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Home / Bonsai Tree Care / Can any tree be a bonsai tree?

Can any tree be a bonsai tree?

It is often though that Bonsai is a species of tree. This is not true. In fact bonsai is a method of growing trees which aims to create an image of a large mature tree but in miniature. So, you can create a bonsai Oak tree for example, by taking an existing Oak tree and styling it as a bonsai.

Which trees can you use to make a bonsai?

You can make most species of into a bonsai. This includes lots of native British trees such as Oak, Yew and Larch. You can also use trees from all over the world. Deciduous and evergreen trees can be used. You can also make bonsai from many things that you would think of as shrubs in the garden – Cotoneaster and Pyracantha for example.

Do some trees make better bonsai?

Now, some species work better than others. Bonsai trees look better with small leaves, so trees which already have small leaves make them easier to bonsai. A number of evergreen trees, Junipers for example, do not have leaves in the way you imagine when you first think of a leaf. In the case of Junipers, the growth is small and scale-like. Yew has very small leaves, only a few millimetres long.

A Juniper bonsai tree with scale-like leaves.
This Juniper has scale-like growth which look like lots of tiny leaves.

You prune Bonsai trees regularly in order to keep them in shape. It’s a little bit like topiary in some ways. Some trees don’t mind being pruned. They just chuck out new growth. This makes it easier. On the other hand, some trees do not react so well. We call this back-budding. How well a tree back-buds will affect how you style it.

White Pines like this one don't back bud easily but still make great bonsai
White Pines like this one don’t back bud easily but still make great bonsai

It is important to say now that just because a tree has naturally large leaves, or doesn’t back bud very well, doesn’t mean that we won’t try to style it as a bonsai. It just means that we have to treat it differently. Pine trees for example, tend not to back bud easily but many beautiful bonsai trees have been created from different species of pine. This is where you skill as a bonsai-grower comes in. The fact that different trees grow in different ways is one of the things that makes bonsai fascinating.

A deciduous Trident Maple is pruned very differently to the Pine and Juniper in the previous pictures.
A deciduous Trident Maple is pruned very differently to the Pine and Juniper in the previous pictures.

Here is a Wikipedia page with a list of British trees for inspiration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_trees_of_Great_Britain_and_Ireland

If you want to start growing bonsai trees the biggest tip that I can give you is to grow them outside. Here is a link to more information on this. https://www.allthingsbonsai.co.uk/bonsai-tree-care/how-to-grow-outdoor-bonsai-trees-in-your-garden/