In general the slow-growing or small trees are best for bonsai, as you then have less of a struggle against nature. (Slow trees can take 50 years to reach 20 feet, whereas fast-growing ones can exceed 100 feet in the same time.) Evergreens are popular and vary little from season to season, but you can also grow flowering and fruit trees. (Choose those that have small fruit - crab apple as against eating apple.) The trees should have small leaves, or short needles, which do not detract from the perfect, miniature look of the tree. The leaves will be small because of the pruning and dwarfing process but, again, if you choose a small-leaved tree you will have a head start.

Many types of tree not usually regarded as bonsai can be successfully grown in miniature form, so if you see anything that looks suitable it is worth attempting to grow it. But first find out as much as possible about the habits and soil preferences of the tree - the more you know about it the greater your chance of growing it successfully.

Below are listed some of the more popular plants used. They are all reasonably hardy and easy to keep alive.

  • Abies (Conifer). This exceptionally beautiful evergreen has short needles and a trunk which is wide at the base but tapers sharply.
  • Acer. The deciduous Acer family includes Acer Palmatum (Maple) and Acer Pseudo-plaianus (Sycamore) which both have attractive leaves.
  • Betula (Birch). A graceful deciduous tree with small foliage and
    white or silver bark.
  • Chamaecyparis (False Cypress). An evergreen which is obtainable in various forms, and has very small leaves.
  • Cornus Mas (Cornelian Cherry). A deciduous tree which has small yellow clusters of flowers in early spring and edible red oval fruit later.
  • Cotoneaster. The many varieties of this tree both deciduous and evergreen have small leaves, flowers and fruit.
  • Fagus (Beech). This deciduous tree has a well-shaped trunk and pale green leaves in spring. The leaves turn to russet in autumn but stay on the tree throughout the winter.
  • Juniperus Communis (Juniper). A very small-leaved evergreen.
  • Lycium (Boxthorn). A deciduous tree with small purple flowers and red berries.
  • Malus (Crab Apple). A number of varieties of this deciduous tree are suitable. It has small red or white blooms in early summer and small colourful fruit in autumn.
  • Morus Alba (Silkworm Mulberry). With its many small flowers and dark green leaves the form of this deciduous tree is particularly good.
  • Picea Abies (Spruce). A shallow-rooted evergreen with fine-needled foliage.
  • Pinus (Pine). The most popular and the Japanese symbol of life.
  • Prunus. The deciduous Prunus family includes the Prunus Mume (Apricot), Prunus Jamasakura (Cherry) which dislikes pruning, and Prunus Communis (Almond). The Apricot is perhaps the easiest to grow. Choose a small-leaved and small-flowered variety.
  • Pyracantha Coccinea (Firethorn). A deciduous tree which has small leaves, and tiny white flowers in mid-summer. These turn to yellow or red berries in autumn, and last for about five months.
  • Quercus (Oak). Another deciduous tree, oak is particularly good as it is slow growing and has lots of branches.
  • Salix (Willow). A deciduous tree, Salix Babylonica (the Weeping Willow) is particularly lovely.
  • Taxus (Yew). A hardy evergreen whose trunk naturally looks gnarled as the tree grows. It also produces attractive scarlet berries.
  • Tilia x Europaea (Lime). This lovely deciduous tree has red twigs, and small, pale green, heart-shaped leaves.
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