21 Popular Trees to Grow for Bonsai

If you’re looking for a great tree to begin your bonsai journey or a new and beautiful challenge, join gardening expert Melissa Strauss as she shares her favorite trees for all skill levels.

Close-up of Fukien Tea bonsai in a white ceramic pot on a blurred background of a green garden. This is one of the popular bonsai trees with a unique trunk and glossy green leaves. This evergreen bonsai small features, glossy, dark green leaves that are elliptical to oblong in shape, creating a dense and compact canopy. The branches are fine and well-branched, allowing for intricate styling.


Many characteristics make a particular tree desirable as a candidate for bonsai. Things like seasonal interest, hardiness, and receptiveness to shaping are all elements that come into play when you are selecting a tree.

A bonsai tree is an ornamental tree grown in a pot and pruned in a particular manner to prevent it from reaching its normal size. The objective is to grow a miniature version of the tree, control its growth, and train it into its most beautiful form.

The process of miniaturizing a tree requires a small container to control the growth by limiting the amount of water and nutrients it receives. This means that all bonsai trees require a fair amount of maintenance. With that in mind, here are 21 of the most common trees used for this art form.


Close-up of Juniperus bonsai plant in a brown plastic pot on a beige background. The leaves of the Juniper bonsai are scale-like and arranged in overlapping patterns along the branches. These evergreen leaves exhibit shades of green. The trunk is twisted and vertical.
Ideal for bonsai, juniper trees feature beautiful bark with scaly foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Juniperus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Hardwood junipers make very attractive bonsai trees. They have interesting and beautiful bark that has the ability to form deadwood when it is treated in a particular fashion. This adds a lot of beauty and movement to the tree. This sometimes involves peeling the bark and using lime sulfur as a treatment. The result is a portion of bark that is lighter and has a silvery appearance. The process is worth it if you admire the unusual ornamental bark of several outdoor tree species.

The foliage of a Juniper works well with this treatment, as it is scaly and small. The leaves also tend to change color when stressed by cold weather, which is a beautiful and surprising element in winter. Juniper trees are considered easy to work with and make good beginner bonsai trees.

Fukien Tea

Close-up of Carmona retusa in a pot against a blurred green background. Carmona retusa, commonly known as the Fukien tea tree, is a popular evergreen bonsai species appreciated for its ornamental qualities. The plant features small, glossy, dark green leaves with an elliptical or ovate shape, providing a dense and lush appearance. The leaves are arranged in a neat, alternate fashion along the branches. The Fukien tea tree's bark is light gray, and the trunk exhibits an attractive, twisted structure.
An indoor bonsai favorite, the Fukien Tea tree thrives in warm weather and requires sunlight and humidity.
botanical-name botanical name Ehretia microphylla
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

This warm-weather tree is usually kept as an indoor bonsai. These trees prefer warm weather and do not tolerate frost. They also require a fair amount of humidity, which bumps this tree into the moderate range in terms of difficulty. As this is not a naturally large tree, it makes a good bonsai. It is not difficult to maintain the distinctive tree appearance in a small size. 

Fukien Tea tree is a popular choice for bonsai in China. Small, rounded leaves and grey bark that develops fissures as it matures are some of its attractive attributes. It is a blooming and fruit-bearing tree that can bloom at any time of year when kept indoors. It requires a lot of sunlight, so make a space directly in front of a sunny window. 


Close-up of Cedar bonsai plant on a blurred background of a blooming garden. This bonsai is characterized by needle-like leaves arranged in an attractive, scale-like pattern along the branches. The fine-textured needles create a dense and compact canopy.
Classic cedar has a distinctive trunk and a high canopy.
botanical-name botanical name Cedrus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-9

Cedar trees make elegant and beautiful bonsai trees. Their high, well-formed canopy ensures a distinctive trunk, which is a very desirable trait in bonsai. Their young branches are very malleable and can be wired to shape easily. Wounds tend to heal slowly, so creating deadwood is a common practice with cedar. 

You’ll need to repot this tree every two years initially and then every three to five years once the tree is mature. Give it plenty of water and fertilizer during the growing season, but be careful to let the soil dry between waterings.  


