When selecting your first Bonsai tree, it is crucial to pick the right tree species. Tropical and sub-tropical tree species can be kept indoors, whereas temperate trees can only be grown outdoors.
Before discussing indoor and outdoor Bonsai in detail, and sharing our recommended tree species, it helps to understand why this distinction is so important. Our living rooms have stable, high temperatures, low light intensity and low humidity levels. Temperate tree species can not be kept indoors because they need a period of winter dormancy, with fluctuations in temperatures and lots of light. So for our indoor environment, we need to select a tropical or sub-tropical tree. But even then, the low light intensity and low humidity are far from ideal. We'll share some specific trees that do well indoors next up. Other selection factors include your personal taste and budget.
Choosing an Indoor Bonsai
Next up, we'll share some specific tree species that are great for beginners. All these can survive our indoor climate, though some are a little stronger than others.
#1: Most popular Indoor Bonsai
By far the most popular indoor Bonsai available, the Ficus (Ficus retusa) is a resilient tree, with beautiful leaves and a fine ramification. It loves high humidity and even grows aerial roots in the tropics, but it also does well in our living rooms. Make sure to place it at a spot with lots of light, preferably a few hours of direct sunlight a day. This usually means you need to place it right in front of a sunny window. Water it before the soil dries out completely, as the Ficus won't tolerate short periods of drought!
#2: Easiest to care for Indoor Bonsai
If you are looking for the easiest indoor Bonsai to care for, your best bet is the Dwarf jade (Portulacaria afra). This tree is a succulent, meaning it can survive periods of drought as it stores water in its leaves. It needs a lot of light, with at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day. The only place it will do well is right in front of a sunny window.
#3: Other indoor options
If you can't get your hands on a Ficus or Jade, we have a few other options for you. These are a little more sensitive though, and all need lots of light and frequent watering. You can try the Fukien tea (Carmona), Hawaiian umbrella (Schefflera), or Sweet plum (Sageretia).
Choosing an Outdoor Bonsai
If you plan on keeping your Bonsai outdoors, your options are endlessly greater. Picking a tree species can be a bit more challenging depending on your local climate. If you choose a native tree this is always a good idea, but keep in mind that many frost-hardy species need frost protection when they are planted in shallow Bonsai pots. Most Bonsai enthusiasts eventually focus entirely on keeping Bonsai outdoors. What follows is a list of tree species that do well in most climates, but make sure to read our outdoor Bonsai post for more detailed information.
#1: Most popular Outdoor Bonsai
The most popular outdoor tree species is the Juniper (Juniperus). Its fine green foliage, and beautiful deadwood features make this tree stand out. But the reason we recommend it to beginners is that it is widely available, affordable and very strong.
#2: Other outdoor options
A few other popular outdoor tree species include the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), and the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia). The maple is famous for its beautiful fall colors, but in most areas needs some winter protection. The Chinese elm is loved for its tiny leaves and beautiful bark, and is a strong tree.
Which is the best bonsai tree for beginners?
The answer is, it depends. If you like to keep a Bonsai indoors, our advice is to pick a Ficus or a Jade. For outdoors, a strong and beautiful tree is the Juniper.