I have all the tools to do a bonsai from my family in Japan and my mother. I want to start my first real bonsai. Part of growing up was helping my mother with her Japanese Rock and Moss garden in Berkeley, CA which had a perfect climate for such things. The weather seemed exactly the same in southern Tokyo where we would visit.

I'm now in the desert southwest of the US in Arizona with a very harsh environment.

My Question

Is there a recommended tree or plant to start with?

Taking into consideration the environment and a desire to have the plant outside during most of the year, pulling it in during the summer, is it possible to select an indigenous plant for this purpose?

I'm pretty much a neophyte at these things but managed well with knowledge I have and seem to have a good track record of keeping children, dogs and plants alive for an extended period of time.

That being said, does that effect any recommendations? I'm not a cherry but I'm far from a journeyman.


Did my best to look for dupes.

  • I think a mesquite might be a great native species to try.
    – Escoce
    Jan 19, 2016 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


I am assuming that you are in the desert areas south of the Mogollon Rim. I suggest that you consult/contact the Phoenix Bonsai Society.

Bonsai is generally dominated by pines, but I think the extremely low daytime humidity might be too taxing for Japanese black pine (pinus thunbergii). However, I do know that Aleppo pines (pinus halepensis) can be grown successfully. You can always begin by treating it like a white pine:

  • partially pinch candles in the spring as they begin to extend
  • once the new needles have hardened (needles are dark colored and don't pull off easily) cut back to leave 4 or 5 rows of new fascicles.

  • optionally, you can cut a shoot back in early spring to observe fascicular budding and whether the new terminal bud will push in the same season (meaning it could be treated like a Japanese black pine) or next (meaning it cannot). Branches of all trees are largely autonomous - you can experiment on a few without risking the entire tree.

Other species may be possible, depending on exactly where you are in Arizona. If you are near Sonora, for example, you are not far from the famed Oak Creek Canon and oaks and other deciduous species and conifers are possible. Again, consult the Phoenix Bonsai Society

  • RE: bonsai treatment like a white pine. I want to add that branches with the most foliage will grow more (aka become 'stronger') in the subsequent season. Thus the tree will tend toward being taller and having foliage toward the top. We don't want this to happen in bonsai, so we pinch/prune less where there is less foliage to 'balance' the foliage. One doesn't just pinch/prune willy nilly.
    – user13580
    Jan 21, 2016 at 1:57

If you're interested in getting started with bonsai trees, there's a great publication created for Ligustrum Bonsai trees.

You may not be interested in this specific variety, however the knowledge is pretty universal.

  • Welcome to the site! That's an interesting publication. I've never heard of that plant, and it seems like a good choice. Would you please add some of the important points into your answer? To do that, press on the gray "edit" word, or on this edit. Your answer will open and you can type it in. We ask that in case the link goes down, and because it helps people learn more without having to leave this page. Check out our help center to see how the site works. We're really glad you found us, and hope you stay! Apr 3, 2016 at 18:29

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