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Most bonsai species, even if sold as "indoor bonsai," are actually meant to live outside. They need direct sunlight and benefit from temperature changes, both daily and seasonally. Unlike other house plants, they require frequent watering and occasional root and foliage pruning.
In short, they require all the same care and needs of outdoor bonsai, but they can tolerate indoor conditions. This makes them the perfect choice for someone who wants to decorate a home or office with a beautiful bonsai tree.
Interior lights are usually insufficient to supply the indoor bonsai with enough light to photosynthesize, so it is important to place the tree in an area that gets direct or indirect sunlight through a window.
However, you need to be careful to expose the tree neither to the freezing cold of a windowsill during the cold season, nor the sauna-like heat of an unventilated windowsill area in the hot season. Fluorescent lighting or high-intensity growing lamps can substitute for sunlight for some species.
Here are three types of beautiful bonsai that can be placed indoor as decoration.
Ficus is one of the most popular indoor bonsai species. There are more than 800 species of ficus, but there are two that are great indoor growers, and they are easy enough to maintain that they make good beginner trees.
Ficus benjamina is a weeping fig that is evergreen and fast-growing, with lush foliage and interesting roots. It can best be shaped as a formal or informal upright, or in a weeping banyan tree style. They scar easily and don't easily heal over large pruning wounds, so it is best to grow these up from smaller trees than to do trunk chops from larger trees.
Ficus neriifolia is a willow-leafed fig that is known for its thin foliage, strong root spread, and twiggy branch ramification. Ficus bonsai are known for their milky sap, which leaks from cuts or wounds to the ficus. Some are also capable of producing small flowers; however, these can only be pollinated by specialized insects.
These bonsai are capable of producing aerial roots, but in order to do so, they must be situated in nearly 100% humidity. Place in direct sunlight to encourage the growth of small foliage. Poor positioning may result in discoloration or drop. Keep it moist, do not waterlog or keep excessively dry. Prune down to two leaves after six to eight leaves have grown. Repot every other year.
2. Chinese Elm
Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia) are not only great trees to grow indoors, but they are also among the easiest trees for bonsai beginners. Their fast growth (and highly predictable growth pattern), small leaves, woody trunks, and short nodes make it very easy for a beginner to grow a healthy and pretty bonsai tree, even inside a home or office.
They are more tolerant of underwatering and overwatering than most bonsai species. They respond well to wire or can be trained by directional pruning. They can grow in good or bad soil, as long as you don't let them simply sit in water or dry out completely. They are easy to grow from clippings, or, if you have mature Chinese elms in your neighborhood, they sprout prolifically from fresh seeds.
They are also edible. The seeds are edible, if bland, and the fresh light green leaves taste like lettuce and can be mixed in with a salad for an extra layer of flavor.
Keep it in full sun. Keep the leaves free from dust to prevent pests and promote good circulation. Keep moist, but do not overwater. Allow new shoots to develop eight leaf pairs, then trim them down to two or three.
3. Fukien Tea
The Fukien tea tree, also called Carmona retusa or Ehretia microphylla, named for the province of Southern China where it is native, can grow to more than a dozen feet if planted in the ground outside. But it also thrives indoors, and it is one of the most popular mass-produced indoor bonsai species offered for sale.
It produces small white flowers year-round and small red fruits. The foliage is small, rich green, and waxy. This tree is well suited for an informal upright style. Unfortunately, many of the mass-produced Fukien tea trees are styled into a very curvy S-shape that is difficult to alter once the trunk becomes too thick to bend with wire.
It does best in stronger light for at least five to six hours per day. Although it will thrive indoors, it benefits from spending some time outside in summer. It does not do well if temperatures drop below 40 degrees. During cold season, especially in colder climates in which cold outside air comes in and is heated, causing very low humidity, this species will benefit from the use of a humidity tray.
Placement in front of south- or west-facing windows with four to six hours of light a day is ideal. Aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects can cause problems, and the flowers can attract insects in warmer climates. Water when the soil's surface starts to dry out.
Prune regularly to develop a dense branch structure. Keep new growth pruned back when it gets too long and unkempt, but do not remove all of the growing tips. Fertilize regularly throughout the growing season. Prune off the bottom quarter of the root ball when repotting.
Repot every other year or whenever the roots begin to fill the pot (i.e., you see root masses pushing out the bottom of your drainage holes). As a tropical species, this tree prefers repotting to take place in the middle of summer.