11 Best Bonsai Tree Types for Beginners

If you’re thinking about getting started in the art of bonsai, start with a tree that is flexible and sturdy to learn the ropes. Here are 11 of the best trees for beginners.

Close-up of a hand holding a small Juniperus plant in bonsai form - one of the beginner bonsai trees. This small evergreen conifer is characterized by its compact, gnarled trunk and scale-like foliage, which is vibrant green. The branches of the Juniper bonsai are meticulously trained and pruned to achieve a balanced, aesthetic form.

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Bonsai is a beautiful and elegant art form that dates back thousands of years and involves the miniaturization of many beautiful types of trees. These miniature but mature trees are stunning examples of their full-sized counterparts that allow us to shape and train a tree that would otherwise not be so easy to shape.

This ancient art form might seem intimidating at first. If you’re not familiar with the process, there are quite a few factors that go into training and shaping a bonsai tree. Some trees take very well to the process, while others present some difficulty and require more advanced skills. 

If you’re just getting started, it’s a good idea to select a plant that falls on the easier end of the difficulty spectrum. These trees are flexible and durable and tend to be forgiving during the learning process. Here are some of our favorite beginner bonsai trees

Ficus

Close-up of Ficus bonsai, derived from the Ficus genus, is a captivating miniature tree cultivated through the ancient art of bonsai. Characterized by its glossy, elliptical leaves and smooth bark, the Ficus bonsai exudes a classic and elegant appearance.
Fertilize ficus trees every two weeks during active growth.
botanical-name botanical name Ficus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Ficus trees are typically considered the best beginner tree because they are very sturdy and forgiving. These trees have beautiful aerial root systems that add a lot of intricate interest in bonsai form. They take well to shaping and training as well, so they are great for experimenting with different styling methods. 

This is a warm climate tree, so if you live outside of zones 10-11, yours has to spend the winter indoors. It does best in full sun, but it will tolerate some shade. Ficus likes high humidity and moist soil, so make sure to water it regularly. The aerial roots develop in response to high levels of humidity, so keeping it outdoors during the warm months will help this along. 

Give your ficus bonsai a light application of fertilizer every two weeks and once per month during its dormant period of winter. Be careful when wiring branches. Don’t bend them too far, or the wires can cut into the soft bark.

Juniper

View of Juniperus bonsai standing outdoors near a wooden fence. Juniper bonsai is a miniature version of the Juniper tree cultivated for the art of bonsai. This small evergreen tree is characterized by a distinctive, needle-like foliage of dark green color. The branches are carefully trained and pruned to create the classic, windswept, or cascading bonsai styles.
Outdoor-friendly juniper bonsai thrives in cold climates, showcasing color-changing foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Juniperus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Juniper trees make some of the most fascinating bonsai specimens. These evergreens are very cold-tolerant, so they can be grown outdoors all year. They do not do well as indoor bonsai trees. Instead, choose this one for your outdoor living space. 

The foliage on certain types of juniper trees changes color in the fall, deepening to a rich purplish brown. It won’t drop its needles, though they will change back to green in the spring. This is a mechanism that protects the foliage from frost.

Juniper trees like higher humidity, which they readily get outdoors. If you live in a very dry climate, juniper might be more complicated for this reason. This tree’s soil should be allowed to dry out almost completely before watering. Water deeply and fertilize weakly weekly.

Maple

View of Acer bonsai in a blue pot outdoors. This small tree forms a trunk adorned with distinctive palmate leaves with lobes radiating from a central point. These leaves are bright red.
Vibrant maples excel as bonsai with fast growth and unique summer defoliation.
botanical-name botanical name Acer
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs High
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

For a beautiful tree with striking fall color, maples are flexible and make excellent bonsai trees. Most maple trees have foliage that changes to bold reds, oranges, and gold in the fall months, and some have colorful new growth in the spring as well. They have thin, attractive bark and grow quite fast.

Maple trees flower, but the flowers are less remarkable than the leaves, so they are often overlooked. Part of the magic of a bonsai is that those things that go unnoticed on a larger scale are often much easier to observe in miniature. 

Maple bonsai trees benefit from summer defoliation. Then, the plant replaces the loss with a second, and usually finer, set of leaves. While the tree is growing, it needs to be watered daily, but less so in the winter. Fertilize your maple once per week with diluted organic fertilizer.