Close-up of Fagus bonsai, commonly known as beech bonsai, displays a distinctive and refined appearance. The leaves of the Fagus bonsai are deciduous, featuring a simple, ovate shape with serrated edges. The leaves are green with a yellowish tint. The beech bonsai's fine-textured foliage creates an elegant and airy canopy, and the branching structure develops a graceful, harmonious silhouette.
Choose beech for beautiful fall color and slow-growth.
botanical-name botanical name Fagus
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

For a tree with beautiful fall color, a beech is a wonderful choice. However, if you’re looking for an easy job or a beginner tree, this is probably not the one. Beech’s trunk takes a very long time to thicken, so it requires a lot of patience.

Beech trees are not fast growers. They typically only have one flush of growth yearly, and their primary branches are very long, which makes pruning more difficult. Pruning a beech bonsai takes skill and careful planning. The resulting bonsai is really beautiful, though, and in the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant shade of yellow.


Close-up of Ficus bonsai in a black plastic pot against a blurred background. The plant features glossy, elliptical to ovate leaves. The leaves are vibrant green and have a smooth, leathery texture.
An ideal beginner bonsai, ficus trees feature adaptable growth, aerial roots, and a wide crown.
botanical-name botanical name Ficus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Ficus is considered the best tree for beginners as it is adaptable, amenable to pruning and training, and has an attractive and interesting growth habit. Many types of ficus trees have aerial roots that can add an interesting, beautiful, unique appearance to your bonsai. They tend to form a large, wide crown, which makes for a lovely shape. 

This is a warm-weather tree that has tender roots, so it must be grown indoors in cooler climates, especially in the winter. It prefers full sun but can be grown in partial shade if you don’t mind the foliage coming in sparser. Keeping consistent temperature and high humidity will encourage aerial root formation. 

Bald Cypress

Close-up of Taxodium distichum bonsai plant in a brown pot on a gray background. The tree features feathery, needle-like leaves that are arranged in flat, spray-like clusters, giving it a soft and graceful texture. The leaves are bright green. The bark is reddish-brown and exfoliates in thin, vertical strips.
Protect Cypress bonsai from winter cold.
botanical-name botanical name Taxodium distichum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-10

Cypress trees are very tolerant of water, and their soft, feathery foliage looks enchanting in bonsai form. These trees have a distinct trunk and high canopy, so there is no struggle to encourage a tree shape rather than a more shrubby form. The bark is grey and heavily textured when mature, and the foliage turns beautiful shades of yellow and bronze in the fall.

Although it is very cold tolerant when planted in the ground, as a bonsai, Bald Cypress will need to be protected from the cold in winter. If pruned too early or severely, branch dieback can be an issue. Be sure to hold off on pruning branches with no lateral ramifications or secondary branching.

Japanese Maple

Close-up of Acer palmatum bonsai in a sunny garden with a blurred background. This bonsai variety boasts palm-shaped, deeply lobed leaves that come in a vibrant red color. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along delicate branches, creating a graceful and balanced aesthetic.
With ornate leaves and colorful foliage, maples thrive in partial sun but need protection from excessive heat.
botanical-name botanical name Acer palmatum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

Maple trees make wonderful bonsais, especially the types that produce red and yellow fall foliage. Many of these also have colorful foliage in the spring, making them extra appealing for ornamental purposes. Maple leaves are very ornate, with five pointed lobes. They prefer to be placed in an airy spot with partial sun exposure. 

Too much heat and sunlight can damage the pretty maple foliage. Maples produce red flowers in the spring and then release fruits that have small wings attached to help disperse the seeds. All of these lovely characteristics are miniaturized in bonsai form, making for a very lovely tree.

East Asian Cherry 

Close-up of East Asian Cherry bonsai indoors with blurred background. The Prunus serrulata bonsai bursts into a breathtaking spectacle of pink blossoms, resembling the famous cherry blossoms in Japan.
Cherry bonsai, challenging but beautiful, loves the sunny outdoors.
botanical-name botanical name Prunus serrulata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

This bonsai tree is considered one of the most difficult and also one of the most beautiful trees to train. It needs to be grown outdoors with a lot of sunlight to thrive. Unfortunately, it is also susceptible to many pests and diseases, making it more difficult to maintain, and this can drastically shorten the tree’s lifespan.

