Reaching popularity that rivals beloved succulents, bonsai trees are putting down roots as long-lived and easy-care houseplants. We're hedging our bets that bonsai trees will be the next succulent. Here's why.

By Megan Hughes
May 14, 2019

While succulents have long reigned supreme as texture-rich centerpieces, bonsai, with their windswept appearance or mighty, old tree persona are becoming increasingly popular in interior spaces. Bonsai is part horticulture and a whole lot of art. These tiny trees are carefully sculpted to create miniature landscapes right on your tabletop. Designers appreciate their bold form and plant lovers embrace the life they bring to a space.

Bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) are simply plants that are intentionally dwarfed by pruning the branches and roots. The plants are often tree species, but shrubs can be sculpted into bonsai too. The plants are confined to a small pot to limit their growth. Thoughtful pruning combined with wires help shape the plants’ branches—creating artful open, windswept, and unique forms.

Bonsai as Houseplants

It’s the strong structure that makes a bonsai plant especially eye-catching as a focal point on a tabletop or in a window. While succulents have a limited size range, a bonsai can be sculpted to stand just 6 to 10 inches tall or grown to a much larger size. For a perfect fit, choose a bonsai that is proportional to the place where it will grow.

From credenzas to patio tabletops, bonsai plants, like succulents, are at home both indoors and outdoors. Many bonsai thrive when moved outdoors during the growing season. They are often moved indoors in winter since freezing temperatures are dangerous to bonsai plants. Moisture, combined with temperatures below 32°F, can damage stems and leaves, as well as cause soil to expand and pots to break. When grown indoors, bonsai grow well in medium to bright light and consistent soil moisture.

Choose Your Bonsai

While there are a handful of popular succulent plants for containers and interior spaces, there are many different trees and shrubs as well as exotic plants that can be sculpted into bonsai. With a few nuances, plant care is similar between the tree and shrub species.

The appearance of the many species of bonsai plants is vastly different though. A mighty maple trained into a bonsai creates visions of an ancient landscape, while an artfully trimmed boxwood bonsai can take on a whimsical appearance. Some tree and shrub species are evergreen and hold their leaves year-round, while other species are deciduous and drop their leaves in fall.

How to Grow and Care for Bonsai Trees

Bonsai trees are as easy to grow as succulents. But bonsai, unlike succulents, will easily thrive for many decades when their growing needs are met. Light and water needs vary by the type of bonsai tree you are sculpting. A beech tree bonsai, for example, thrives in moist but not wet soil, while a juniper bonsai grows well when its soil is allowed to dry out slightly between waterings.

Small, shallow pots are an essential part of bonsai culture. There are countless pots specifically designed for growing bonsai. Choosing a pot for a bonsai begins with analyzing its size. A small bonsai tree root ball equals a small pot. Simply select a color and shape that complements your space and start planting.

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