Bald Cypress

Close-up of Taxodium distichum bonsai in a brown pot on a gray and white background. This small tree has a slightly sinuous gray-brown trunk with beautiful symmetrical branches. It includes feathery, deciduous needles arranged in a spiral pattern on delicate, scaled branches, and a tapered trunk. The leaves are bright green.
A deciduous option, Bald Cypress bonsai needs consistently moist soil.
botanical-name botanical name Taxodium distichum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
water-needs water needs High
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10

Bald cypress trees are wonderful deciduous trees that take well to bonsai training. They need to stay moist, especially during the summer, so placing the pot in a shallow water dish is a good way to ensure your cypress never dries out. 

The leaves are soft and light green in the summer, changing to a reddish gold shade in fall before falling off. In winter, bald cypress has lower light and water needs, but in summer, full sun is the preferred condition for this tree.

Although they are cold-tolerant in their full-sized form, bald cypress bonsai trees are vulnerable to frost. In colder climates, bald cypress bonsais will need to be brought indoors for the winter. Fertilize this tree every two weeks throughout the year. 

Chinese Boxwood

Close-up of Buxus harlandii in bonsai form on a blue background. Buxus harlandii bonsai, derived from the Harland Boxwood, presents a compact and refined miniature version of the shrub ideal for bonsai cultivation. The bonsai features small, elliptical glossy green leaves densely covering its intricately pruned branches, capturing the essence of a mature boxwood in a diminutive form.
Boxwoods excel as bonsai with small foliage, cold tolerance, and responsiveness to pruning.
botanical-name botanical name Buxus harlandii
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

There are many species of boxwood, and all are lovely evergreens that make excellent topiaries and hedges. Chinese boxwood is the one that is most commonly trained to be a bonsai tree. This tree has relatively good cold tolerance but will weather the winter better in a greenhouse or a cool indoor room. 

The small foliage makes this an ideal bonsai, as it is naturally predisposed to remaining small throughout the plant’s rather long life. Defoliation works quite well on boxwood and will result in wonderfully compact and dense foliage. In the summer, boxwood will thrive outdoors in a sunny spot. 

Boxwoods are very responsive to trimming and pruning and bud on old wood as well as new. Their trunks and branches often twist naturally, making training this tree uncomplicated and well-suited for bonsai. 

Azalea

Close-up of Azalea bonsai in a burgundy clay pot against a blurred background. This bonsai variety is characterized by its small, vibrant, delicate pink flowers. The Azalea bonsai's delicate, glossy green leaves provide an elegant backdrop to the profusion of blossoms. Its branches are carefully pruned and shaped to showcase a balanced and aesthetically pleasing form.
This bonsai, with stunning spring blooms, needs sun, protection from rain, and careful pruning.
botanical-name botanical name Rhododendron tsusui
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-9

For a bonsai with spectacular flowering capability without the challenge presented by other flowering trees, an azalea makes an excellent, low-maintenance, and hardy bonsai tree. For the most part, this tree needs a fair amount of sun, but it should have some protection in the afternoon, particularly in the summer. 

Their flowers, which bloom in spring, should be protected from rain, as being rained on will shorten their lifespan dramatically. They can tolerate a light frost, but during prolonged periods of cold weather, they need some protection and should be brought indoors. 

Although their branches become brittle with age and don’t take well to wiring, they do branch finely, which lends to excellent ramification. If you can appreciate azalea’s natural shape, they take well to pruning. Do your pruning after the flowers fall for maximum blooms the following season. Azaleas bloom on mature wood, so pruning too close to bloom time will result in few, if any, flowers. 

Ginseng Ficus

Close-up of Ginseng Ficus bonsai in a garden with a blurred background. This bonsai features a bulbous, gnarled root system resembling the ginseng root. The glossy, dark green leaves are small and densely packed, creating a lush canopy. The branches are carefully trained and pruned.
Low-maintenance ginseng ficus thrives with pruning, wiring, and regular watering.
botanical-name botanical name Ficus microcarpa
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

Ficus trees, in general, make excellent, low-maintenance bonsai trees that can tolerate some beginner habits. They are not cold tolerant, so in all but the warmest climates, they need to come indoors during the winter months. Temperatures below 60°F (15°C) slow this tree down. 

As with other ficus species, the attractive aerial roots need a significant amount of humidity to grow. However, the foliage is sturdy and takes well to defoliation. In general, the tree is tolerant of low humidity. If a thick trunk is desired, let this tree grow for a year or two and then prune back hard. It takes very well to pruning.

Ginseng ficus grows a large and dense crown, and the trunk and branches take nicely to wiring, which results in a lovely twisting trunk with smooth, gray bark and nicely molded branches as well.