In the spring, the East Asian Cherry tree produces beautiful, fragrant white and pink flowers. During this blooming period, it is one of the showiest and most spectacular bonsai trees around. The more sun it gets, the more flowers it will produce, so extra sunlight in spring is best. In summer, move your cherry bonsai to a spot with shade in the afternoon and sun in the morning. 


Close-up of a blooming Azalea bonsai in a gray pot. indoors against the background of a bamboo curtain. The bonsai features small, elliptical evergreen leaves that are glossy and dark green, providing an attractive backdrop to its vibrant floral displays. Azalea bonsai produce an abundance of showy, funnel-shaped flowers of delicate peach color.
This easy-to-care-for bonsai requires precise pruning for optimal flowering.
botanical-name botanical name Azaleastrum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-9

Azaleas make another beautiful, blooming bonsai. They are typically easy to care for, but getting them to produce the maximum number of flowers can be tricky. Pruning time is vital to the beauty of this tree as it blooms on old growth only. It should be pruned immediately after blooming to give new branches maximum time to age before bloom time.

Although they take the form of shrubs when left full-sized, Azaleas make nice bonsai trees because they are easy to train. They are evergreen and grow fine branches that give the plant a more treelike appearance. These branches can become brittle as they age, so wiring should be done very carefully.

Ginseng Ficus

Close-up of Ginseng Ficus bonsai against a blurred background of wooden window blinds. The bonsai showcases glossy, elliptical to oval-shaped leaves that are deep green and have a leathery texture. The trunk of the Ginseng Ficus is swollen at the base, resembling the ginseng root, contributing to its characteristic and dramatic root flare.
This excellent beginner bonsai features unique raised roots and low maintenance needs.
botanical-name botanical name Ficus microcarpa
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-11

The lovely ginseng ficus falls under the umbrella of ficus trees, but this specific species makes, perhaps, the best beginner bonsai. It requires far less maintenance than many others and is easy to train and care for. It has raised roots, which add an element of interest uncommon in other types of trees. Training these roots can be fun and creates a feeling of movement in the tree. 

Ginseng ficus is a warm-weather tree and is not frost-tolerant. It needs to live indoors during cold weather and prefers a high level of humidity. Give your tree a potting mix that is high in aggregate, such as lava rock or pine bark. The thinner branches are quite flexible and easy to wire, so this should be done while the plant is young. 

Chinese Elm

Close-up of Ulmus parvifolia bonsai, commonly known as Chinese Elm bonsai, against a blurred garden background. Its deciduous leaves are small, ovate, and serrated, showing a vibrant green color. The bark of the trunk is dark brown and smooth. The trunk has a strongly twisted shape.
This cold-tolerant starter bonsai is easy to shape and can endure winter outdoors.
botanical-name botanical name Ulmus parvifolia
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

Another good starter bonsai, if you are looking for something a bit more cold-tolerant, is the Chinese Elm tree. They are strong trees that respond well to pruning and are easy to shape. The branches have fine ramification, which contributes to their aesthetic value as a bonsai.

A nice element of this tree is that it can be left outdoors in the winter in more temperate climates. Depending on the region of origin, some are frost tolerant. Because it is easy to care for and adaptable, this is the most common plant for beginners to start with on their bonsai journey.


Close-up of Bougainvillea bonsai in a large clay pot in a sunny garden. Characterized by small, ovate to elliptical leaves with a bright green hue, the Bougainvillea bonsai truly comes to life with its stunning display of papery bracts, which are modified leaves surrounding inconspicuous flowers. These bracts are bright pink.
A vibrant bonsai option, bougainvillea blooms prolifically.
botanical-name botanical name Bougainvillea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

Bougainvillea is technically not a tree but a woody vine. Nonetheless, it makes a very nice and colorful bonsai. It blooms for a long period of the year and produces beautiful, colorful bracts at the ends of branches during its blooming period. 

Because of their fast growth habit and tolerance of pruning and shaping, Bougainvilleas make great candidates for bonsai. They do need to be grown indoors in all but the warmest climates, though, as they are not cold-tolerant at all. They need a lot of sun to produce their bracts, so bringing this plant outdoors in the summer will produce the most colorful tree. 

