Can you keep a bonsai tree in the house?

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).

1: Light

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.

2: Water

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.

3: Food

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’.

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Is a bonsai tree a normal tree?

The short answer to this question is a simple ‘Yes’!

A bonsai tree is a normal tree that is kept small by pruning of both the tree roots and its branches, and in every other respect it is exactly the same as any other tree of its species.

If a bonsai tree was taken out of its pot and planted into the ground, and then left for 10 years, it would look exactly the same as any other tree of the same species… same height, same size leaves… same everything!

The skill in creating bonsai revolves around trimming the roots and branches so that the tree can not only be kept in a relatively small pot, but also end-up looking like a real tree in nature, but seen from a distance.

In essence the technique is just a few steps up from you trimming your garden hedge to keep it at the height you want.

Another example would be ‘Topiary’, where hedging trees are cut and trimmed to produce shapes like balls, squares, and even animals!

The Bonsai seed myth…

There is a widespread myth that bonsai are grown from ‘special bonsai seeds’ … the plain truth is that there is no such thing as a ‘special bonsai seed’!

Bonsai are grown from ordinary seeds … seeds that, if planted in the ground and left alone, would produce a ‘normal’ tree like any other in its species.

BUT… by keeping the growing tree in a relatively small pot (trimming the roots when needed) and pruning the growing tips of the tree to keep it at the size you want (and wiring branches to the shape you want the tree to take) you will end up with a tree that – in every respect – can be called a ‘Bonsai’.

Real bonsai trees can also occur in nature, for example, up on the side of a mountain where strong winds and cold winters or other rough conditions have had the effect of stunting the growth of the tree so that it is much smaller than it would be in better weather conditions. Trees like this are highly prized by bonsai enthusiasts and are called ‘Yamadori’ – essentially meaning ‘collected from nature’. Yamadori can be inches tall, or a metre+ tall, and they would take a prized place in any bonsai collection.

NOTE: Yamadori would ONLY by collected from nature if it was legally acceptable, and with any permissions needed… and – of course – only if it was possible to be taken out of the ground without the risk of the tree being damaged or killed.

Sometimes beautiful Yamadori are simply left where they are, to be admired as the wonders of nature that they are.

Natural Bonsai Tree
Naturally occurring bonsai tree.
Naturally occurring bonsai tree.
Naturally occurring bonsai tree.
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Are bonsai easy to look after?

Despite what a lot of folks think, bonsai trees are in fact ‘normal’ trees that are kept small by regular pruning and shaping, and – over time the new leaves that grow reduce in size.

Most bonsai trees (and houseplants in general) die for one of 2 reasons… Over-watering (which causes the roots to rot away) or letting the soil dry out completely. So… watering is the key factor in keeping your tree or plant healthy.

The ‘secret’ is simple… keep the soil of your tree damp/moist… avoid it being saturated for any length of time, and avoid it drying out completely!

Because the amount of soil is relatively small with bonsai – particularly as regards the ‘Mame’ (less than 5 inches tall) and ‘Shohin’ (less than 8 inches tall) bonsai, they will need a bit more care… especially if they are outdoors in hotter/tropical climates, as the pots can dry out really quickly.

The best method of watering is to simply stand your tree in a small tray (saucer/plate will do fine) with about 1 cm of water in it. Leave it in the water tray for 5/10 minutes, then ‘Voila!’ your tree is watered!

Indoors you may need to water once every 1 or 2 days – depending on temperature and the size of the pot. You will soon develop a routine once you discover how often your tree needs to be watered… Remember… if the soil is damp/moist then it does NOT need watering!

Indoors or Outdoors?

A lot of bonsai trees can be kept indoors (a nice sunny or bright position or window), or Outdoors (A slightly shaded position protected from heavy rain or strong winds). Avoid hot, direct Midday sun… it can not only dry the soil out quickly, but in doing so heats the soil up to a point where the roots are almost boiled!
If you keep your bonsai indoors, it’s a good idea to put it outside in the sun for a few hours each day… it will LOVE you for doing so!

  • Check with your bonsai supplier whether your tree is an indoor or outdoor bonsai (or EITHER!)
  • Once every 3 – 4 weeks give your tree a HALF-STRENGTH liquid fertiliser in its water. ANY standard liquid fertiliser will do. This helps replace any nutrients that may leach out of the soil over time.
  • Early morning or late afternoon sun is fine for a couple of hours, and helps to keep your tree healthy and strong.
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