There’s no doubt that growing plants as bonsai trees is a challenge, but the rewards are worth it.
To get a plant looking like a miniature version of a standard tree is, in no uncertain terms, an art form.
Most trees grown as bonsai are cultivated for their tree-like form in miniature, valued for their twisted or textured trunks and striking foliage, but the most impressive of all are the fruit trees grown as bonsai.
While you could plant a fruiting tree in your garden and mostly leave it alone (depending on the type you choose, and how old it is, of course), fruit trees need a lot more care when they are cultivated as bonsai trees.
With the right knowledge, anyone can grow a fruiting bonsai tree, though having grown any type of bonsai tree before will help you immensely in recognizing the plant’s needs.
Here’s everything you need to know about growing fruiting bonsai trees.
Fruit Trees That Make Perfect Bonsai Trees
While any tree species can be cultivated as a bonsai, some are more suitable than others. While this applies to growing bonsai trees as a whole, it especially applies to fruiting trees.
Picking the right type of tree that matches your area, as well as the amount of time you’d need to spend on caring for it, will go a long way in ensuring a healthy and happy bonsai.
It will be very difficult, for example, to grow a citrus tree in a very cold area that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. It’s not impossible, but you could make it easier on yourself by choosing something else if you want to grow it outside.
Here’s some of the most popular types of fruiting trees which are traditionally grown as bonsai trees.
Citrus x meyeri ‘Meyer Lemon’
When it comes to lemon trees, Meyer lemon trees, or Citrus x meyeri, are typically grown as houseplants to begin with, making them a good choice for an indoor bonsai tree (see also Money Tree Bonsai).
Meyer lemons are a hybrid between a lemon and an orange. Unfortunately, you probably won’t find them in your local grocery store, so if you’re intrigued, why not grow them as a bonsai tree?
On a mature specimen, healthy lemon bonsai trees are able to produce fruit, though they may be smaller.
Citrus aurantifolia ‘Mexican Lime’
For something completely different, why not try Citrus aurantifolia, or the Mexican lime tree as a bonsai?
It’s fairly easy to train this tree as a bonsai, as it is a smaller tree to begin with, and it will happily grow indoors.
Also known as the kaffir lime, this tree produces tiny limes at a maximum of 2.5cm in diameter, but you shouldn’t underestimate them by size, as they have an intense flavor, perfect for cocktails or salads.
Citrus x microcarpa ‘Calamondin Orange’
If you prefer fruit which is much sweeter, Citrus x microcarpa, or the Calamondin orange tree is a good choice for a fruiting bonsai tree.
The Calamondin orange will withstand winter temperatures as low as 20°F (or -6°C), making it a good choice for an outdoor bonsai tree in colder areas. You can also grow it indoors if you prefer.
The fruit is noticeably smaller than some orange trees, but this allows the tree to produce more fruit as they take less energy to make.
You could also go for Citrus sinensis, the blood orange tree.
While cherry blossom trees are a staple of bonsai growing, if you want a fruiting cherry tree, make sure to get the right cultivar, as some only produce blossoms.
Cherry trees are part of the Prunus plant genus, which also encompasses almonds, apricots, peaches, and more.
Common fruiting species used for bonsai include Prunus avium, the wild cherry tree, and Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry.
Any tree belonging to the Malus genus will produce cooking apples or crabapples, (see also Crabapple Bonsai Tree Guide) and they make great bonsai trees not only for their petite fruit in fall, but also for their blossom in spring.
Some of the most popular species include Malus baccata, the Siberian crabapple, Malus halliana, the Hall crabapple, and Malus sylvestris, the European crabapple.
If you’re a fan of figs, Ficus carica is a hardy species which produces edible fruit, and makes one of the most striking bonsai trees.
It’s rarely sold commercially as a bonsai tree, so if you fancy growing your own, you’ll need to do so from cuttings or seeds.
Punica granatum, or the Pomegranate tree, is a very popular choice for bonsai.
If you give them the right care, they may live for over a hundred years, and unlike most trees grown as bonsai, they are easy to grow from seed.
When growing pomegranate trees as bonsai trees, if you want a species that will be happy as a small bonsai, go for a dwarf variety, such as Punica granatum ‘Nana’.
American persimmons provide a wealth of color with their orange fruit in autumn and winter, making for an attractive bonsai.
It’s worth noting that with Persimmon trees, you may need both a male and female tree in order for the female tree to produce fruit, but this depends on the variety. Some seedless cultivars don’t require this.
Should You Grow Fruit Trees for Bonsai from Seed or Through Cuttings?
As with most trees grown as bonsai, you can choose either method. However, growing bonsai trees from seed is a lengthy process, and it may take a year to get to the progress you’d get with growing a bonsai from a cutting.
Propagating by cuttings should be done in either spring or summer, to give them a good chance to grow during the warmer months.
Whatever type of fruit tree you choose, choose softwood or semi-hardwood parts of the branch to cut.
