Succulent Bonsai Trees - Choosing Bonsai Looking Succulents

Small Potted Bonsai Looking Succulent Plant
(Image credit: prabhjits)

Bonsai is a centuries-old gardening technique that originated in Asia. It combines patience with aesthetics to produce charming little plant specimens. Usually, woody species of plant are used in bonsai, but you can create your own succulent bonsai trees quite easily. This is because many succulents are naturally tiny and hardy and don't mind the trimming required to make a bonsai form. 

Smaller succulent plants often take on the form of bonsai, but you can also promote the shape. There are many succulents for bonsai, but the jade plant is probably one that is most frequently used. Traditional bonsai are planted in shallow dishes, which means they have little room for roots and will often need root pruning to keep the plant small. With succulents as bonsai, you generally won't need to root prune. This makes succulent bonsai care quite a bit easier than the classic bonsai. 

Tips on Making a Bonsai Looking Succulent

Freshly purchased young succulents often already look like bonsai, but you will have to maintain the shape and size. Traditional bonsai balances line, proportion, balance, and form. There are very specific rules in bonsai, but for the purposes of developing succulents as bonsai, you can focus more on the general form. There are also many styles of bonsai. Cascading plants, those that look windswept or slanted, fully upright specimens, and upright twisted are the main forms. When selecting your succulent, go with its natural form and don't try to force a shape. That means if you want a particular style, choose a plant that will naturally grow in that manner. 

Types of Succulents as Bonsai

If you want to grow succulent bonsai trees, you will need a plant that will get a bit larger and have distinct stems. Euphorbia and Crassula specimens will develop a nice trunk and thick branches, perfect for a "tree" appearance. An Elephant tree or Ponytail palm are also nice selections. If you want diminutive specimens, Sedum, Mammillaria, and Adenium species will fit the bill. Do a bit of research before you select your plant to ensure it won't need a deeper container and will have the growth habit you require. Use a well-draining, shallow dish, and soil that doesn't hold lots of moisture. A good soil is 1/3 cinder, 1/3 crushed aggregate, and 1/3 bark chips or coir. 

Succulent Bonsai Care

Training a bonsai-looking succulent is maintenance that will differ from just growing a regular plant. You may need to root prune after a year or two. Some plants can be wired to curve stems for the windswept look. Pruning leaves and branches are also necessary to preserve a particular form. Do not water your succulent after planting-- wait a week first. Then wait until the soil is dry for successive watering. Your succulent bonsai will need the same care the plant would need in normal situations: the same water, food, soil, and light. A nice, slow-growth food is a 5-5-5. Dilute by half and water once per month during the growing season. Suspend feeding in the dormant period and lower watering to prevent rot.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.