai trees need to be outdoors, so they’re for those with balcony or deck space for the potted plant.

Pine

Pine bonsai tree in pot
Through the ages, the pine tree has been a favorite of traditional Japanese bonsai artists. All the different types of pine bonsai trees should be grown outside and in conditions that, as closely as possible, mimic the native conditions for that particular pine variety.

Rosemary

Rosemary tree in pot
The rosemary bush, which can be trained into an attractive bonsai tree, is easy to care for, needing only sunlight and well-drained soil to grow well. An added bonus: You can use clippings from this bonsai in your cooking and potpourri mixes.

Sweet Plum

Sweet plum bonsai tree in pot

Sweet plum is another plant native to subtropical regions and will not do well as an outdoor bonsai in regions with freezing winters. This plant also needs to be placed in a low light area of the house for six to eight weeks in the winter in order to rest and reset.

With bonsai trees available for purchase online and at garden centers everywhere it’s a great time to give them a try. If you’re looking for additional information on selecting and growing houseplants check out the latest articles on My Garden Life.

14 Comments

  1. Wendy Deeley

    This was a very informative piece of information.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Wendy,
      Happy that you found it helpful!

      Reply
      • Vera

        Can I have tips to regrowth my ficus/fukien tea tree after loosing some leaves please? should I use food plant or fertilizer?

        Reply
        • My Garden Life

          Hi Vera,
          You don’t want to apply fertilizer until the tree is actively growing again. Fertilizer won’t help if your plant is struggling and can actually do harm if there is a problem with the root’s ability to uptake the fertilizer and it just concentrates in the soil. The important question is why your trees are dropping leaves in the first place. Reasons a plant might drop leaves are:
          • insufficient light
          • plant drying out
          • insect infestation such as spider mites
          Investigate whether one of these problems might be affecting your trees and make adjustments.

          Reply
          • Vera

            Actually I was away for more than a week, I wasn’t aware that it gets very dry & looses lots of leaves. Thank you for the information

          • My Garden Life

            You’re welcome, Vera. We hope that your plant makes a full recovery.

  2. Ingrid Nunez

    Where can I get bonsai pots?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ingrid,
      You might find low pots suitable for bonsai at the garden center of a retail chain store such as The Home Depot or Lowe’s. A local independent garden center might be able to help you and many florists now carry bonsai along with potted foliage plants so they might have insight on where to get bonsai pots locally, if they don’t already carry them. You could also contact an American Bonsai Society Club near you and ask your local experts. Use this link to find a list of the clubs with their location and contact information. Otherwise, there are many online specialty suppliers for bonsai. Search for “where to buy bonsai pots” in your web browser and you should get many results to investigate.

      Reply
  3. Tony McGurk

    Thanks for this article. My wife bought me a Bonsai today & I had no idea how to care for it. As soon as I saw it I was concerned about the total soil covering of glued together rocks. It seemed so abnormal to do that to any potted plant. I’ll be sure to remove them.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Tony,
      Glad you found the information helpful. We assume that the glued rocks are a convenience for shipping plants (don’t have to worry about pots losing soil or plants falling out of their pots during transit) but it’s certainly not helpful to the plant upon arrival. You can top off the soil level with some potting mix if removing the rock layer significantly reduces the soil line. What a fun gift, enjoy your new plant!

      Reply
  4. Ken

    Sweet plum, pine, juniper, and Fukien tea are unfortunately not good beginner plants. Some better ones would be other varieties of Ficus or crassula ovata (big jade).

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Ken,
      Thank you for the tips! Your suggestions should be very helpful for anyone new to bonsai plants.

      Reply
  5. Brandon

    Hello! Enjoyed your article! Are there any bonsai trees that are good for Arizona’s hot climate?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Brandon,
      Some possibilities for bonsai in your area are juniper, Bursera species, bougainvillea, and the desert rose (Adenium obesum). The desert rose tends to look very much like a bonsai tree in its natural state so you could get the aesthetic of a bonsai tree without the work, but to keep it small you would eventually need to treat it as a true bonsai.

      Reply

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