Growing Indoor Bonsai

Growing Indoor Bonsai

Bonsai is an ancient art that originates from East Asia, but has now grown to encompass a worldwide following. This is a true gardening art form, because in order to make bonsai growing work, you need gardening and artistic creativity, plus patience, discipline, and knowledge. Originally from China, and later expanding to Japan where it has taken root and flourished, the requirements for bonsai are not a lot, as some people imagine. The higher levels do require more “masterful” knowledge; however bonsai is also one of the most convenient forms of gardening out there for urban dwellers.

Anyone can take up bonsai even without sufficient land space. Bonsai suits those living in apartments and condominiums with only a balcony to garden in. But, most bonsai trees are not adapted to grow indoors. This is a common misconception, that although you can grow almost all types of tree species as bonsai, only a few species can be grown “indoors.” Even then, it is not their natural behavior to grow indoors, but these few species can better tolerate indoor conditions compared to most others.

As a general rule, trees growing in temperate climates need a dormancy period, and in the warmth of an indoor environment, they will die. The one’s you see being photographed indoors are almost always juveniles. On the other hand, trees from tropical areas are often from forests with high canopies that shade the forest floor; they are better able to tolerate lower light conditions and the modular temperature of indoors. So, tropical/subtropical trees are often the only choices for indoor bonsai.

bonsai ficus indoor
Ficus spp bonsai

Some of the bonsai tree species that can be grown INDOORS are:

  • Serissa foetida
  • Adenium obessum
  • Ficus benjamina
  • Holiday Cactus (Schlumbegera)
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
  • Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
  • Olive family species
  • Brush Cherry (Eugenia mytrifolia)
  • Schefflera arboricola
  • Pomegranate (Punica sp)
  • Azaleas (Rhododendron sp)
  • Chinese Sweetplum (Sageretia thea)

Many species from the list above are often listed as inexpensive indoor bonsai trees.

bonsai serissa
Serissa foetida bonsai

Bonsai has been grown indoors with only artificial light as their light source. Most species adapt well to artificial light, and will bloom even during winter. Examples of this are Serissa and Punica, while the Chinese Elm and Brush Cherry will enter dormancy during winter. It is a good practice to take the trees out during the summer, as they will benefit from the sun’s rays, rather than keep feeding them artificial light. Fluorescent lights measuring about a meter long are commonly used to provide the artificial lighting.

Good air circulation in and around the pot is highly beneficial for the plant. Small fans installed above the lighting and running at low speed is adequate. You can actually combine a “mini” greenhouse with a sufficiently large cupboard, fluorescent lights and proper ventilation, just like what you see being done in aquariums. The leaves of the bonsai should be as close as possible to the fluorescent unit without getting burnt by the light, because the light intensity falls rapidly away the further the bonsai is from the lighting. For best lighting settings, consult an aquarium or hydroponic specialist near you; these guys often have good knowledge on how to grow aquatic tropical or indoor plants which can be applied to growing bonsai as well.

jade plant bonsai
Jade plant

For soil and feeding concerns, try to get soilless mix because these are the easiest to handle, and whatever nutritional inadequacies can be rectified with adequate mixtures of peat or bark. A typical bonsai soil composition is one third sand, one third peat, and one third regular soil. Or you can try Akadama. Akadama and other pumice based soil are often regarded as the best “soil,” because they are porous and absorb water, while still being able to drain water easily.

The important thing to remember for the soil, is how deep the water can penetrate and how well it drains away. Typically, very small trees require watering daily, while larger trees can be watered 2-3 times a week. One advantage with Akadama soil, is you can tell if the soil is damp or not by looking at it. If it’s damp, it is dark in color and vice versa if it’s dry.

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