Snow Rose

Close-up of a Snow Rose bonsai on a blurred green background. The Snow Rose, scientifically known as Serissa japonica, is a popular bonsai choice celebrated for its delicate and compact appearance. This evergreen bonsai small features, elliptical leaves that are dark green and glossy.
Despite an unpleasant scent, Snow Rose is a favored bonsai, requiring indoor care.
botanical-name botanical name Buchozia japonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-9

Snow rose is a large shrubby plant best known for the unpleasant aroma emitted by its bark and roots when they are crushed or cut. In spite of this unappealing characteristic, the Snow Rose is one of the most popular plants to create a bonsai with. If you don’t mind a needy plant, this one is worth a try. 

Bring this plant indoors in the winter in cooler climates. That said, this plant is also sensitive to heat, so keep it indoors, in a cool space away from heating elements. Keep the soil moist but not soggy to make your snow rose happy.


Close-up of Quercus bonsai in a sunny garden with a blurred wooden fence in the background. The bonsai showcases deciduous leaves, lobed and shaped like those of a mature oak tree. The leaves are dark green in color and have jagged edges.
Sturdy, slow-growing oak bonsai is worth waiting for.
botanical-name botanical name Quercus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Oaks are sturdy and slow growing, making them a good candidate for bonsai, but one that requires patience. In terms of watering, oaks suffer more from underwatering than overwatering and should be soaked well when irrigated. In the summer, your oak bonsai will need to be watered daily. 

Most oaks are frost tolerant, but make sure that your specific species can tolerate a freeze before leaving it outdoors in winter. Potted plants are more vulnerable to cold because of their shallow root systems and lack of insulating soil. Wiring should be done in the summer when the branches are more flexible. 

Japanese Elm

Close-up of Japanese Elm bonsai in a rock garden. This deciduous bonsai showcases small, serrated, and ovate leaves that are green. The branching structure of the Japanese Elm is gracefully arranged, contributing to a well-balanced and aesthetically pleasing silhouette.
The single trunk and rounded canopy make Japanese Elm a beautiful bonsai specimen.
botanical-name botanical name Ulmus davidiana var. japonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-7

This elm makes a wonderful bonsai with its single, straight trunk and wide, rounded canopy. Creating a well-balanced bonsai with this tree is not difficult, but wiring can be tricky. Ramification may need to be aided by defoliating the branches in the summertime.

Wiring is best done in the winter, and it is common to tie branches together to attain a broom shape for this tree. It is important to remove the wires in spring before the tree forms buds. Japanese elm has smooth, grey bark and attractive, ovate, serrated foliage. 


Close-up of Picea bonsai on a blurred green background. This evergreen bonsai features needle-like leaves arranged in a spiral fashion along its branches. The needles of Picea bonsai are bright green. The fine texture of the needles and the tree's compact, pyramidal growth habit contribute to a visually appealing and balanced silhouette.
Challenging for beginners, spruce Bonsai demands careful training due to stubborn branches and growth patterns.
botanical-name botanical name Picea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Spruce trees are difficult to train, but they make stunning bonsai trees, so they are not uncommon. This is not the best tree for a novice, as it can cause some frustration if you are unsure of whether or not your tree is growing as it should. The branches hardly backbud and are stubborn where wiring is concerned. Overall, Spruce is a tough bird but a pretty one. 

Whorling branches can be another roadblock, as can a lack of tapering in the trunk. Give your Spruce bonsai sun in the morning and filtered light in the afternoon. Most Spruce trees are very cold-tolerant and can live outdoors all year. 

Golden Larch

Close-up of Golden Larch bonsai on a blurred beige background. The soft, needle-like leaves of the Golden Larch are arranged in clusters along its branches and display a vibrant green color.
Admired for its golden fall color, Larch bonsai requires winter protection.
botanical-name botanical name Pseudolarix amabilis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-7

Larch and Golden Larch trees are popular bonsai trees. They are tall and coniferous and, when trained as a bonsai, have quickly thickening trunks. This highly desirable trait, combined with their golden fall color, creates a very pretty tree in a comparatively short time. 

This is a deciduous tree that sheds its soft needles for winter, which then showcases the attractive and interesting flaky bark. While the full-sized version is frost-tolerant, this is not the case for Larch bonsai trees. They need protection from the cold in the winter.

