Can Bonsai Trees Grow Indoors?


Bonsai trees are awesome plants that can liven your living room or your office or be a great hobby to have.  However, many people wonder if it is possible to grow an indoor bonsai. Short answer: Yes. Here’s how.

Sub-tropical bonsais like the Ficus can be grown indoors by placing them in a sunny window or near a fluorescent light for 10 hours per day. They need high humidity, which can come from watering the plant as the soil requires or placing the bonsai on a tray filled with water. Indoor bonsais should be kept on temperatures between 50 and 75 Fahrenheit (10 and 23 Celsius). 

But what can you expect with your indoor bonsai during winter when the temperatures drop down? How can you prevent your bonsai from drying off when you go on vacation? After doing extensive research, we’ve summed up everything you need to know about indoor bonsai trees in this article.

How to Grow an Indoor Bonsai Tree

Not to spoil all the fun, but to make things simple, indoor bonsai tree growth all comes down to how well you can set up the environment around your tree to properly grow. As a rule of thumb, think that you should try to mimic the outside environment indoors to the best degree you can, and that should be enough for you to go. 

Now, specifically, this environment can be boiled down to a couple of things all trees and bonsai trees need. Light, Water and Temperature.

Give them light

One of the main challenges when growing indoors is the absence of sufficient light. One of the main reasons why bonsai trees thrive easily outdoors is because they have direct, 180-degree sunlight, plus all the light reflected from objects around. 

My Ficus taking a sunbath
My Ficus taking a sunbath

You can overcome this limitation by placing your bonsai in your most sunny window, but be careful of placing it too close to the glass as this might create unnecessary heat. 

-What if I don’t have a sunny window or my bonsai doesn’t get enough light?

Most experts agree that artificial or fluorescent lights are a great way to correct this potential issue. And fortunately, it’s simple. Simply place a lamp on top of your bonsai, and only keep an eye on the distance between the lamp and the plant as it shouldn’t be more than 6 inches (15.24 cm). 

The use of the lamp will depend on the species and how much natural light you need to replace, for instance, during the winter you might need to rely more on a lamp than during the summer.

As a rule of thumb, most experts recommend an artificial light exposure period of between 10 and 12 hours a day to make sure they get as much sunlight as they require.

BTW: you don’t need a fancy lamp or a special type of bulb to get the work done. Here is an affordable option you might want to consider.

Keep them Humid

This is a key factor for most indoor bonsais to grow healthy, and one of the most common ways beginners can mess things up. The key lies in the humidity. To get the right levels of humidity, it all comes down to finding the right combination of water and air. 

First, you need to water your bonsai in the right amount and frequency, which will vary depending on the species that you have. If you want to read more on bonsai watering, check our blog post here.

For instance, a Ficus might need less water versus other bonsai trees because it can thrive with low humidity.

However, a general must-rule in terms of watering is to do it whenever the soil gets dry on the surface. You can notice this moment simply by scratching it with your finger and checking how dry it is. 

  • Grab your watering can, preferably with a fine rose head and toss the water from overhead. 
  • Take it easy, and give your bonsai a few seconds to absorb the water. 
  • The end goal of this watering technique is to avoid that the roots dry out from lacking the right nutrients. Also, this will help your bonsai to get rid of wastes in the soil. 
  • After watering your bonsai, make sure it gets some airflow from a window, this tip will increase the general humidity of the room. To do the same during winter you might need to use a fan and avoid exposing your bonsai to freezing chills. 

If you are still a bit intimidated by this whole process, we created a step by step guide on how to nail bonsai watering down to the t.

If you live in a specially dry area or during a specially dry time (winter), you can give your bonsai an extra touch of humidity with one simple trick. Just fill a tray with water and place the bonsai inside it.

Bonsais are smart plants, they will start soaking up the water from the base of the container. Just make sure the extra water can be properly drained from below, and be careful that the tray (for water collection) doesn’t have drain water from your bonsai.

-What if I am leaving on vacation and nobody is home?

Great question, you are not alone as most bonsai owners wonder the same. 

The answer will depend on how much time you are leaving for, the humidity needs of your bonsai and your budget.

Option 1: Ask a close friend or a relative to take care of your bonsai. Of course, you might want to look for somebody that can follow the basic caring guidelines or that is familiar with taking care of plants.

