A Guide to Our Indoor Bonsai

It sounds pretty obvious, but there is really no such thing as “Indoor Bonsai” as trees do not grow indoors in the wild. Bonsai are very much like pets. You can't leave them to fend for themselves for days on end. They need regular care & attention.

The climate in our homes does not generally suit itself to the development of plants & can present challenges in areas such as light conditions, humidity & frequent changes in temperature.

Whilst you will see a quite a few of species of trees advertised as “Indoor Bonsai”, through experience, we refrain from selling a number of these as although some Bonsai enthusiasts do have some success with these species, for many & particularly the novice, keeping these trees alive for long periods of time can be very challenging.

At British Bonsai we sell trees that will survive indoors, given the right conditions & care. We only sell trees that have been on the nursery for at least a month so that we can be sure that there are no problems with them when received from our suppliers. Unfortunately if a Bonsai falls sick in your possession, then it is certain that something has gone amiss with its care after receipt.

The three “Indoor Bonsai” that we stock and have had the most success with are as follows:

Chinese Elm – These trees are probably the most popular & common “Indoor Bonsai” & classed as evergreen if kept indoors. This does not mean that they will keep the same leaves all the time & the older leaves will drop & be replaced with new ones. They can be a bit fussy about where they are situated & have a tendency for their leaves to turn yellow & drop if moved or when first put in their new surroundings or sometimes for no apparent reason at all, but if cared for correctly the leaves will grow back & they are generally the most traditional “tree shape” of all “Indoor Bonsai”. Chinese Elms require a good period of natural light each day to stay at their best.

Podocarpus – Sometimes called the Buddhist Pine, these trees are in fact not related to the Pine family at all. The Podocarpus is a large genus that includes alpine varieties, but the variety generally used for “Indoor Bonsai” is the Macrophyllus. Podocarpus are very tolerant of low light levels & dislike temperatures below 10oC for long periods, although will tolerate a light frost.

Jade or Money Tree - Not really a tree at all, the Jade are from Crassula family & are succulents rather than trees or shrubs. Jades can be grown in a form that replicate a tree & being a succulent, can tolerate infrequent watering.

The following Bonsai can be very challenging to maintain indoors, unless you have the right conditions and they are given the right care:

Ficus – These are tropical or sub-tropical trees that are common as general house plants & particularly well suited to situations where natural light is a problem as in their natural surroundings, Ficus usually grow on the forest floor & will not tolerate temperatures below 15oC for long periods.

Chinese Pepper – The name of this tree comes from the peppery smell emitted by the leaves & they do not grow peppers, although these trees can flower given the right conditions. However the flower is not colourful by any means. They prefer a well lit environment & will not tolerate temperatures below 15oC for long periods.

Japanese Holly – The leaves on these trees are very dissimilar to those of the Hollies that are common in the UK as they are small & only very slightly serrated. Japanese Hollies are tolerant of lower light conditions when kept outdoors but require a lot of light when kept indoors. They dislike temperatures below 5oC if kept in a pot. These trees require frequent misting to keep the humidity well up. We treat them very similar to Olives - Outdoors during the summer if possible, when the nightime temperatures stay above 8oC & somewhere well lit but not too hot during the winter, or if not possible to keep outdoors during the summer, somewhere very bright but cool. They are not particularly suitable for window cills & are best kept in a cool conservatory.

Olive – These trees must be kept in a very well lit position, such as a conservatory, if situated indoors. Again, like Japanese Hollies, these trees will require frequent misting for them to be kept in their best condition.

Other “Indoor Bonsai” – We occasionally stock other varieties of “Indoor Bonsai” but generally, if we do not sell them then we do not recommend them. A couple of species that we particularly keep away from are Carmona also known as Fukien Tea & Serrisa, also known as the Tree of a thousand stars, as both species are known for their difficulty to keep.

General Notes on “Indoor Bonsai” – Most “Indoor Bonsai” will appreciate regular misting of their leaves & if possible, being placed outdoors sometime during the warmer months of the year. Whilst we make comments about well lit positions in the above text, save for Olives, you should always avoid keeping “Indoor Bonsai” in full sun for long periods or when the sun is at its hottest, as behind glass, this can cause burning of the leaves. Avoid keeping “Indoor Bonsai” near any forms of heat. They often grow well in rooms with higher humidity, such as bathrooms or kitchens & do appreciate regular mist spraying. Above all follow any care instructions, but please remember that the care sheets that we supply are only meant as a rough guide as care may vary in different growing conditions & don’t forget that they are living & in most cases require regular watering & feeding now and again. Also try avoid moving "indoor Bonsai" around too much.

Whilst “Indoor Bonsai” are often cheaper than their outdoor cousins & sometimes, due to living arrangements of many Bonsai enthusiasts, the impossibility of keeping outdoor Bonsai, outdoor Bonsai can give the enthusiast far more choice of tree varieties & save for a few species, outdoor Bonsai are generally a lot less fussy about their surroundings, although winter protection for certain species must be kept in mind. However whilst as previously noted, if it is warm enough many Indoor Bonsai can be kept outdoors, the reverse is not true. Most outdoor Bonsai cannot be kept indoors for more than a very short period of time.

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