Bonsai/Choosing a tree

Choosing a first tree is an important step in learning the art of bonsai. Many would-be bonsai growers become disillusioned after trying, and failing, to keep their first tree alive. In the case of "mallsai", the bonsai-like specimens sold at malls and big box stores, the tree may even be dead before it gets home!

Consider your environment


In nature, tree species adapt to their natural habitat over thousands or millions of years. In bonsai, we choose species that fit well with the environment we want to keep them in. Most common bonsai species, including virtually all trees native to temperate climates, must be kept outdoors in order to get enough light and experience seasonal changes in light and temperature. If you plan to keep your bonsai indoors, you must choose among the tropical species that can survive at household temperatures all year around. Even then, tropical bonsai may suffer from insufficient light. If you have space to keep bonsai outdoors, there are viable bonsai species suited to any climate, and with appropriate winter protection many temperate species can thrive in most temperate climates.

Bigger is better

This ancient Japanese White Pine, in training since 1625, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Beginners have a tendency to start small: tiny trees in tiny pots. Unfortunately, these are the most difficult to care for. The best trees for beginners are larger specimens. One hot dry summer day may be enough to kill a tiny juniper in a mame pot, while a medium juniper in a 2 gallon nursery pot might survive weeks, even months of neglect as long as it rains every once in a while. A big, healthy pine bonsai in a three foot pot can weather anything short of a chainsaw.