Little trees
July 28, 2007 6:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of purchasing a 'bonsai' tree for an indoor location. What species suit this and what should I know about looking after it? Given that I have legendarily 'brown fingers' with the power to destroy a photosynthesising organism at 20 paces ;( Gracias botanical mefiers...
posted by Rufus T. Firefly to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, given your own description I would answer: Don't.

I've myself have a range of deceased bonsais in my history - and I do pride myself with semi-green fingers. Bonsais are difficult to master.

But if you insist, I'd recommend a small-leafed Ficus. They're hardy and can survive rather well in shady places.

You don't say anything about size: Bonsais can range from small to large.

Also: What about sunlight at the indoor location?

More specifics, please.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 6:30 AM on July 28, 2007

Try a Ficus. They're indoor plants by nature, and pretty easy to keep.
posted by Rabulah at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2007

Going to have to second Rabarberofficer. Want a plant? By all means--get several. But don't get a bonsai just to have a bonsai. Just to give you a little perspective, I have 4-5 tropical and semitropical bonsai species in my meager little collection. I've had probably 6-8 others croak on me, and I can grow a mean garden. Even those plants that are able to live inside year-round don't. Repotting & root pruning are tasks I approach with a great deal of trepidation, simply because it's when the plant is most stressed and likely to go roots up.

On the other hand, some of the same species that make great indoor bonsai make awesome houseplants for the same reasons: shefflera & ficus, particularly, are hardy, forgiving little plants. Best of luck.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2007

I usually recommend a cactus to gardening beginners. They can look awesome and are much harder to kill in most cases. Or try to get some pseudo bonsais that have been formed out of more sturdier plants / trees.

Friend of mine had some more robust pseudo bonsai made out of fir tree. It was pretty robust.
posted by homodigitalis at 8:58 AM on July 28, 2007

Jade plants can grow in very bonsai-like ways, and they're pretty tough to kill.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2007

I've had great luck with miniature indoor bald cypress trees, and I have no knowledge whatsoever of bonsai. They're naturally swamp trees, so they are extremely resistant to being overwatered. They're extremely hardy in almost all regards. I didn't even think to fertilize mine for a year and they were ok. Then I way overfertilized to the point that they burned and the needles fell off. But then they grew back. Then I forgot to water them for a week in hot dry weather. Again, the needles fell off but they grew back. This winter I didn't pay attention and left them out in the sleet for a few days, and they were ok. They're practically tanks. They can be ordered online and delivered alive from many merchants. I'd toss out a specific recommendation, but it's been a few years, so I have no idea who has good prices anymore.

They have a special romantic appeal to me. Bald cypress require the right conditions for a year to sprout from seed, but they can live 1500 years in the right place.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2007

I have terrible luck with ficus.

One plant I haven't been able to kill in years of trying is natal plum. It's gone from one 8 inch stick with two little half dead leaves at the end to endless clones taking up half my desk space. It roots easily enough in a glass of water. If you can get it to bloom, the scent is heavenly.

If the gravel's glued on the soil around your tree, the tree's going to die.

Seconding Emperor - the more plants you have, the less likely anyone is to notice one that died.
posted by arabelladragon at 3:57 PM on July 28, 2007

Please be aware that traditional bonsai trees are actually outdoor plants which are brought inside for short periods of time for display only. Even if you do keep it outside, please ensure that it's somewhere where the neighbourhood cats can't pee on it because that will kill it quicker than any neglect.

As well as the excellent suggestions above, I suggest Lucky Bamboo. The stuff loves being inside and will tolerate quite a bit of mistreatment and neglect.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:04 PM on July 28, 2007

Don't get a bonsai. Get a nice looking indoor plant that does not have a stunted root system potted in two inches of soil. Bonsai are difficult for even green thumbs to take care of- they're extremely high maintenance, require frequent root pruning and replanting, often suffer from salt burn from improper drainage when kept inside, and can not recover easily (if at all) from any neglect. You haven't said anything about the conditions inside, but I like TochterAusElsium's suggestion of a jade plant- they look like little trees and are nearly bombproof, if not overwatered.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:20 PM on July 28, 2007

Bonsai take a lot of upkeep. See these pages for info about why you should avoid mall bonsai. They'll just die and you'll feel extra-sad.

Better to get something like a philodendron or wandering jew, which are vines that are very tough to kill. Most common mistake is overwatering -- generally, don't water until the soil is totally dry down to 2" (stick your finger in). Go to a locally-owned garden place and ask them for something really hard to kill.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:41 PM on July 28, 2007

In case you do decide to eschew the bonsai (this thread has crushed my own impulse to own one, by the way), I highly recommend orchids. I have three of the Phalaenopsis sort, and despite my best attempts to love them to death, the stubborn things will not die. Being shut up in a stuffy, dark, unhumid apartment cannot be good for them, and yet they survive, despite absolutely no attention at all for weeks at a time. Occasionally I'll remember to pour a little water on them, but beyond that...
I'm going to go turn myself in to the ASPCP now.
posted by Gingersnap at 5:49 AM on July 29, 2007

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