The easiest bonsai trees to grow

Bonsai trees are a fascinating form of art. There is something about them that captures the imagination.  At the same time, bonsai is also the application of skilled horticultural techniques. When beginners to bonsai come to visit us at the nursery in Sheffield, Yorkshire, for the first time, one of the regular questions is what are the easiest bonsai trees to grow.

Now, anyone can come up with a list of tree species which can be thought of as easier to grow BUT that’s only half of the battle. We’ll do a list shortly but for me, that isn’t enough. What is more important is to think about why bonsai growing is easy or hard. It’s also worth thinking about why certain species of bonsai are more difficult than others. You see – it’s when you consider this that you really start to learn about bonsai tree cultivation.

Bonsai is not a species of tree

It’s a common misconception that bonsai is a strange, twisted, gnarled little species of tree. It isn’t. Bonsai is a technique, a way of growing trees so that the look like miniature versions of full-sized trees.

The easiest bonsai trees to grow – All trees are different

So, a bonsai is a tree firstly and then secondly a bonsai. Building on this thought, consider that different trees naturally grow in difference locations. Pine trees for example tend to grow better in some places than others, in mountainous area for example, where other trees could not survive as easily. The same pine tree would grow happily at lower levels, but faster growing trees would overtake them, meaning they would be crowded out and either struggle or die. Or to look at it in another way, ask yourself when we don’t get palm trees naturally growing in the UK. It’s too cold; they would die in the winter.

Trees have a preferred environment

The point is that all trees grow differently.  Some are more vigorous than others, some like higher temperatures, while some actually need the cold weather in winter. It depends how they have evolved to grow in the wild.

What does this matter? It matters because it is easier to keep a bonsai tree happy if we provide it with a location that is similar to its natural environment.

If you think about it, the easiest trees to grow in the UK can be found already growing naturally in the UK.  They are used to our pattern of the seasons. They like a spring rain, a sunny, warm summer and are used to a cold winter. In fact, they actually need some winter cold. If they don’t get it, they can lose track of the seasons. If they don’t know when winter is, they won’t know when spring is, so they will not grow correctly and will not be as healthy.

Temperate verses tropical bonsai trees

The UK isn’t the only temperate part of the world. Other countries also experience the changing patterns of the season. However, as we know, some parts of the world are tropical, where the pattern of season change is not so pronounced. If you take a tropical species of tree and plonk it outside in freezing weather, it will likely suffer, as it does not experience this in its native environment. If it dies, does this mean it is hard to keep? No, it just means that we have failed to understand what it needs in order to be happy.

Sunlight versus shade

Some species of tree have evolved to grow in very sunny locations while others prefer a little more shade. Most trees prefer something in the middle. All trees need sunlight in order to live, and plenty of it. If you want a bonsai tree for your desk at work, you need to think about if it is possible to provide enough sunlight. Generally, the answer is no.  Does it make it easy or hard? Some trees are more flexible than others, so perhaps these can be considered easier. It is possible to say that the easiest bonsai trees to grow are flexible with regard to the level of sun which they will receive.

The easiest bonsai trees to grow – How trees grow

The next thing to think about is that all trees grow differently. A broadleaf tree such as a Chinese Elm or Japanese Maple grows differently to a pine tree, as does a Juniper or an Azalea. We don’t have time here to explore this fully. We’d be here all day. Best to touch on a couple of points to get you started.

What is back-budding and why is it important in growing bonsai

There is a clever definition but for now, back-budding is how happy a tree is to chuck out new shoots when you prune them. As we mentioned earlier, we use a combination of artistic design and gardening skill to create bonsai. A big part of this is pruning. When we prune trees, they react to being cut by re-growing new shoots. It is these new shoots that form the bonsai. If you’re stuck, think about topiary, fancy shapes made by gardeners in hedges.

All we need to know for now is that different trees react to being pruned in different ways. Some trees back-bud really well, popping out new shoots all over the place. Other trees don’t do this nearly as well. So if we cut them back too much, it can damage or even kill them. Again, does this make them easy or hard to grow? Possibly yes, it could be true that the easiest bonsai trees to grow do back-bud well.

Water and bonsai trees

We’re nearly there. A couple more things to consider. Bonsai trees tend to be grown in smallish pots. We do this for artistic reasons and to slow down the growth of the trees but only when they are starting to look like bonsai trees. Again, no time to go into this right now, safe to say that when we begin creating bonsai trees, we don’t take tiny saplings and put them into small pots. This is jumping the gun. As they are in small pots, bonsai need watering more frequently than other potted plants. The smaller the pot, the more often we need to water.

The point here is that smaller bonsai dry out more quickly than larger ones. So, as a beginner in bonsai, don’t always got for the smallest bonsai that you can find. A tree in a 20 or 25cm pot is easier than a tree in a 10 or 15cm wide pot. A slightly bigger bonsai can be considered easier in terms of watering.

Another point on watering is that some trees are more forgiving than others in terms of water. If you forget to check your new bonsai for a while and discover that it is very dry, some trees will forgive you, whereas other trees will die. You could say that this makes some bonsai species easier than others. Conversely though, some trees, such and pine and junipers, don’t like too much water, becoming unhappy if they are constantly soaking wet.

So what is easy versus hard?

While there are easier and harder species of bonsai tree, success doesn’t necessarily come from making these choices alone. What is equally important is providing the right environment for success and thinking about what care is needed.

Anyway, we mentioned a list of the easier trees. You’ll find some of the best bonsai trees for beginners on this page. 

The easiest bonsai trees to grow

The easiest bonsai trees to grow – A Japanese Black Pine likes plenty of summer sun, enough to burn the leaves of this Chinese Elm. Does that make it difficult? Arguably yes, but these are the things we need to think about as bonsai growers.