Best Bonsai Trees for Beginners – Deciduous Species

Pix-BonsaiThere’s nothing as exciting as getting bitten by the bonsai bug.

You see a photo of a masterpiece bonsai, or better still you go to an exhibition and see wonderful specimens in person. You’re amazed that a fully mature tree which should be 100’ tall is only 2’ tall, and its leaves are tiny but perfectly shaped. You’re hooked and you want to be able to grow bonsai yourself.

This elicits the second question every new bonsai enthusiast asks, the first being, “How do they do that?”, namely: “What are the best bonsai trees for beginners?”

It’s a simple question with a reasonably simple answer.

The best bonsai trees for beginners are without a doubt those that are:

  • easy to keep alive in a shallow container, and
  • are quick to train into suitable representations of mature trees in nature.

As a beginner, the last thing you want is to have your tree suddenly sicken or die for no apparent cause. Often the budding enthusiast will simply give up if this happens.

What’s Out There?

Literally hundreds of species of woody plants are suited to bonsai culture. If you go around the world you can define a list of indigenous or introduced species anywhere that meets the criteria. My own experience is based on what grows in the Southern United States, but for the most part the species I like the best can be grown most anywhere in the country.

With that said, here are five of the best bonsai trees for beginners among deciduous species, in alphabetical order. Click on each to find out their best features, their worst features, where you can get them from (sources), and other information for the particular species.

  1. American Hornbeam
  2. Bald Cypress
  3. Cedar Elm
  4. Chinese Elm
  5. Sweetgum

If you have any questions or have some input, just leave a comment below. I respond to inquires on a daily basis.

Thank you!








6 Replies to “Best Bonsai Trees for Beginners – Deciduous Species”

  1. Doug Hess

    Great website and service you are providing. I enjoyed the survey results. For beginners, are these trees fast growers in ground? Like many beginners, I’m anxious to add some thickness and I’m told that is best done by planting in the ground and leaving them for a few years. So I’m wondering if these are trees that might add and a half inch (or more?) if put in the ground when just a year or two old? Thanks.

    • Zach Smith Post author

      Thanks, Doug. Everything grows faster in the ground, some more so than others. You can certainly get at least a half-inch of growth in a year. It’s usually fastest by about year three in the ground.


    Zach, great website! I always look foreward to your emails as well. I live in Northern California and the summer weather rarley breaks the 90s, i recently purchased a 20x10x8 greenhouse. Do you think all my trees would benefit from being in the greenhouse. I have korean hornbeans, crype mrytles, chinese elm, pomegranate, tiger bark ficus, redwoods, an almond, japanese maple and a hinoki cypress.

    • Zach Smith Post author

      All but the ficus are temperate zone trees, so shouldn’t be in the greenhouse normally but rather out in the open and sunshine. Ficus goes in in the winter, and depending on how cold it gets you may need to protect some of the others.


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