The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
34°F | Cloudycontact us

Bonsai & Penjing Collection

+/- Click to enlarge

Copyright Carlos Diaz

Get Involved

Growing bonsai and penjing is a process, an experience, a relationship with nature, and a partnership with living trees. It is an art that allows the artist to become aware of and inspired by the natural order of life. Therefore, working with bonsai or penjing becomes a way of life, rather than something one does or owns. And getting started in learning this living art form is relatively inexpensive and simple.

To get started with bonsai and penjing one needs only simple materials, a commitment of time, and the acquisition of the necessary knowledge of plant growth and needs. Commitment, realistic expectations, and willingness to cultivate a design sense are necessary to begin. Much can be learned by looking at trees and natural forms and studying what has been written in numerous books and websites. We strongly recommend joining a local bonsai society or club where you can share your observations, learn from others, and gain inspiration.

Although one can invest a considerable amount of money for tools, plants, and pots, we suggest that the beginner start simply: a pruning shear, wire cutting tool, and chop stick, a large bent nail, bonsai potting material, trees, and bonsai wire can get you started. As you develop your bonsai skills you’ll naturally want to add to your tool collection. As for investing in plant material, starting with seeds, cuttings, or inexpensive greenhouse and nursery material is an easy and simple way to begin your tree collection. Collected material from the woods (with landowner's permission) or discarded landscape specimens are also an ideal way to acquire plant material to develop into bonsai or penjing.

For growing bonsai or penjing indoors you can utilize the natural sunlight from windows or set up shop lights. Tropical and subtropical plants will grow nicely in the same room temperature you live in. Hardy plant material with no dormancy requirement should have a cooler location. Rain water or water collected from a dehumidifier is recommended but if these are not available, well water can be used. Any water-soluble fertilizer is recommended to get started.

To grow outdoor trees you will need full sun, an accessible water source, and a place to over-winter your trees. An over-wintering method is needed that will protect roots from fluctuations in temperature, shade your trees from direct light, and allow them to be watered easily during thaws or let them benefit from rainfall and snow. A cold frame or a place to bury them is simplest.

The following plant materials are suggested for beginners:

    Indoor Bonsai and Penjing:
  • Boxwood, Buxus cultivars
  • False Cypresses, Chamaecyparis species and cultivars
  • Cotoneasters, Cotoneaster species and cultivars
  • Figs, Ficus species and cultivars
  • Snow Rose, Serissa species and cultivars
    Outdoor Bonsai and Penjing:
  • Boxwood, Buxus cultivars
  • Cotoneasters, Cotoneaster species and cultivars
  • Junipers, Juniperus species and cultivars
  • Firethorns, Pyracantha species and cultivars
  • Pines, Pinus species
  • Japanese maples, Acer species and cultivars

Many of the resources on our links page offer suggestions for beginners. Explore and have fun!


Michigan Web Design by Boxcar Studio