If you have, or are considering having, an indoor Bonsai tree in your home, you have embarked on a wonderful, rewarding, long, and winding journey. You are about to form a bond and a symbiotic relationship with your Bonsai tree.
Said ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Let your journey begin strong, with a spring in your step, with some indoor bonsai basics.
What a Bonsai Tree Is—and Is Not
An important thing to know as you enter your relationship with your bonsai tree is that there’s no such thing as a bonsai tree. A great many people, when they think of bonsai, conjure an image of the small, sculpted trees sitting in decorative pots and adorning homes. What they are picturing is actually just a tree or a shrub. It looks the way it does thanks to the meticulous bonsai process.
Bonsai is a way of growing a tree or shrub. As a bonsai artist, you will be intentionally and gently pruning and shaping your tree. In return, it will respond to your care. Without this bonsai bond and process, your tree, planted in the ground, would grow as a tree does, big and tall (or as is typical for its species).
While bonsai technically refers to the process of growing the plant, the word is so strongly associated with the tree itself that it’s often used to refer to both plant and process. We will refer to it as either in this article too.
Bonsai is a way of adding beauty and character to your home, through the tree, its size and shape, and the pot in which it’s rooted. You are bringing nature into your space and caring for it intimately. Bonsais accent sunny rooms and windowsills and make them feel alive.
Bonsai is not passive. Caring for and shaping your shrub or tree becomes an active hobby, even a passion. The indoor bonsai tree and the act of sculpting it are nice additions to your home and fun additions to your life.
Some Facts about Bonsai
The art and science of bonsai is over 1,000 years old. It originated in China and spread to Japan where it was a popular activity among Buddhist monks.
Bonsai is the artistic, intentional shaping of the tree to grow in the direction you envision. You’ll train your tree gradually through the use of wire and special tools. Another component of this practice is pruning to keep the tree small.
As you consider the shape and direction into which you’d like to sculpt your tree, HGTV delineates five Bonsai styles:
- Upright, straight trunk (formal)
- Upright, curved trunk (informal)
- Slanted trunk, flowing to one side
- Draped, half- or semi-cascade over the pot
- Full cascade over the pot’s rim
When you use your first tools and wires, you’ll be stepping into an unhurried journey of growth and flexibility.
No Such Thing as Bonsai Tree? Now What?
Because there is no such thing as a Bonsai tree, or indoor Bonsai tree, you can use any type of shrub or tree that pleases you. If you’d like to add variety of shape, color, and texture to your décor, you might even use several different types of plants for a bonsai bonanza.
That said, some trees lend themselves better to an indoor environment than others. These are trees, after all, and they’re genetically programmed to grow and thrive in the outdoor environment. Trees that need to go dormant in the winter aren’t well suited for indoor Bonsai.
Most Bonsai experts recommend tropical plants for indoor use. According to the Eugene Bonsai Society, all trees and shrubs native to the warm climates of the world are well-suited for indoor bonsai.
While you can use any tropical tree, some species in particular are widely used and have become the epitome of the “bonsai tree.” These include
- Hawaiian umbrella
- Sweet plum
- Braided money tree
- Bamboo, multiple varieties
- Chinese elm
Find these and other trees or shrubs for indoor bonsai through Bonsai specialty stores and websites, and local greenhouses and garden centers. You can even find suitable indoor trees in national hardware and similar stores. The Home Depot indoor plants department, for example, offers numerous choices at reasonable prices.
The Ficus Bonsai
The ficus bonsai is an ideal tree for beginners. It’s the dog of bonsai trees: it’s forgiving, it loves unconditionally and it responds eagerly. It quickly becomes your beginning bonsai best friend. Unlike a dog, though, a ficus doesn’t require a lot of work and attention.
A few traits in particular make this the ideal tree for first-time bonsai artists. The ficus:
- Prefers sunny rooms and windows but isn’t finicky and will deal with indirect light.
- Isn’t fragile when it comes to hydration and is sufficiently hardy to handle some over- or under-watering.
Providing and maintaining the right amount of light and water is one of the most difficult aspects of the art of indoor bonsai. Because of its strength and flexibility, the ficus bonsai is perhaps the best tree for beginners.
Indoor Bonsai: Who is Shaping Whom?
Your journey into the bonsai lifestyle can be challenging and incredibly rewarding. Indoor trees, pruned and shaped into your design, add interest to any sunny room. Because of their small and compact size, you can place them on a variety of surfaces to enhance the area around it.
Beyond this, bonsai has a purpose that connects back 1,000 years to Japanese Buddhists who used this art to cultivate the trees and traits within themselves. Bonsai is a way of enhancing well-being as it
- Cultivates patience.
- Increases mindfulness as it requires you to be present as you work.
- Promotes balance, both for the tree – as you ensure that the top and the bottom steady each other so the tree doesn’t tip – as well as for you as you balance your hectic life with this passion
Bonsai, the practice and the plant, adds depth, meaning, and beauty to your home and to yourself. Buy your tree anywhere and look for tropical plants, especially the ficus, to begin your journey with a solid step. Enjoy the gentle, leisurely process of bonsai.
Image Source: Adobe Stock