In landscapes, privet (Ligustrum spp.) is valued for its resilience. Fortunately, this tenacity carries over to bonsai as well—and with training and regular trimming, privet can make an artistic gem. It can be kept outdoors year-round where temperatures remain above 20 degrees, although cold temperatures may cause leaves to drop.
Bonsai Tip #1: Dry indoor air in winter can hinder bonsai plants. Increase humidity for the plant by filling a tray with pebbles, adding water and setting the bonsai on top of the pebbles. Make sure water does not come in contact with the bottom of the pot.
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) has a rugged, almost primitive appearance that reflects its prehistoric heritage (dating back to the dinosaurs) as well as an innate ability to withstand difficult conditions. Sago palm is undemanding when it comes to light, and its slow growth rate makes it a natural for bonsai.
Dwarf Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) is a ground-hugging conifer with blue-green foliage. With branches radiating from its center, it is easily trained into an architectural specimen.
Dwarf jade (Portulacaria afra) is custom made for bonsai, thanks to its tiny leaves. Those thick, fleshy leaves are adept at storing water, so dwarf jade doesn’t need much irrigation. It’s best to let the soil dry out somewhat between waterings. If kept outdoors in summer, give it shelter from frequent rains.
Bonsai Tip #2: As container plants, bonsai need to be fertilized regularly, except during winter when their growth slows. Generally, a liquid fertilizer applied monthly at half strength works well for most plants. Refer to specific care and culture recommendations on the plant tag.
Ficus (Ficus retusa) likes plenty of light and moisture. Although it can withstand low-humidity conditions, ficus needs high humidity to develop its signature aerial roots (which become attractive twisty pillars at the base of the plant). Daily misting will help.
Money tree (Pachira aquatic) is an old token of fortune and good luck. With a thick trunk and waxy green leaves, it can bring a tropical touch to any home setting. Like other bonsai, it requires repotting every few years to maintain vigor.
Bonsai Tip #3: When repotting a bonsai, use a soilless potting mix containing perlite and/or vermiculite for rapid drainage. If switching out pots, use one with drainage holes (you can place a saucer underneath to protect furniture from overflow).
Dwarf umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola), as the name suggests, can be trimmed into an attractive umbrella shape. It makes a forgiving houseplant, needing little more than bright light and regular watering. It does need frequent pruning to keep it compact.