Can I Grow A Bonsai Tree Indoors?

Bonsai Outdoors

The short and simple answer is NO!

     Now before anyone gets their feathers in a ruffle, we need to clarify a little bit. There are some species of tree / succulent used in the art of bonsai which will survive life inside a house near a well-lit window with a good amount of care. This is sort of the exception to the rule. About 98% of the time you ask this question about the tree you possess the answer will be NO so we’re just generalizing for the sake of brevity.

If you spend any amount of time online in the many bonsai communities you will soon realize the most common posts you find from individuals new to bonsai is the ages old picture of a dead, dehydrated tree sitting on someone’s counter or table with the text “what’s wrong with my tree” somewhere to follow shortly there after the picture.

Most of the material suitable to be kept indoors are tropical trees or succulent plants such as ficus, or jade plants but even those will not thrive indoors. They may survive indoor life for a couple years, sometimes even 10 or more years if well cared for, but they will never live up to their full potential.

Without going too much into the science, we’re just going to touch on a few of the reasons growing bonsai indoors is a bad idea.

Not Enough Sun

Outdoors, trees are getting the full strength of the sun at about 1,360 watts per meter squared of energy. They have evolved over millions of years to maximize the potential of that energy. Indoors, even if in the window sill a tree will get less than 1/3’rd that amount of energy as double pane low-e glass is designed to keep the suns energy out. Without the energy to convert sugars and starches to food, they starve and die. There is more science to this than we have explained here but not many people would want to read a 5 page essay on the subject.

Humidity

The humidity inside your house is typically much lower than outdoors, even more so in the winter months if your in a cold climate. We wont get into the physics lesson, but basically the lower humidity draws the moisture out of your soil and desiccates your tree.

Dust

Houses are dusty places. It’s an inevitable fact of life. Outside nature provides wind, rain, and snow to keep the foliage of your tree clean. Indoors, not so much. The dust accumulation on the foliage of your tree suffocates it. The pores in your foliage are like thousands of tiny mouths. Imagine if someone shoved a handful of dirt in your mouth and covered your nose. It would be kind of hard to breath. Beyond the suffocation, the dust on the foliage will also starve light from it when it is already diminished from being indoors.

What about over winter?

If put in a controlled environment and well maintained most trees will survive a few months indoors. A lot of trees are kept indoors over winter during the dormant period due to a tree not being hardy enough to be outdoors in the region where the tree is being kept. The big thing to understand here is that those trees go back outside for the spring and summer months and even most of the way into fall. It’s not a permanent situation. Trees that are hardy enough to stay outdoors over winter should, those that are not, need some protection.

Summary

When it comes to trees indoors, just say no. A book could be written as to the scientific reasons why not, but save yourself the time and just say no. The few exceptions to the rule are easy to find online so there is no reason for us to repeat the list here.

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