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received this as a gift and I have no info on it. Not sure what it is or how I should care for it. Any help is greatly appreciated, thanks.

Whew, that's a lot of info STORMY. The plant is currently indoors, I live in buffalo ny, so I plan on moving it outside to my covered deck once the weather becomes nicer. I received the plant from a buddy at work who got it from his grandmothers house when she unfortunately passed recently. I had expressed interest in bonsai to him recently and nobody in his family knew what to do with it so I "inherited" it. I, by no means have any prior knowledge or experience with any type of plant whatsoever. I couldn't turn it down, I was honored that he thought of me. I want to try my best to learn and care for it properly.

  • Although the photo is indoors, can you tell us where in the world you are so that people can advise if outdoor cultivation is appropriate. Commented May 2, 2017 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


I think it might be Ficus microcarpa, sometimes known as the Ficus Ginseng bonsai, though Ficus retusa goes by the same common name as a bonsai too. IKEA sells these (image here http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/decoration/plants-pots-stands/ficus-microcarpa-ginseng-potted-plant-with-pot-bonsai-assorted-colours-art-80234547/) but whether that's where yours is from or not I've no idea.

There seems to be some confusion of names between F.microcarpa and F. retusa, but the care instructions are likely the same for both - keep frost free, preferably in temperatures no lower than 15degC in the brightest daylight position you can find for it. Some direct sunlight may be a problem, although once they've got used to it, they don't mind it too much. Keep watered, don't let it dry out frequently, stand away from heat sources. If you want, it can be moved outdoors for the summer in a dappled shade or bright shade position once temperatures are no lower than 15degC at night, but must be brought back in before winter, at the end of summer. You may need to mist the plant occasionally in winter, because it prefers more humid conditions, and the heating indoors will dry the air.

Feed with bonsai food or liquid fertilizer fortnightly during the growing season. It will likely be necessary to learn how to prune it over time - some guidance on that given here https://www.bonsaiempire.com/tree-species/ficus, lower down the thread.

  • Thanks for your reply. Not really sure how to proceed, I feel like I have two differing opinions on what it might be. Is there a way to definitively tell what type it is? Maybe somewhere I could take it?
    – Jerome
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 22:27
  • It isn't rhododendron, they;re never grown this shape - Stormy herself will agree she's not first rate on ID, but there's no reason why you should believe me if you're unconvinced from looking at the linked image I provided - I'm only looking at your photo online, I'm not actually there to look more closely. let me ask you a question - does the white tray its sitting in look like the one in the IKEA picture? It's not all visible in the photograph, or is it in an ordinary pot, or a different pot? Always assuming you have IKEA stores wherever you live, that is.
    – Bamboo
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 22:46
  • I'm not unconvinced at all. I actually thought it was more a kin to what you suggested. The rhododendron suggestion is what actually threw me off and had me a little confused. I actually do not live near any ikeas and the pot was definitely not the same, mine is a little narrower and taller.
    – Jerome
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 1:20
  • Okay, not from IKEA then! I'm as sure as I can be without being there that it is a Ficus, so 99% certain, which means its an indoor bonsai. Needs more light by the look of the top leaves, which, unless its the lighting in the photo, look a little more yellow than the lower leaves.
    – Bamboo
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 1:29
  • I used the flash so I think it's the lighting. The green color of leaves are pretty even throughout. I think both you and stormy have definitely pointed me in the right direction. The more I look at different photos the more I'm undoubtedly in agreement with your assessment. I do have one more question if you don't mind, I will take a better picture of the pot tomorrow and maybe you could suggest a different pot. I don't feel like the one it's in is appropriate. Thanks again for your time.
    – Jerome
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 1:48

Whoa! This is one gorgeous and OLD bonsai. I am guessing Rhododendron.Rhododendron bonsai Have you ever owned a bonsai? You are lucky to receive this as a gift but on the other if you've never owned one you got set up for heartbreak. This is not an inexpensive bonsai! This is akin to being given a PET for a gift.

