Indoor versus outdoor bonsai.

The trees sold as bonsai often come from temperate regions. This means that, just like the trees in those regions, they require full sunlight, well aerated soil and a winter dormancy period at near-freezing temperatures.

Kept in the artificial environment of a home, these trees will become weakened and die. This category includes junipers (Juniperus), spruces (Picea) and most other conifers.

Plants from tropical regions, however, where temperatures remain warm year-round, are able to survive and even thrive when grown as indoor bonsai. It is very important to be able to distinguish between outdoor and indoor bonsai in order to choose the right plant.

indoor vs outdoor bonsai

Selecting species.

The following list indicates the main species of trees and shrubs that are suitable as indoor bonsai.

Tropical plants: tropical plants do not have a distinct dormancy period.

Subtropical plants: species are somewhat more demanding, but are worth a try.

Deciduous plants: certain deciduous plants, such as fuchsias (Fuchsia) and bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea), for instance, may drop only some of their leaves in late fall.

Conifer: as a rule, conifers are harder to grow.

Bonsai interesting for their fruit: in order to produce fruit, fruit-bearing bonsai need to be given conditions that will encourage them to flower.

Finally, remember that deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs from Canadian forests are unable to thrive indoors.

Deciduous plants.

Tropical plants
  • Bougainvillea glabra (flower-bearing plant)
  • Bougainvillea spectabilis (flower-bearing plant)
  • Carissa macrocarpa (Natal plum) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • X Citrofortunella microcarpa Syn. Citrus mitis (Calamondin orange) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Duranta erecta Syn. D. repens (Pigeon berry) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Ehretia microphylla (Fukien tea) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Ficus benjamina (Weeping fig)
  • Ficus microcarpa Syn. F. retusa (Indian laurel)
  • Fortunella japonica ( Round kumquat) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Grewia occidentalis (flower-bearing plant)
  • Murraya paniculata (Orange jasmine) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Serissa foetida (Serissa) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Serissa foetida 'Flore-Pleno' (Serissa) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Serissa foetida 'Variegata' (Serissa) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Syzygium paniculatum Syn. Eugenia paniculata (Australian brush cherry) (flower-bearing plant)
Subtropical plants.

indoor vs outdoor bonsai1

  • Buddleja indica Syn. Nicodemia diversifolia
  • Buxus microphylla (Boxwood)
  • Camellia japonica (Common camellia) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Camellia sasanqua (Camellia) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Cotoneaster microphyllus (Rockspray cotoneaster) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Elaeagnus pungens (Thorny eleagnus) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Fuchsia cvs (Lady's eardrops) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Gardenia augusta Syn. G. jasminoides, G. radicans (Gardenia - Cape jasmine) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Hedera helix (English ivy, Common ivy)
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Chinese hibiscus) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese privet)
  • Ligustrum sinensis (Chinese privet)
  • Myrtus communis 'Microphylla' (Dwarf myrtle)
  • Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo, Sacred bamboo) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Olea europaea (Common olive) (fruit-bearing plant)
  • Punica granatum 'Nana' (Dwarf pomegranate) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Pyracantha angustifolia (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Pyracantha coccinea (Firethorn) (flower-bearing and fruit-bearing plant)
  • Rhododendron Satsuki (Satsuki Azalea) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Rhododendron Belgian Indian Hybrids (flower-bearing plant)
  • Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
  • Sageretia thea Syn. S. theezans (Hedge sageretia)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star jasmine) (flower-bearing plant)
  • Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese elm)


Tropical plants
  • Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya-bunya)
  • Araucaria heterophylla Syn. A. excelsa (Norfolk island pine)
Subtropical plants
  • Cedrus libani ssp. atlantica Syn. C.atlantica  (Atlas cedar)
  • Cedrus deodara (Himalayan cedar)
  • Cedrus libani (Cedar of Lebanon)
  • Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar)
  • Cupressus sempervirens (Italian cypress)
  • Podocarpus macrophyllus 'Maki' (Buddhist pine)
  • Sequoia sempervirens (Redwood)

The importance of choosing the right specimen.

When buying a bonsai, be sure to point out that you want an indoor bonsai. This will be easier if you buy from a recognized, specialized plant dealer.

No matter where you shop, before you bring a bonsai home, ask about the plant's needs and get its full identification, including its genus and species, e.g. Serissa foetida - Serissa.

Make sure that the plant is healthy by examining its leaves. Check under the leaves and along the stems as well for any signs of insects.

Serissa foetida 'Pleniflora', or common serissa, is frequently recommended for the beginner.


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