9 Popular Types of Bonsai Trees

A small collection of different types of bonsai trees sitting on a black counter againt a white wall.
Letizia Le Fur / Getty Images

Bonsai is an ancient art form that utilizes growing and training techniques to produce miniature trees that mimic the appearance of their full-sized counterparts. These techniques include heavy crown pruning, root pruning, and pot confinement in shallow containers.

Nearly any perennial, woody-stemmed tree or shrub that produces true branches can be trained as a bonsai tree. However, some tree species are more well-suited to growing as bonsai than others. For example, certain species are more popular due to aesthetic reasons (such as having small foliage or gnarled looking bark), while others are popular because they are notorious for being low-maintenance and resilient as bonsai. Discover 10 of the most popular types of bonsai trees below.

  • 01 of 09

    Juniper (Juniperus)

    A juniper bonsai tree sitting in a black bonsai pot.

     Loren Klein / Getty Images

    Juniper is a large genus of over fifty evergreen coniferous trees and shrubs that are popular as bonsai trees. All species of juniper can be grown as bonsai successfully.

    Junipers are popular as bonsai for two main reasons. First, the small foliage fits nicely with the miniature aesthetic of bonsai, and second, junipers are hardy trees that can withstand aggressive pruning. Juniper bonsai trees cannot be grown indoors.

    • Light: Bright, sunny light
    • Soil: Bonsai soil mix, well-draining
    • Water: Allow soil to dry slightly before watering
  • 02 of 09

    Pine (Pinus)

    A pine bonsai tree planted in a grey pot sitting on a picnic table in front of a white wall.

     3000ad / Getty Images

    Pine trees are popular as bonsai because they are hardy and trainable. In fact, pine trees can be shaped into almost every known bonsai style. Pine trees are characterized by needles that appear in bundles of 2-5, and bark that becomes scaly or flaky as it ages. 

    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil: Bonsai soil mix, well-draining 
    • Water: Water once the soil looks dry
  • 03 of 09

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    The bright red foliage of the japanese maple bonsai tree contrasts against its tourquoise pot and pale pink background.

    Aleroy4 / Getty Images 

    Japanese maples are infamous for their bright red, orange, or yellow fall foliage. The bark of young Japanese maples is typically green or reddish, turning grey or grayish-brown as it ages. 

    A warning to those bonsai enthusiasts who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the craft - Japanese maples require a lot of water, especially during the growing season. Depending on the temperature, they may require daily watering, possibly even several times daily.

    • Light: Sunny, partial sun
    • Soil: Bonsai soil mix, well-draining
    • Water: Requires frequent watering (daily or more)
  • 04 of 09

    Cherry Tree (Prunus serrulata)

    A cherry bonsai tree with white cherry blossoms sits in front of green trees in thebackground.

     Carlo A / Getty Images

    Cherry trees are traditionally believed to signify friendship, and they also make beautiful bonsai trees. These ornamental, deciduous trees are not only gorgeous, but they are easy to train because their branches and trunks are pliable and easy to shape. 

    While bonsai cherry trees can be grown indoors they may suffer from lack of light and grow best when grown outdoors in the summer months.

    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil: Bonsai soil, well-draining
    • Water: Keep the soil consistently moist
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  • 05 of 09

    Cedar (Cedrus libani)

    A cedar bonsai tree sits in front of a white stucco wall.

    Cliff / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

     

    The rough, ragged bark of cedar trees has made them a popular choice among bonsai enthusiasts. Cedar trees grow short needle clusters along their branches which provides an opportunity for dramatic bonsai styles.

    While cedar trees are a popular bonsai choice, they are not an ideal species for beginners. They require specialized care and expertise to grow properly as a bonsai that is best-suited to experienced bonsai growers.

    • Light: Direct sun
    • Soil: Bonsai soil, well-draining
    • Water: Allow the soil to partially dry between waterings
  • 06 of 09

    Ginseng Ficus (Ficus retusa)

    Several rows of ginseng ficus sit in black and white pots - their twisted aerial roots exposed.

    Bulgnn / Getty Images 

    Ginseng ficus is considered to be an excellent species for beginner bonsai enthusiasts because it is a very hardy and forgiving tree. They are characterized by unique-looking aerial roots and oval-shaped dark green leaves.

    Ginseng ficus' make low-maintenance bonsai trees, and they don’t require as much light as other popular bonsai varieties. They grow well indoors as a houseplant since they thrive in warm climates and bright, indirect light.

    • Light: Indirect light
    • Soil: Bonsai soil mix, well-draining
    • Water: Keep soil moist
  • 07 of 09

    Ficus Benjamina (Ficus benjamina)

    A bright green ficus benjamina sits in a brown pot in front of a bright white wall.

     Photohomepage / Getty Imges

    The beautiful, umbrella-like canopy of the ficus benjamina makes it a popular choice for bonsai. Its twisted surface roots are another alluring feature that lends well to bonsai styling. 

    Besides its appearance, ficus benjamina (also commonly known as the weeping fig) is a hardy, resilient tree making it perfect for bonsai training. They adapt well to growing indoors and grow well as houseplants year-round.

    • Light: Partial sun
    • Soil: Bonsai soil mix, well-draining
    • Water: Water frequently
  • 08 of 09

    Dwarf Jade (Portulacaria afra)

    A small dwarf jade bonsai tree sits on a wood table in a maroon bonsai pot in front of a lime yellow wall.

    / Getty Images

     

    Dwarf jade plants make excellent bonsai trees and are great for beginners. Dwarf jades look very similar to the more common jade variety (Crassula ovata), however, their smaller foliage of the dwarf jade makes it the preferable choice for bonsai growing.

    Dwarf jade bonsai trees grow well indoors but need direct sunlight for most of the day. They can also be successfully grown outside but cannot tolerate freezing temperatures.

    • Light: Direct light
    • Soil: Bonsai soil, well-draining
    • Water: Water sparsely
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  • 09 of 09

    Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

    A gnarled, leaning pomegranate bonsai tree with a red fruit leans across the photo. it is in a blue pot.

     SharonCobo / Getty Images

    The thick, knotted bark and striking, fruit-bearing flowers of the pomegranate tree have made it a popular type of bonsai tree. It’s naturally gnarled, ancient appearance is perfect for the bonsai aesthetic.

    Pomegranate bonsai trees can be grown outdoors year-round in warm climates, or grown indoors for part of the year. They should be protected from freezing temperatures and frost.

    • Light: Bright direct light
    • Soil: Bonsai soil, well-draining
    • Water: Water regularly

Ultimately, the bonsai that you choose will reflect your individual preferences and your level of experience with bonsai. If you are just getting into the world of bonsai: beware - bonsai is an addicting hobby! Before you know it your patio will be filled with these miniature pieces of living art.