Weeping Willow

Close-up of Weeping Willow bonsai in a large white ceramic pot. This deciduous bonsai showcases slender, lance-shaped leaves that are light green and have a delicate, pendulous quality. The branches gracefully droop, creating a weeping effect that is characteristic of the species.
Consider the Weeping Willow for a beautiful but challenging bonsai adventure.
botanical-name botanical name Salix babylonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

If you are looking for a beautiful challenge, consider a Weeping Willow for your next bonsai adventure. While their care and training can be demanding, they certainly are one of the most beautiful bonsai species. These trees are best trained into larger bonsai trees, as it allows for better shaping of their long, hanging branches. 

Willow trees need a lot of water. They commonly grow near swamps, lakes, and streams in their native landscape. Because the branches will tend to grow upward to the tree’s full height, they need to be wired down to achieve the weeping quality. It is easy to kill branches as a result. This lands Willow in the moderate to hard category. 


Close-up of Taxus bonsai on white background. This evergreen conifer features dark green, needle-like leaves arranged spirally along its branches, creating a dense and lush canopy. The foliage of the Taxus bonsai exhibits a glossy texture. The tree's bark is smooth and reddish-brown.
The prolific back budding, slow growth, and sculptable hardwood of yew are excellent for bonsai.
botanical-name botanical name Taxus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8

Yew trees are well suited for bonsai for several reasons. They back bud exceptionally well, even where no foliage previously existed. They are slow-growing but take well to pruning, and their hardwood is wonderful for sculpting deadwood. 

As slow-growing evergreen trees, they are known to live for hundreds and even up to a thousand years. A yew bonsai is a lifelong journey that can result in an incredibly complex and striking specimen. Yew trees prefer partial sunlight and protection from extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. 

Desert Rose

Close-up of a flowering plant, Adenium obesum, commonly known as Desert Rose. This plant features glossy, dark green, and leathery leaves that are clustered at the tips of thick, swollen stems. The leaves are elliptical, and the stem has a distinctive caudex, giving the plant a bulbous and aesthetically appealing base. Adenium obesum is renowned for its ability to produce showy, trumpet-shaped flowers of delicate pink color with bright pink edges.
Native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, this succulent bonsai boasts large pink flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Adenium obesum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-11

This gorgeous bloomer is native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and is considered a succulent. This is a helpful characteristic when training a bonsai, as they don’t mind that their soil dries quickly. Also commonly called Japanese Frangipani, the tree produces gorgeous, large, pink flowers when it gets the right amount of sunlight. 

This warm-weather tree can be grown outdoors all year in mild climates but will need indoor or greenhouse conditions in the winter in cooler climates. In temperatures below 40°F (4°C), Desert Rose will drop its leaves in winter. It remains evergreen when kept warm. The trunk of this tree grows very thick, but there is less branch ramification than other trees. 


Close-up of Buxus bonsai in a clay pot against a white wall. The Buxus bonsai, commonly known as Boxwood bonsai, is admired for its compact and dense appearance. This evergreen shrub small features, elliptical to obovate leaves that are glossy, with a rich green color. The leaves are arranged densely along the branches, creating a finely textured foliage.
This is an ideal beginner bonsai, featuring small leaves and resilience to pruning.
botanical-name botanical name Buxus
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-8

Boxwood trees make for great bonsai with their naturally small foliage and very sturdy constitution. This is a great beginner bonsai, as their natural growth habit is quite conducive to shaping, and they tolerate pruning exceptionally well, even budding from old wood. 

This tree is tolerant of full sun to partial shade. In warm climates, it will prefer partial shade with some protection from the afternoon sun. Most types can be grown indoors but prefer to be outdoors during times of warm weather. In winter, cool, but not freezing temperatures are best. 

Final Thoughts

The art of bonsai can be as simple or complicated as you choose, depending on the type of tree you decide to train. For those first embarking on bonsai, trees such as Ficus, Elm, or Boxwood are easy to work with and resilient, so they are flexible to the learning curve. For the more experienced bonsai collector looking for a challenge, Weeping Willow and Cherry make magnificent specimens with the right care and environment. 

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