Bougainvillea

Close-up of Bougainvillea bonsai against a blurred garden background. Renowned for its vibrant and showy appearance, this bonsai variety is distinguished by its small, ovate leaves and dazzling purple bracts. The bracts surround inconspicuous flowers, creating a visually striking display.
This tropical vining shrub thrives outdoors, needs sun, and blossoms with colorful bracts.
botanical-name botanical name Bougainvillea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Another great bloomer that is easy to bonsai, bougainvillea is a tropical vining shrub that makes a great bonsai tree. It forms brightly colored bracts at the end of branches, which are often mistaken for flowers. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous and form in the center of these papery, modified leaves. 

For optimal flowering, this tree should live outdoors as much as possible. The more sun it gets, the more prolifically it produces its colorful bracts. Bougainvillea is very drought-tolerant as a full-sized plant and doesn’t like wet roots, so only water when the soil is dry to the touch. 

Bougainvillea is a vining plant with flexible new branches that take well to wiring and shaping. With some care, this is a truly spectacular bonsai tree with a stunning trunk and prolific blooming habit. Older branches can become stiff, so wiring is best done early on. 

Chinese Elm

Close-up of Ulmus parvifolia bonsai in a clay pot against a blurred garden background. This bonsai variety is admired for its finely serrated, small-to-medium-sized leaves that are green. The Chinese Elm bonsai is characterized by its gracefully arching branches, intricate twig structure, and a visually appealing, flaky bark.
A popular bonsai tree, Chinese elm thrives indoors and out.
botanical-name botanical name Ulmus parvifolia
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

Chinese elm is a very large tree in its full size but can be trained into a beautiful bonsai. It develops fine ramification, and the leaves remain very small, as well. This is a cold-tolerant tree for the most part, but in colder climates, it needs some protection from very cold weather. 

This is a very popular tree for beginners because it takes well to pruning and training. It is strong and resilient and can live indoors or out. When mature, Chinese elm forms attractive scaling bark with newer orange bark showing between scales. 

Chinese elm needs a fair amount of water and will not tolerate periods of drought. It is a faster-growing tree, and the trunk thickens early on. This tree takes very well to styling and is easily shaped by wiring. 

Oak

Close-up of Quercus bonsai, derived from the oak genus, is a captivating miniature representation of the iconic deciduous tree. This bonsai variety is distinguished by its lobed leaves, small and compact, showing the characteristic oak leaf shape.
This bonsai has sturdy branches, shapely leaves, and longevity.
botanical-name botanical name Quercus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

For a strong and sturdy bonsai, try an oak tree. Most of them are deciduous and cold-hardy as full-sized trees but need some protection from frost as a bonsai. As full-sized trees, oaks are very large and live for hundreds of years, so this is a bonsai that will last a lifetime and more. 

Because of their shapely leaves, oaks make very pretty bonsai trees. Their foliage changes color in the fall, turning shades of gold and bronze before falling. While dormant, they need a reduced watering schedule, but during growth periods, they like to be moist – not wet. 

The younger branches are flexible and take well to shaping, but the older branches tend to be stiff. Make sure to remove the wires before the branches outgrow them, or it will cut into the bark. Oaks should not be heavily defoliated, but only the largest leaves should be removed in summer. 

Desert Rose

Close-up of a blooming Adenium obesum bonsai in the garden against the background of a fence. The Adenium obesum bonsai, commonly known as Desert Rose, is a captivating miniature succulent tree. Characterized by its swollen, bottle-shaped trunk and sparse, succulent branches, the Desert Rose bonsai showcases leathery, elliptical leaves arranged in clusters at the branch tips. This plant produces striking, trumpet-shaped flowers of bright red color with white throats.
This unique bonsai adapts well to containers and features a wide trunk.
botanical-name botanical name Adenium obesum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
water-needs water needs Moderate
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

The desert rose is not a common bonsai, but it does adapt easily to life in a container. Therefore, it makes a nice bonsai tree. It develops a nice, wide trunk with interesting grey bark. The branches tend to be thicker with little ramification, so it is less traditional in appearance. 

This is a flowering tree that is commonly known as Japanese frangipani, as the plant bears a strong resemblance to the frangipani or plumeria tree. It is semi-succulent. This makes it much less maintenance-heavy, as it only needs to be watered once per week. 

Bring this tree indoors when the temperature drops below 40°F (4°C), but leave it outdoors in the summer for sun exposure to increase blooming. Give it some shelter from the afternoon sun, though, to prolong the life of the flowers. 

Final Thoughts

The art of bonsai is an ancient and fascinating one that once was only accessible to the very wealthy. Nowadays, any gardener with the desire to learn can train a beautiful bonsai tree over time. This is an exercise in patience, with an amazingly fulfilling product when it is performed properly. A bonsai tree is a wonderful plant that will endure for many lifetimes if it is taken care of properly. 

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