Growing Bonsai Trees Indoors [9 Best Bonsai Species]

Have you had problems growing bonsai trees indoors? As a friend once told me, “God never created houseplants.“

To keep any plant healthy indoors, the more you duplicate its natural environment, the happier it will be. Keep in mind, not all plants will thrive indoors. It is important to select bonsai that have the best potential for your particular environment.

Below are some growing tips and plants you may not have considered.

Minimalist bedroom in japanese style in white and blue tones, parquet floor, double wooden bed, pillow, flowered bonsai close up, mirror and potted plants, modern interior design
Minimalist bedroom in Japanese style

Plants to Use Indoors

The best plants for growing indoor bonsai plants are tropical and subtropical.

Schefflera

Schefflera bonsai by David Fukumoto
Schefflera Bonsai by David Fukumoto

Schefflera bonsai are especially good for indoors. The dwarf Hawaiian umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola ) is an excellent choice for beginners in the hobby.

The Schefflera bonsai was made famous as bonsai by David Fukumoto in Keauu, Hawaii (on the Big Island).

Ficus

houseplant ficus microcarpa ginseng in white flowerpot
A Young Ficus microcarpa

Ficus varieties such as Green Island, willow leaf fig (Ficus nerifolia), and the Chinese banyan are a few of the best ficus bonsai for indoors. The different varieties often look very different from one another. High light is the most important requirement.

Another consideration for indoor bonsai is the Ficus Ginseng (Ficus retusa). It forms a large, round head of leaves and grows quickly.

Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm Bonsai

The Chinese elm is another real winner and another one of the easiest. Today, they’re a very popular import and, therefore, readily available. The small leaves are a great asset for a beautiful bonsai aesthetic.

Frequent trimming of the branches creates beautiful ramifications.  Many different styles can be created through pruning with little effort, making the Chinese Elm a great beginner bonsai plant.

Brazilian Raintree 

Brazilian Rain Tree- Image Credit Nigel Saunders

It may seem a surprise that the Brazilian Rain Tree can be an indoor bonsai. But it has proven to be quite successful! It is an attractive specimen year-round with white plume-like flowers during the growing season.

Pro Tip: when its leaves close up at night, there’s nothing wrong.

Jaboticaba 

 Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) fruiting

Jaboticaba is another surprise as a good indoor subject. The tree branches profusely, and two or three together make nice groupings. The leaves are soft and almost pink when new, they develop into a somewhat glossy dark green as they age. Another bonus is the round berries it produces once a year!

The Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) is a real indoor treasure! The bark is amazing.

Fukien Tea (Carmona retusa)

Bonsai of Carmona retusa

This a very popular variety for indoors. It has small white flowers. There are two types, a small leaf, and a little larger leaf. Both are good subjects, and many are being imported. It is prone to pests if not cared for properly.

Fukien Tea leaves are small, shiny and dark green. The leaves are also covered in tiny hairs. The leaves create a dense, compact appearance when they are combined.

Natal Plum (Carissa Boxwood)

Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) white flowers and green fruits

The plant is easy to grow, and the fruit, fragrant flowers, and small leaves are a plus. Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa grandiflora) has very large thorns.

Although not likely to fruit indoors, the Natal Plum has beautiful small white flowers.

Jade bonsai 

Jade Bonsai (Portulacaria afra)

The name “Jade Bonsai” is the common name used for at least two different plants. Both jade bonsai have very high light requirements but both

erwise are good for growing bonsai trees indoors.

The Portulacaria afra is much easier to develop as a good bonsai than the larger leaf plant, Crassula argentea.

Dwarf Powder Puff 

Pink powderpuff Bloom(Calliandra surinamensis)

This is a plant often ignored for indoor bonsai. But despite its delicate look, the Powder Puff plant is not difficult and does great as an indoor bonsai! The amazing part of growing this bonsai indoors is how it continues to flower!

Calliandra consists of 150 plus species of shrubs and trees which can be found throughout tropical regions of the Americas, Asia and Madagascar. In the landscape they are primarily grown for their showy inflorescence.

Growing Bonsai Trees Indoors
Care Guide

Indoor bonsai hobbyists often create total mini-environments in their homes. In very cold climates, some keep their tropical and sub-tropical species inside all year.

Others move their bonsai outdoors in spring and back in again come fall.

By following some basic care instructions for indoor bonsai, many of these plants not only survive, but thrive in their artificial environments!

The basics for growing bonsai trees indoors are not much different than those of house plants indoors. Can’t grow houseplants?

Check out Houseplant Care Tips for more advice.

Artificial Light

As beautiful as all of these treasures can be, no magic allows any of them to grow in the dark. For some growers, a window with a bright exposure is sufficient. Artificial light, such as grow lights, and fluorescent tubes, are frequently used.

Observe how close the little trees are to the lights!

No natural light? Yes, no natural light. Okay, I need “grow lights” right? Wrong! You can use special grow lights but you don’t have to. The great surprise to many people is that plants kept close to standard, home-and-office-type, cool white, fluorescent tubes grow reasonably well. A four foot long, two-tube, 40 watt, fluorescent fixture, supported in almost any convenient way is all you need to “get growing.”

Jack Wikle – Bonsai Artist – https://www.bonsaihunk.us/WikleArticle.html

Check out Jack Wikle’s article for the details of his amazing light and stand set-ups for Growing Bonsai Trees Under Lights.

Humidity

Most homes do not have enough humidity in winter to support tropical plants. Air-blown heat (especially) depletes the necessary humidity.

Growing bonsai trees indoors will require some added humidity.

However, misting does little, if anything, to create humidity in a room. Humidifiers are much better and easier. They are used by many indoor plant people.

Humidity trays are of little to no value in creating humidity. They are, however, good “drip trays.”

See the Bonsai Myths page to read about the Humidity Tray Myth.

Watering Indoors

Instructions such as water “every day” or “once a week” are not reliable. Be sure you have explicit instructions, see the watering bonsai page.

Find out if your plant likes to be “evenly moist,” “wet,” or “a little dry between waterings.”

In winter, never use ice-cold water directly from the tap!

Temperature and Air Circulation Indoors

Even the large old banyan trees of South Florida drop leaves in nature when the temperatures fall below 50 Degrees F. They know it’s cold! Tropical bonsai like to be warm.

Be cautious indoors about cold windowsills and drafts.

Although cold drafts and direct hits from air conditioning can be harmful, air movement is necessary to maintain the plant pest population. In most cases, an oscillating fan works fine for growing bonsai trees indoors.

Problems of Growing Bonsai Indoors

Your tree may grow larger leaves and develop an unnatural, ugly lean towards the sun to counter this loss of natural sunlight. 

The reality is that all plants are meant to be grown outdoors, and in order to grow them inside, we sacrifice some things.

Any previous modifications to the tree’s shape or size, or to reduce the leaf size, can be quickly be lost. The majority of tropical plants do not go into dormancy during their annual cycle.

Tropical trees, like the ones we’ve discussed earlier, can be kept inside for longer periods of time and are more able to adapt to changes in light, humidity, and air movement. 

You will have to monitor their condition closely as they may become more scraggly over time. Look at our article on different types of bonsai trees for further research on what plant is best for your bonsai collection!

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