You have to talk to your friend. You need to find out where they purchased this then go have a talk with the nursery...sometimes these are found in a booth in the middle of a mall or a garden show. So you have to hurry. Don't be shy.

First question is; is this indoor or outdoor? This is a big deal. If this was an indoor plant and you put it outdoors without acclimatization or if this was an outdoor plant keeping it inside without acclimatization could easily kill it. Acclimatization is very lengthy for Bonsai. But where would you start? Gotta know where this plant came from and talk with the guy that sold this to your friend.

That guy that sold it had better know how this gorgeous plant was cared for, when the last time it was fertilized, root pruned? Bonsai pretty much needs watering every day or at least every other day I kid you not. That big plant sucks up the water like crazy and there is not much soil to hold water for more than a day. It is hard to see the scale of this bonsai but someday you will need to know enough to be able to continue with this plant's form process. Root pruning, training the height and width, transplanting (which doesn't happen often at all), wrapping copper wire to form that twisted look, better foundation for sure than just a few rocks sitting on top of the soil.

Is this plant 18" or maybe 2' in height? Trying to gauge the size by your backsplash. That is huge for a bonsai...I'd guess this guy is at least 4 to 5 decades old! A guess for sure and that is young for bonsai. I could be way off but at least one decade old for sure.

Another cool thing about Rhododendron (or its cousin azalea with smaller leaves) is that it can flower profusely. Quite the treat where bonsai is concerned. I can't imagine all this work for an indoor rhododendron bonsai because lots of light is necessary for the flowering you'll see in the images I sent in the link. Far more light than indoors by a window.

Fertilizer is very tricky. The only chemicals this plant can get for photosynthesis is right there in that tiny pot. You have to discover how much and how long ago this plant was fertilized. Just a little too much and you'll kill your bonsai.

Watering is tricky as well. I watered by putting the pot into a larger bucket of water to soak. Allowing it to stop bubbling. Pouring water to water bonsai tends to wash away gravel and water needs time to soak into the soil. Otherwise it just washes off the top of the soil. Not enough water for the plant.

Jerome, I think someone really likes you an awful lot. This is a very NICE gift if not a bit misguided. Another positive is that you will now become a gardener whether you wanted to or not! Bonsai is the ultimate test of gardening. The most artificial and human intervention heavy of all plant stewardship. You just might fall in love with this 'hobby'...

Ask your 'friend' where they got this!! If they had purchased a puppy to give you you'd want to know where they got that puppy and the breed and how it was raised, was it already wormed, vaccinated, neutered before you got to take over the responsibility, yes? To not ask your friend might just mean the death of this plant. They are very very sensitive and one misstep might make you and your friend very sad. Gosh, hate to be such a downer but this is not like any old houseplant or patio plant!

A super article on rhododendron and azalea bonsai

  • I replied in an edit of my original message. I also forgot to mention that you were pretty close to the size of it, from the base of the trunk to the top is 17.5 inches. Thanks for your time and effort in your response.
    – Jerome
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 22:20
  • No problem, Jerome. I may look bad with ID because I jump in to start things. Bamboo found an incredible picture and I believe she is right. Far better to be able to touch rather than go by a picture. No problem at all. Where did that lady keep this plant? Need to replicate what it is used to for care. Bonsai is such a wonderful treat to own and care for. Show us the pot...where did this lady keep this plant before; indoors or out doors. No worry Jerome...we all work as a team! And Bamboo is kinda the top doggie seriously! This is no competition, just want your plant to continue!
    – stormy
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 1:14
  • Just FYI...should have thought of this earlier; plants do very well out on a COVERED patio. As long as the temperature is stable...no matter if this guy is used to indoor or outdoors in the sun, a covered patio will work very well. I put all my houseplants out on the patio that is covered during the late spring and summer. North side off the home. No direct sunlight. I bring them in before any frost is possible. They are able to get more light than in doors and thus last longer in doors. They make more food with which to last the winter...do you have a covered porch?
    – stormy
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 1:19

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