Are Bonsai Trees Hard to Grow?

Bonsais are often portrayed as difficult trees to grow, or merely reserved for the experts in the plant world. Apparently, they could die from practically anything, sunlight, water, soil, complicated trees all around. But, how much is real and how much is preconception? Are bonsai trees actually hard to grow?

The truth is, bonsai trees are hard to grow if you don’t have the proper knowledge on how to take care of them. If you are aware that they are normal trees, with normal requirements, you should be good to go. They, as many plants, need primarily attention and a minimum healthy degree of know-how, but other than that, they are as difficult to grow or maintain as practically any other plant.

This doesn’t mean that these are a breeze to grow. There are things you should know, rules you should follow, and we’ll cover them all in the following guide. 

Is Growing a Bonsai Tree Hard?

From what we could tell, most people, beginners, amateurs and experts agree that growing a bonsai tree is not really hard. As long as you follow the bare fundamentals. 

Woman taking care of a bonsai

First, you need to understand that a bonsai tree is just a regular tree that has been planted in a small pot. This means that it has the same requirements as would any normal tree: water, soil (with nutrients) and sunlight. As long as you’re willing to try to reproduce the environment where it generally thrives, you should be good to go. 

Second,  you need to know which bonsai species you have. There are trees that thrive in colder environments, some other trees do well in warmer ones. Some with a lot of light, others with little. Same goes with water. You get the picture. 

You need to absolutely get acquainted with the species of bonsai you have, in order to be able to give it proper care. Each tree comes with its benefits and complications and will react better or worse to where you live. So read up before, and learn what you need to learn to take proper care and your leafy friend will thank you. 

The last of our bonsai fundamentals is to be consistent about your bonsai tree and its required care. This is where the maintenance comes in. 

Are Bonsai Trees Hard to Maintain?

Are bonsai trees hard to care for? – this is an entirely different question to what we’ve seen before. We consider that what can make it hard to maintain or take care for, is the fact that people generally buy a house plant, and consider it to be a decoration more than a living being. We don’t mean to be overdramatic, but you can ask yourself the following question: how do you know when you should water your plants? 

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

Most people will water plants either on a schedule, so every Monday for instance. Others will do it when they remember to do it, or others do it when they see the leaves have turned yellow or dry. The same behaviour generally happens with bonsai trees, which can definitely affect their overall health. 

As a rule of thumb, we consider that as long as you consider your bonsai as a living thing and are willing to check up on it daily, for as little as a matter of seconds, you should be good to go. In Colombia we say these are “thankful plants”, as a little of attention can really go a long way. 

Somewhat related to the previous point, one of the biggest issues with bonsai tree maintenance are the water requirements it has. We’ve built a pretty good guide around this topic, in case you want to check it out here. The main takeaway you should learn is that the size of the pot has an effect in the way that the bonsai can “drink” water. 

It goes like this: the smaller the pot, the less soil it has. The less soil it has, the less water can be kept within it. The less water it can keep, the more attentive (in terms of water) you’ll need to be.

Thankfully that’s where the complications start and end. If you form a strong habit to regularly check up on your little tree, touch its soil and check on how moist it is, and react accordingly, that’s everything you need to do. 

But of course, this is a generalization as well. As we’ve previously mentioned, some trees are harder than others, some trees are more accustomed to growing in certain habits than others, so there are more variables to take into account, but the previous advice are good rules to follow. 

But let’s say this is your first rodeo. It’s the first plant you own, it’s the first tree you have. Beginners, listen up.

Best Easy Bonsais for Beginners

As we’ve made it clear in this article, growing a bonsai can indeed be a bit difficult, but you can make your life a hell of a lot easier if you make the right choices. For us at BigBoyPlants, we don’t believe in making things hard just for the sake of it – we want you to grow into yet another bonsai enthusiast and for that, you need to have had good experiences of your own. 

Ficus bonsai near to a window
The ficus is a good choice to get started

This is why we recommend all bonsai beginners to start with a simple pre-grown tree. Why? Well, we understand the appeal of growing a tree from seed, but this can take around 2 years time. Will you have enough stamina and motivation to keep it alive till then? Maybe. But we would prefer if you get right into the exciting part right away. 

But that still means you need to do your homework. You need to ask yourself two main questions: 

  • Does the bonsai species work well where you currently live?
  • Will it be an indoor or an outdoor bonsai? 

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, a good rule of thumb is to find an indigenous species – in other words, a species that naturally lives where you currently live. 

Once you know these questions, we recommend you get one of the following (depending on where you will place it)

Outdoor Bonsais for Beginners

Juniper Bonsai
Japanese Elm Bonsai
  • Elm Bonsai
  • Juniper Bonsai

Indoor Bonsai for Beginners

  • Ficus Bonsai (there are over 800 varieties of Ficus so take your pick!)
  • Jade Bonsai
Jade (Craasula) Bonsai
Ficus Bonsai

These are all pretty sturdy, robust tree species that will be able to “forgive” beginners mistakes – including over or under watering and over or under pruning. 

These are also pretty versatile in terms of temperature changes and humidity changes. Both hallmarks of easier-than-average bonsai tree species. 

As we said, make your life easy. Get a simple bonsai to take care of. Get excited. Learn more. Then get yourself a harder bonsai tree type. 

Why do people think growing a bonsai tree is hard?

Based on our research, most of the reasons we saw as to why people believe that growing a bonsai tree is hard were related to making assumptions about the tree.

What we mean by this, is that far too often people receive a bonsai tree and treat it as they would a regular house plant and expect everything to fall into place. It’s easy to forget that bonsai trees are just regular trees, treated with a special technique to keep them small, but that’s it. 

This means that there are some species that are easier to take care of and some that are harder to take care of, but people tend to assume “it’s the same thing”, which is where the problem lies. With this train of thought, people assume and generalize every bonsai’s required care, and try a one-size-fits-all approach and make the whole experience hard on themselves. 

Additionally, we think all bonsai experts, growers and enthusiasts can admit that there is a bit of status related to the culture around bonsais.

There is of course a great deal of joy and pride to be held if you are able to successfully grow a bonsai tree, as you should be with practically any plant. But, in our opinion, since bonsai’s take so long, so much patience and so much dedication to grow, that people can overemphasize how hard it can really be. Don’t get us wrong, it is hard (and bonsai tree cost can be high) but there might be a small degree of inflation as well. 

Sebastian Moncada

I’m also a plant enthusiast and researcher. I’ve been privileged to have lived my whole life around the wilderness of Colombia and I’m happy to share everything I learn along the way. “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience” – Emerson.

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