If you’re using softwood cuttings, take them in the spring. Semi-hardwood cuttings do best in the early summer months.
Remove all the leaves from the cuttings to encourage them to put their energy into root development rather than maintaining leaves, and dip each one in rooting hormone powder.
Grab a small container full of moist compost, and place the cuttings around the outside of the pot, making sure that each one is about an inch into the compost.
Keep the container somewhere warm and humid, and you should see new growth within a month or so, by which time they should be ready for their own individual pots.
How to Make Sure Your Fruiting Bonsai Tree Thrives
The care your fruiting bonsai needs can be slightly different, depending on what type of tree you decided to begin with, but there are some general tips that will apply to most fruit trees grown as bonsai trees.
Here’s what you should know.
Can You Grow Fruiting Bonsai Trees Indoors?
The type and species of fruiting tree you choose will dictate this. For fruit trees that go dormant during the winter months, it’s essential to grow them outside, as they require the cold weather to signal a period of rest.
Indoors, they will not be able to tell when they should go dormant, so they will stay active year-round, and this will harm the plant. It may even kill it.
For crabapple trees, they need to be outside where there’s plenty of light and air circulation, and this is also true of cherry trees and persimmons.
For citrus trees and edible fig trees, they can be kept outside year-round if the climate is warm.
Otherwise, they need to be outside when the risk of frost is over, taking advantage of as much sunlight as possible, and when temperatures drop, they need to be brought indoors.
The Meyer lemon tree is an exception, where it can be grown as a houseplant all year round.
Bonsai fruit trees require the most sunlight possible, in a sheltered, airy position to stop any fungal disease from taking hold of the plants.
As for the soil, you’ll need to make sure that it’s very well-draining, otherwise the bonsai could rot.
When to Water a Fruiting Bonsai Tree
Bonsai fruit trees are thirsty plants. Depending on the species of the fruit tree and how much sunlight is available, you may have to water them once or even twice a day.
There’s a tricky balance to strike between not letting the soil go bone dry, but ensuring that water cannot pool around the roots for a long period of time.
This makes the soil especially important, so ensure that it drains well.
Should You Fertilize a Fruiting Bonsai Tree?
During the growing season, your fruit tree bonsai will benefit from extra nutrients. To prevent salt build-up in the soil, feed the plant twice every month, holding off once the plant starts to grow fruit.
Avoid fertilizer which is high in nitrogen and not much else, otherwise this encourages the plant to grow strong foliage instead of fruit.
Don’t fertilize your bonsai tree during the winter months, and don’t feed a plant with dry soil.
How to Repot a Fruiting Bonsai Tree
Most fruiting bonsai trees will require repotting every few years. Exactly when depends on the size of the tree and what type, but this is usually between two and five years.
Luckily, it’s easy to recognize when your fruiting bonsai tree needs a new container, as the flowers or fruit produced will be infrequent, and smaller than usual.
Remove the tree from its pot, binning the old soil. Trim the root ball back by a third (depending on the fruit tree, you may get away with pruning more), and repot it in the same container or a bigger one with fresh soil.
How to Prune a Fruiting Bonsai Tree
Pruning in fruiting bonsai trees is not only the best way to maintain the shape of your bonsai, but it also keeps the trees healthy.
Most fruiting bonsai trees benefit from a good haircut in late autumn or winter, when the leaves have all fallen. Leave any flower or fruit buds alone.
In the growing season, when the foliage becomes too crowded, cut back new growth to the first pair of leaves.
If the plant is producing a lot of fruit, keep only one in each cluster, as this will not only help the fruit be better quality, but it will also stop it from getting too heavy for the tree to handle.
Problems to Watch Out For
When it comes to fruiting bonsai trees, the pests and diseases you’re likely to encounter will come with the specific tree you choose.
Citrus plants, for instance, are vulnerable to the citrus longhorn beetle, spider mites, and leaf-miner flies.
There are some pests which will attack a number of fruiting trees, such as scale, mealybugs, aphids (usually young trees, but especially cherry bonsai trees), and most are treatable if you move quickly.
Disease can also be a problem. Powdery mildew is probably the most common, forming when there isn’t enough air circulating around the plant, and conditions are too wet and humid.
Root rot, rust, and leaf spot are issues that you need to be careful about.
Largely, if you keep fruiting bonsai trees in the right conditions, they shouldn’t be affected, as healthy plants rarely fall victim to disease or pests.
Often, these issues are a symptom of a larger problem, such as being in the wrong position, or the watering being too much or too little.
Where to Buy Fruiting Bonsai Trees
You can source fruiting bonsai trees from garden nurseries and specialist bonsai tree growers.
If you want to start your fruit tree bonsai journey from scratch, you can also do it yourself, which is definitely the cheaper option, but it will take longer.
Plant cuttings are frequently sold on their own, or you can source them from your local area from willing friends, neighbors, family, and other parts of your community.