How to make a fruit-bearing bonsai tree

Having a fruit-bearing bonsai tree has understandable appeal. They look really cool. If you’ve seen pictures usually you have the smaller tree and these big bits of fruit on them, it looks crazy and fantastic. When people come see your place they’re bound to be impressed.

To learn how, to grow a fruit bearing bonsai, you kind of have to understand some of the basics of growing bonsai in general.

Bonsai is the art of growing and training regular trees and shrubs into a miniature form to mimic nature. Though stores in no short supply sell bonsai kits and “bonsai seeds” there is no difference in seeds for a bonsai tree and it’s full-grown counterpart –be it a tree or shrub.

However, some trees or shrubs (or varieties) lend themselves better to bonsai. defines bonsai as “a tree or shrub that has been dwarfed, as by pruning the roots and pinching, and is grown in a pot or other container and trained to produce a desired shape or effect.” The traditional desired effect is to reproduce or mimic mature trees in nature. Art and style are part of the end goal.

For this reason trees that are “better suited” to bonsai must consider how well a tree or shrub will survive this type of training. As well an important consideration is how likely a miniature version of the tree or shrub in question is to look like a miniature old tree, and not just a trimmed stick in a pot. A thick woody trunk that will show taper as well as leaves that will reduce in size are important considerations.

Flowers and fruit will not reduce or shrink in size but will remain the same size as the variety would normally produce. However, some varieties produce smaller fruit or flowers in full size trees and will keep those smaller sized fruit and flowers in bonsai form.

In short if you want a fruit bearing bonsai, you have to pick a fruit bearing plant to make one from. Because bonsai trees are real trees or shrubs grown under more challenging circumstances they need at least as much as usual to be grown in areas where regular sized versions would grow.

Consider the climate you live in and where you plan to grow the tree. As a general rule if you live in Toronto don’t grow citrus. If you live in Miami, pass on the crab apple. (There are of course exceptions. Trees in pots have a few advantages trees in the ground do not have and a serious enthusiast can grow a tree outside of it’s natural habitat though I wouldn’t advise anyone but an expert or master trying it.)

Which leads us to the core of the answer. Some fruiting plants that can be made into bonsai include:

• Blueberry
• Cherry
• Crab Apple
• Fig
• Olive
• Orange
• Pomegranate
• Quince

Last consider if you’re asking because you actually want to eat the fruit in question. Recall that bonsai trees are small. Even if the fruit is not dwarfed, the plant is and thus you’ll get less fruit than if you grew a larger version of the plant or tree. Keep in mind also that most fruit-bearing trees do not grow well indoors year round.

To answer how you make a fruit-growing bonsai tree, the concepts of applying growing instructions for the plant in question with the principles of bonsai care. Generally bonsai trees with fruit or flowers need more water than their counterparts.

Blueberry – likes well drained, acidic soil (with a pH around 5.0) and full sun (though they may tolerate partial shade). Be sure to water thoroughly and deeply rather than surface watering. Fertilize as leaves begin to grow in early spring.

Cherry – Cherries come in different colors (purple, red, and yellow) and levels of tartness. Cherries like well-drained soil, though tart cherries may grow in moderately heavy soils. Keep in mind that some varieties of cherry need another cultivar to pollinate. They also need winter to hibernate and thus are not suitable for much of the southern United States. Watering can effect fruit quality, with too much water splitting the fruit and too little water shriveling the fruit.

Crab apple – Crab apples in general are too tart to eat raw, is frequently used in cooking or for preserves. Crab apple trees like full sun or light shade. Fertilize in early spring, prune in late winter. Note that different varieties produce a variety of blossoms and different fruits.

Fig – Figs are tolerant easy to grow plants. They like sun and wind protection. Fertilize monthly, except in winter. Figs grow well in containers and can be trained in regular potting soil. Succeptible to winter, figs grow in warmer climates or need to be taken indoors on the outset of colder temperatures.

Olive – Olives require full sun. like lightly moist soil, do not do well in mediums that are too wet or too dry or porous. Olives are need winter weather to flower and fruit, but are also succeptible to extreme cold winter temperatures.

Orange – Oranges (and other citrust such as grapefruit and lemon) are sub-tropical. Oranges like full sun and wind-protection. Begins bearing fruit on average between age 3-6 years. Flowers with rain and warm temperatures. Fruits can take up to eight months to ripen.

Pomegranate – Pomegranates like full sun but may tolerate partial sun. They tolerate summer heat and do well in dry environments, use well-draining soil and water regularly and deeply. Pomegranates like a neutral pH soil. Keep moist but not wet. They have a shallower root system than other fruit trees. Apply nitrogen fertilizer in the growing season. Some varieties of fruit are not edible.

Quince – Quinces produces lovely fragrant yellow fruit which generally must be cooked to eat. likes warm sunny climate. Quince will tolerate most soils, acid and alkaline alike, likes to stay moist. Fertilize annually. Prune in winter.

Keep in mind many fruiting plants are also flowering plants, making lovely bonsai for a longer period throughout the year. Though fruiting bonsai may take extra work in protecting fruits from birds and pests, the results may be worth the trouble.

Keep in mind too the styling of a fruit bearing bonsai. A formal upright or something with lots of vertical action may not work as well as a semi-cascade or something with lots of horizontal action.

Best of luck on your fruit bearing bonsai!