Growing Bonsai Trees Indoors

Have you had problems growing bonsai trees indoors? As a friend once told me, "God never created house plants."  However, it's not as difficult as it may seem. 

To keep any plant healthy indoors, the more you duplicate its natural environment, the happier it will be.  Keep in mind, not all plants will thrive indoors.

It is important to select bonsai that have the best potential for your particular environment.  Below are some growing tips and plants you may not have considered.

Plants to Use Indoors

For growing bonsai plants indoors, the best plants are tropical and subtropical species.

Two species which are especially good bonsai for indoors are the dwarf Hawaiian umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola ) and many small leaf Ficus varieties.  (The Schefflera bonsai was made famous as bonsai by David Fukumoto in Hawaii.)

Ficus varieties such as Green Island, willow leaf fig (Ficus nerifolia) and the Chinese banyan are a few of the best ficus bonsai for indoors.

The different varieties often look very different from one another.

High light is the most important requirement.

The Chinese elm is another real winner and another one of the easiest.

Today, they're a very popular import and therefore, readily available. The small leaves are a great asset.

The Brazilian Raintree may seem a surprise as an indoor bonsai. But it has proven to be quite successful! 

Read about its care and story as a bonsai. And remember when its leaves close up at night, there's nothing wrong.

Jaboticaba (yes, that's the common name) is another surprise as a good indoor subject.  The Myrciaria cauliflora  is a real indoor treasure!  The bark is amazing. 

Don't be tempted by seeds of this plant, it's a long and tedious project.

Fukien Tea is a very popular variety for indoors.  It has small white flowers. There are basically two types, a small leaf and a little larger leaf.

Both are good subjects and many are being imported. It is prone to pests, if not cared for properly.  Be sure to read both pages on Fukien Tea.

Natal Plum is sometimes referred to as Carissa boxwood (it's not really a boxwood.)  Although not likely to fruit indoors, it does have a beautiful small white flower.

Jade bonsai is the common name used for at least two different plants.

Both have very high light requirements, but otherwise are good for growing bonsai trees indoors.  The Portulacaria afra is much easier to develop as a good bonsai than the larger leaf plant, Crassula argentea.

Dwarf Powder Puff,  Calliandra sp. is a plant unfortunately often ignored for indoors.  Despite its delicate look, it is not difficult.  (However, it may be difficult to find.)  The amazing part of growing this bonsai indoors is how it continues to flower!

Growing Bonsai Trees Indoors
Care Requirements

Indoor bonsai hobbyists often create total mini-environments in their homes.  Some, in very cold climates, keep their tropical and sub-tropical species inside all year.  Others move their bonsai outdoors in spring and back in again come fall.

By following basic care instructions for indoor bonsai, many of these plants not only survive, but thrive in their artificial environments!  The basics for growing bonsai trees indoors are not much different than those of house plants indoors. 

Basic Things to Remember The larger the plant the more light it needs; over-watering can be a problem and keep an ever vigilant eye for pests.

Artificial Light

As beautiful as all of these treasures can be, there is no magic that allows any of them to grow in the dark.  For some, a window with a bright exposure is sufficient. Artificial light such as grow lights and fluorescent tubes are frequently used.

No mention of growing bonsai under fluorescent lights is complete without mentioning Jack Wikle.  Jack is growing bonsai trees indoors under 4 ft long 40 watt, two tube, cool white fluorescent fixtures, 16 hrs a day. No, not special ‘grow lights.’

Indoor bonsai lighting technique

Bill Heston photo

An economical timer turns the lights on and off automatically. This photo shows an example of the basics.  Observe how close the little trees are to the lights!

Jack is also the only person I know growing bonsai trees, who has managed to keep two junipers as indoor plants under lights for twenty years! Yes, I’ve seen them!  (However, junipers are not recommended indoors for the novice or faint of heart.)

Check out Jack's article to see the details of his amazing light and stand set-ups for Growing Bonsai Trees Under Lights.


Most homes do not have enough humidity in winter to support tropical plants. Air blown heat (especially) depletes the necessary humidity.  Growing bonsai trees indoors will require some added humidity.

However, misting does very little if anything to create humidity in a room.  Humidifiers are much better and easier. They are used by many indoor plant people.

Humidity trays are of little to no value in creating humidity!  They are, however, good "drip trays."   See  Bonsai Myths to read about the Humidity Tray Myth.

Watering Indoors

Instructions such as water "every day" or "once a week" are not reliable. Be sure you have explicit instructions,  see the watering bonsai page.  Find out if your plant likes to be "evenly moist", "wet" or "a little dry between waterings." 

In winter, never use cold water directly from the tap!

Temperature and Air
Circulation Indoors

Even the large old banyan trees of South Florida drop leaves in nature when the temperatures fall below 50oF.  They know it's cold! Tropical bonsai like to be warm.  Be cautious indoors about cold windowsills and drafts.

Although cold drafts and direct hits from air conditioning can be harmful, air movement is necessary to keep down the plant pest population.  In most cases, an oscillating fan works just fine for growing bonsai trees indoors.

Is a Small Greenhouse the Answer?

If you've gone way beyond your allotted window space, a small greenhouse may be the answer for your tropical bonsai trees in winter.

Be sure to see both of these pages:  One page is about more than one Amazing "Greenhouse".  All of which are either attached or in homes.

A 'Not So Small Greenhouse' Idea

is a definite winner. (Not for everyone.) However, if you have the right circumstances, it's perfect! I think you will enjoy the story.

Where to Go From Here

For specific care information about your bonsai species, look up the bonsai by tree name.

 types of bonsai page

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