Wintertime in the South is a time that my house fills with all the tropical plants from my bench. Growing indoor bonsai can be a very rewarding experience especially if your new to bonsai and want to keep it close to you. Unfortunately, it can be the most frustrating start to your bonsai career. I started like many others have, with a juniper “mallsai”. It was a gift from my lovely wife. I made the classic bonsai beginner mistake and kept it inside for a couple of weeks. After reading through many of the sites linked to on this site, I figured out that a juniper is for outdoors only. My second purchase was a Ficus Microcarpa and a much better choice for indoor growing. Since then, I have purchased several tropical bonsai that I have enjoyed taking care of.
Each year, I experiment with lighting conditions for these indoor bonsai, and this year is no different. This year, I am trying a 24-inch fluorescent grow light for my smaller bonsai that was actually pretty cheap at Wal-Mart ($9.95). My ficus gets it’s own 100-watt 6500K daylight CFL and my jade gets a 75 watt desk lamp that does a terrible job. This seems to keep them barely happy for the winter months. I really can’t wait for the summer months to put them back outside. They seem much happier in the sunlight. I fully intend to create a new setup before next year that would include 3 24-inch fluorescents of different color temperatures. Apparently, when using florescent, you should try to vary the color temps to cover as much ground as possible. From 2700K to 6500K. Here’s some articles that I run across while doing my research:
Indoor Bonsai – As Difficult as You Make It
Growing Bonsai Indoors
Growing Indoor Plants with Success
Grow Lights (Wikipedia)
Ficus: Growing Indoors Under Light
I have a couple of ficus microcarpa trees that were a part of the first pre-bonsai trees that I bought. This one in particular is my favorite. Ficus trees are really easy to take care of, grow profusely, and can survive many beginner mistakes. They are tropical, so you have to keep them indoors in the winter. Under a good florescent light, they will continue to grow nicely. Here’s a progression of one tree over the past few months.
The above picture is right after it was freshly repotted in late February. I potted it in orchid mix, which at the time was the best soil I could find that would be fast draining and help the roots to flourish.
After a lot of growth, I started having problems with fungus gnats in the soil. So, I repotted in a mixture of 50/50 turface and pine bark mulch. I also did an extensive branch prune due to many branches coming out of the same spot on the trunk, causing bulbous pertrusions.
Unfortunately, between nature and I, this tree has seen a break. Birds snapped some of the branches, then proceeded to defoliate the rest of the tree. It has really proven to be a good thing in this specific case. The branches that are sprouting are in much better places and will provide better balance for the informal upright style that I was shooting for. I continue to hope this will be one the best bonsai trees in my collection one day. It’s one of the first trees that people notice when looking at the different varieties on my deck.