Bonsai is an ancient art that originated in China over 1000 years ago. However, the practice was perfected and made popular in Japan.
Many people getting into bonsai want to know if these tiny trees need sunlight? The simple answer is yes – but the amount of sunlight depends on the type of bonsai.
In this article, we will go over some popular bonsai species and general lighting requirements so you can get involved in this rewarding hobby.
Bonsai Trees and Sunlight
The art of bonsai involved taking regular plants and training them to grow in abnormal ways. This training is usually done with wires and takes time, dedication, and patience. It also takes a lot of sunlight.
Most plants you will use in the art of bonsai require a moderate to high amount of sunlight. For some plants, enough light can be absorbed from an east, south, or west-facing window. For others, additional lighting will need to be provided in the form of a grow light.
Your plant will let you know if it isn’t getting enough sunlight, with yellowing or dropping leaves, stretching growth, poor water absorption, and wilting.
Signs your plant isn’t getting the light it needs
- Yellowing leaves
- Dropping leaves
- Stretching growth
- Poor water absorption
Yellowing, dropping, and wilting leaves can all be caused by a multitude of issues. The most common are over or underwatering, not enough or too much fertilizer, and temperature stress. Once you rule out these causes, you can safely assume your issue is a lack of sunlight.
Try moving your plant to a brighter window if you have one available. You can also purchase a grow light to keep above your plant.
Stretching growth is almost always a sign of inadequate lighting. If your plant has spindly growth that is reaching toward its light source, you can safely assume your issue is lighting-related. Either move your plant closer to the window or purchase a grow light to keep above your plant.
Poor water absorption is usually a sign of lighting issues as well, but it can also be a sign that your plant is too cold. Make sure the spot your plant is placed in isn’t cold or drafty. If it is, try moving it to a warmer spot. If it isn’t, it is a lighting issue.
Common types of bonsai plants
In this section, I am going to highlight some of the best bonsai plants to keep indoors. The options are endless with bonsai, so these are really just a select few that I think are great choices for beginners.
These plants are incredibly popular in the bonsai community. They are relatively fast-growing and do well with training. They also tend to be rather forgiving when it comes to watering, humidity, and lighting.
Chinese elm do best with direct morning sun that tends to be a little less intense than the afternoon sun. While they do like a lot of light, their leaves can burn when they get too much direct sunlight.
Also known as the Fukien Tea tree, the Carmona bonsai needs lots of sunlight. This can usually be accomplished next to a bright window, but supplementation with grow lights can help as well.
It is recommended that you give this plant some daily outside time when the weather is above 70 degrees, so it can get natural unfiltered light, but this isn’t a requirement.
There are dozens of species of ficus trees that can make great bonsai projects. Two that stand out for beginners are Retusa and Benjamina.
These two species are a little more forgiving when it comes to how they are kept and they adapt well to training. Try to get them as much light as you can, but keep in mind they can tolerate less sunlight than the other plants on this list.
Also known as the jade plant, crassula can be incredibly rewarding for new bonsai enthusiasts. These plants tend to grow rather quickly, require slightly less wiring, and as an added bonus, each time you prune, you can create new plants to work with.
Crassula likes a bit less water than most of the plants on this list but does need a lot of light. Preferably in a south-facing window.
Schefflera plants, also known as dwarf umbrella trees, are a great choice for beginners. These trees can adjust to moderate lighting, and most of their training is done through pruning. If you want a plant, you can wire train though they aren’t suitable as their growth is mostly upright and can be damaged by wires.
Adding grow lights
If your bonsai plants aren’t quite thriving with the light you are providing them grow lights can be a great solution. Not only do grow lights provide added light for your plants but they can also be set up in a way that highlights their beauty, creating somewhat of a spotlight on them. This will certainly gain attention from any visitors you may have and will make your bonsai more visually appealing.
When choosing a grow light or grow bulb, you want to make sure you are getting full-spectrum fluorescents. These put out less heat than incandescent bulbs, making them a safer choice for your plant and your home. Full-spectrum is also what best imitates natural sunlight and provides the full UV range that plants need.
When shopping for grow lights there are tons of options, so try not to get overwhelmed. As long as the light provides a full spectrum, all you need to worry about is finding a look you like at a price you can afford.