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7 Best Bonsai Tree Types For Beginners - Ranked

7 Best Bonsai Tree Types For Beginners - Ranked
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Bonsai is a massively rewarding hobby, but many beginners are unsure where to start. Some tree species are ideal for bonsai thanks to their hardy nature and well-scaled foliage growth.

In this post, we'll look at the seven best bonsai tree types for beginners.

Ranking criteria for the best beginner bonsai tree

There are various characteristics of a tree you need to think about when considering it as a bonsai. We've used a scoring system out of 5, to help us rank the best bonsai starter trees.

To keep things simple, we're looking at two criteria:

  • Ease of care - As a beginner, your number one priority should be keeping your bonsai alive. It takes some time to get used to knowing when to water, where to keep your tree and when to perform any actions such as wiring and pruning. Some tree species are easier to care for than others so as a beginner the easier the better!
  • Growth habit - Certain features of growth are generally more suitable for bonsai, and some require much less work in terms of styling and management. Features such as small leaves, tight growth and seasonal variation (colour change, flowers and fruit) are all very desirable. Beginners should also try to focus on trees that require less horitcultural knowledge and intervention to make them look like a big tree in miniature.

7) Larch (Larix)

Larch beginner bonsai

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Larch is an awesome tree to use for bonsai. They are very hardy trees that can tolerate cold winters and fairly hot summers.

They can be found in many parts of the world and are often straightforward to buy from nurseries or collect from the wild.

Larch is a deciduous conifer, meaning it grows cones and has needles similar to other conifers, but it drops its needles before winter every year like a deciduous tree.

The deciduous nature of larch means you can enjoy them in different ways throughout the year, from a hint of green as new growth emerges, to bushy foliage over the summer, and finally an elegant winter silhouette after needles have dropped.

Because they are so vigorous, larch bonsai are easy to care for quite hard to kill which is great if you are a beginner. However, they do require slightly more pruning through the year than some other conifers which is something to be aware of.

Overall they are a very good bonsai for beginners.

6) Ficus (Ficus retusa or Ficus ginseng)

Ficus beginner bonsai

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲

Ficus is an evergreen tropical tree that are very widely available for a reasonable price.

Ficus can grow well indoors which makes it popular for beginners, as you can keep a close eye on your tree.

This species is very forgiving if you forget to water once or twice and will respond well to shaping and wiring. The maintenance required with ficus is generally quite low.

Ficus can grow aerial roots in the 'Banyan' style which can be really interesting.

There are two types of ficus that are popular in bonsai cultivation - Ficus retusa and Ficus ginseng.

Retusa is the more popular and is often seen with the classic S-shaped bonsai trunk. It has small oval leaves that are dark green in colour. Ginseng has a much thicker trunk, often referred to as a 'pot bellied' trunk.

5) Jade (Portulacaria)

Jade bonsai for beginner

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Jade is technically not a tree, but rather a tropical succulent plant. They are very popular for indoor bonsai in temperate climates.

Jade can be shaped well without wire, using just pruning alone, which makes it a good choice for beginners who have yet to refine their wiring skills.

Since Jade is a succulent plant, it stores large amounts of water inside its leaves. This means it requires watering much less than most non-succulent bonsai species, which is ideal for a beginner. It's still possible to overwater your bonsai, but this can be corrected over time.

If you'd like to start your own jade bonsai, check out out our guide on how to make a jade bonsai tree.

4) Juniper

Juniper bonsai for beginner

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Juniper is probably the species of tree you picture in your head when you visualise a bonsai.

Junipers are excellent for bonsai because of their beautiful foliage, their tolerance to wiring and bending and their hardy growth habit. They are very versatile and can create different bonsai tree styles.

Procumbens Juniper and Blue Star Juniper are particularly well suited for beginners. The growth pattern of their foliage means it is very simple for beginners to prune in a nice pad shape on branches, and they are very hardy trees that will survive well in almost all climates.

See our full list of the 5 best junipers for bonsai for more information on this species.

3) Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese maple bonsai for beginner

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Whether as a bonsai or as a landscape tree, Japanese maples are always a favourite.

These may not be as un-killable as some of the others on the list, but we've ranked it highly because they look amazing, and there's nothing better to drive a beginner's enthusiasm than a Japanese maple.

Acer palmatum has spectacular colours and it constantly shifts through the year from shades of green to red, orange and yellow depending on the variety.

Japanese maples need to live outside and do well in temperate climates. They can handle freezing temperatures over the winter, particularly when they are young. Acers require regular watering which could be a potential stumbling block for a beginner, but they are still one of the easier species to keep alive and by no means are they a challenge a beginner can't overcome.

2) Chinese elm

Chinese elm bonsai for beginner

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Chinese elm is one of the most widely available beginner bonsai trees you can buy. They are often sold as starter bonsai with the traditional 'S' shape.

Chinese elms are very versatile because they can survive both indoors and outdoors. I'd recommend keeping them outside, but the fact that indoor cultivation is possible tells you that they are tolerant of a wide range of conditions.

Chinese elms can handle hot and cold weather, have very small leaves that add to the scale of a bonsai tree and can be styled with ease.

They are definitely a good choice for a beginner starting out in bonsai.

1) Cotoneaster

Chinese elm bonsai for beginner

Ease of care - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

Growth habit - 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

To me, Cotoneaster is a near-perfect species for bonsai, particularly for beginners. They are often underrated or overlooked, but Cotoneaster bonsai are absolutely stunning.

Similarly to Chinese Elm, Cotoneaster is extremely hardy and is often referred to as 'un-killable'. They grow very well outdoors and can be left out through very cold winters.

The reason Cotoneaster really shines as a bonsai specimen is its growth habit. The leaves are very small and deep green. They are ideal for creating pads and shaping a tree.

Cotoneaster grows beautiful pink or white flowers in the spring that are very small and delicate. These then grow into red berries that maintain colour through the autumn.

Cotoneaster looks amazing and is one of the easiest trees for a beginner to keep alive, which to me makes them the best of the bonsai tree types for beginners on our list.

If you're interested in growing a Cotoneaster, check out our Cotoneaster bonsai tree care guide for more information.

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