Yes, some bonsai can survive quite well indoors, but you will need to provide them with enough light, the correct amount of water, and feed them to keep them in good condition.
Yes it is possible to keep certain types of bonsai trees inside your house. HOWEVER… most bonsai are created from trees that would usually grow outdoors… that said, quite a few types of bonsai trees can do quite well indoors as long as the conditions for them to survive and thrive are right.
All trees – whether bonsai or not – need 3 things to survive. These are light, water and food (fertiliser).
Sunlight – whether real or artificial – is a crucial part of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which trees and plants convert the energy from the sun (along with water and oxygen) into carbohydrates (food). Without the correct amount of light your bonsai needs it will – eventually – die.
How do I make sure my indoor bonsai tree is getting enough light?
The amount of sunlight needed by bonsai trees that can survive indoors varies from tree to tree, but a good ‘rule of thumb’ to go by is to place your bonsai where it can get a decent amount of sunlight from a window for at least 4 – 5 hours each day, but avoid direct midday sun (it can be too much for many trees)… morning sun is best, but afternoon sun is ok too.
Your bonsai needs to be in a position indoors where it can get good daylight, but not be in direct sunlight.
What can I do if there isn’t a suitable place indoors that can give my bonsai enough light?
There are 2 alternatives if you can’t find a suitable place indoors to give your bonsai the light it needs.
The first alternative is the easiest, assuming it is possible. Simply put your bonsai outside to ‘sunbathe’ for between 4 – 6 hours each day (remember that morning or afternoon/evening sun is ok, but the hot midday sun may be too much for your tree).
The second alternative is to provide some ‘artificial sunshine’ for your bonsai! Recent research indicates that a ‘bright white’ LED light can be just as good as most of the specialist ‘grow-lights’ that are available, and in some cases can even be better than some grow-lights. The light would need to be reasonably close to the bonsai (between 24 – 36 inches, depending on the wattage of the the LED light).
IDEA… Make your bonsai tree a real feature in the room by putting it on a nice wooden stand and placing 1 or 2 LED spotlights above your bonsai to make it stand out (see the example picture of a simple bonsai stand – made from a wooden ‘kitchen cutting board’ with an LED light, to make the bonsai a real feature of the room).
If you decide to use LED lights be aware that very powerful LED lights can be as bad for your tree as the hot midday direct sunshine can be… so don’t go over-board with high-wattage LED lights! I suggest wattage between 8 and 12 watts is sufficient, with 15 watts being the absolute maximum.
Although water is crucial for your bonsai, it is also the reason why many bonsai (and houseplants) die! Too much – or too little – can be fatal to your tree.
How do I make sure I give my bonsai tree the right amount of water?
Almost all bonsai will develop root problems if they are constantly standing standing in saturated soil… the most common problem being root-rot. If the roots rot away then the tree will die… like-wise if your tree doesn’t get enough water.
The easiest answer to this question is to simply give your bonsai only enough water to keep the soil ‘damp’. To start with you will need to check the soil of your tree on a daily basis to check whether a watering is needed. If the top-soil is dry then it is time to give some water. If the top-soil is damp, then water is not needed.
You can water your bonsai by either gently adding/spraying water to the top-soil in the bonsai pot, or by letting the tree stand in a tray of water for 10 – 15 minutes or so to let the soil ‘suck up’ the water it needs.
If your bonsai is indoors then this method watering should keep the soil damp for a couple of days or more… BUT… still check the soil each day, and when the top-soil is dry then it is time to water again. This method stops the roots from standing in water for too long, as the soil dries out over the next day or two.
Remember… smaller pots can dry-out quicker than larger pots, so regular checking is needed until you get a good idea of how often your tree needs to be watered.
After a week or so you will have a good idea of your bonsai’s water needs, and you can get used to the watering routine.
How often should I feed my bonsai?
How often you feed your bonsai depends a lot on how big the bonsai pot is… ie: how much soil the bonsai lives in .
Over time the ‘goodness’ of the soil in the pot will be used up or get washed out of the soil by the regular watering (‘leaching’).
A good rule of thumb is to feed your tree around once each month with a half-strength liquid fertiliser… ‘Half-strength’ meaning that you should mix 2 times the amount of water with the fertiliser than is recommended on the bottle… then follow the instructions regarding how much of the fertiliser you need to give.
You will need to research the recommended times to stop feeding your bonsai depending on where you are in the world! For example… if you live in a temperate climate… with autumn and winter seasons… then you will not be required to feed your tree during these inactive months when your tree is ‘sleeping’.