What exactly is a bonsai?
The Bonsai is a type of dwarf tree - they're not actually genetically dwarfed, but they require frequent maintenance (such as pruning) in order to maintain their small status. However, they do vary quite a bit in size, with some being as small as 1 inch (3 cm) and larger varieties as large as 80 inches (203 cm).
The name Bonsai is Japanese, essentially meaning 'a tree planted in a container' (written as: 盆栽). They've been grown in this way for over a thousand years, first by 14th-century Japanese aristocrats, and their maintenance has since become something of an art form in itself.
The exact care needs of Bonsais can vary depending on the type, but generally speaking they need lots of sunlight, humidity and protection from drafts and / or heat.
Learning how to water a Bonsai correctly can also take some practice. The shallow soil dries out very quickly, meaning that underwatering can easily occur if you're not careful.
When you do water, ensure that you thoroughly saturate the entire root system - add enough water so that it starts to run out of the bottom of the container through the drainage holes (but always make sure to empty out any excess water from the tray afterwards).
Choosing the right soil Using an incorrect soil type will make Bonsai care much more difficult than it needs to be! For Bonsais, all-purpose soil tends to retain water for too long and can easily become compacted, which can ultimately kill the plant through overwatering.
Soil / soil amendments that are suitable for Bonsais include Akadama, Pumice, Lava Rock and Fine grit, as these all help boost aeration and drainage.
It should be noted that starting a Bonsai can be a lengthy process (up to several years), so it's much more time-efficient to buy an already-established plant instead, especially if you're a beginner with Bonsais.
You shouldn't plant your Bonsai in a normal pot, as this will promote vigorous growth and so it will quickly lose its distinctive compactness. Likewise, you'll also need to prune it regularly to maintain its shape.
Which types of Bonsai can be grown indoors?
It's important to bear in mind that many Bonsais are intended to be kept outdoors as they need to be exposed to the seasons. An outdoor variety will never truly thrive indoors. However, there are Bonsais that will do just fine in an inside environment - these are mostly subtropical species that prefer constant warm temperatures throughout the year.
One of the most popular trees for indoor Bonsai are Fig Trees. These are suitable for beginners as they're quite adaptable and are typically fairly forgiving of mistakes with watering.
It is also possible to use Dwarf Jade Trees for indoor Bonsai - these are very closely related to a normal Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), and so likewise have similar (and simple!) care needs.