Option 2: Leave your bonsai at a local Nursery. This is my preferred option as most of them have specialized personnel that can give your bonsai a VIP treatment. Most bonsai shops also work as nurseries, so you might want to take a look at this directory to check some options. 

Option 3: Do nothing and trust your instinct. This advice, naturally, is for more experienced users. Some owners report that their bonsais could hold-up by themselves up to twenty days under a humid environment. However, I had a bad personal experience of a bonsai drying out after leaving it 10 days without watering (whoops).

Set the right Temperature

Indoor bonsais show a notable preference for warm temperatures between 64 and 75 Fahrenheit (10 and 23 Celsius) during the daytime. They like it a bit cooler during the evening, around 61 Fahrenheit or 16 celsius. 

Believe it or not, bonsai trees are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. So, be mindful of anything that can change sudden temperature changes. This means to avoid placing your bonsai near a heater or your AC current. 

-Winter is coming, what should I do?

Just keep your bonsai away from cold temperatures and it should be fine. If you can live there, your bonsai can too. 

Indoor Bonsai Tree Types that Thrive Indoors

Not all bonsais can grow indoors. As part of choosing your next bonsai, it’s important to identify which species you can bring inside. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a botanist to find out which can, since we have shortlisted the top 3 indoor bonsai species below.

Ficus

Ficus Exotica
Ficus Exotica – Credits: Casa del Bonsai

The Ficus is king when it comes to indoor. Besides being the ideal bonsai for a plant amateur like me, it can thrive in low humidity and light. It’s particularly resilient to drastic changes, which will come naturally as you get a hang of being a bonsai expert. Besides that, Ficus bonsais can grow in some cool shapes that can give your living room or office a kick-ass ambiance, so think about that!

Chinese Pepper Bonsai

Chinese Pepper Bonsai
Credits: mistralbonsai.com

That’s the cool name for the Xanthoxylum piperitum, which can also bloom indoors. In contrast to the Ficus, the Chinese pepper needs constant watering, especially during summer. A bit tougher than the Ficus bonsai, but it comes with its perks. You can get some fruit this bonsai produces to make a hot spice and marinade your steak or chicken (yum).

The Dwarf Umbrella Tree

The Dwarf Umbrella Tree
Credits: FukuBonsai

This Australian species is known to like to brag and show its roots. It has a thin trunk and a unique pairing of leave groups. Similar to the Ficus, the Dwarf Umbrella can handle low humidity and dim light. So newbies, here you go. 

Note: If you don’t like any of these 3 options, keep in mind that most tropical and subtropical species can be grown indoors.

TL;DR

  • Most indoor bonsais need decent light (natural or artificial), good watering and warm temperatures to thrive.
  • Choose a Ficus, a Chinese Pepper or a Dwarf Umbrella if you want an indoor bonsai.

Related Questions:

-Which bonsai species can’t be grown indoors?

If you exclude tropicals and sub-tropicals trees from all bonsai tree species, you get Temperate bonsai trees.

They can’t grow indoors because they need to go through a resting period called dormancy. 

Dormancy takes place during autumn and winter when temperate bonsais lose all their leaves to focus all their energy on growing their roots. 

In conclusion, dormancy is pretty hard to achieve indoors unless you are willing to live with a door open during most of the year. 

-What are tropical and sub-tropical species? 

Let’s use a map to explain this better:

tropical and sub-tropical range map
Source: nationalgeographic.com

Sub-tropical species refers to trees that are originally from geographic areas roughly above the Tropic of Cancer and roughly below the Tropic of Capricorn. Tropical, well means that the origin of the bonsai is in the Tropics. So these are your trees to choose.

-How long do indoor bonsai trees take to grow?

As a rule of thumb, indoor bonsai trees can take a tad longer than outdoor bonsai trees. Like most trees, they prefer the outdoors and their natural conditions to thrive, so expect a slower growth pace with this compromise. 

This is why most experts agree it can take up to 5 years from the moment you plant it until you start seeing a tree shape come to life. But don’t worry, bonsai trees and their growth are all about patience, so enjoy the ride as you and it grows.

Martin Duran

Hey y'all! My name is Martin Duran and I am from Cali, Colombia. Since 2018 I have been learning about plants and how to take care of them. Here's is my journey... “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir

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