Bonsai for Desert

A few people have told me that I can’t grow certain bonsai trees here in the Desert SW, but why not. If I can grow a Norfolk Island Pine as a plant why shouldn’t I be able to grow a planting of them as bonsai??
Isn’t it just a matter of making sure I take care of it with the conditions it needs? I love the fir trees and wanted to try one as a bonsai but I’m told it will never work. What do you say or think?

I’ve been told it has to do with the lack of humidity.

My parents live in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs. I was talking with a friend of theirs who enjoys growing bonsai. Employment moved this person to the valley. Once there, he tried keeping different species of hot-dry-desert natural and landscaping trees. He blamed the lack of humidity plus the heat. In the open floor of the valley, temperatures easily get above 110°, and occasionally go above 120°.

Since I don’t know the conditions of your area, I will assume it is similar. You would likely need an automated misting and watering system. The air will be leaching out as much water as you’re willing to use. Depending on your local water authority, you may end up being one of the bad guys. The Coachella Valley Water Authority may not mind as much because they get water from the Colorado River. Other authorities that have dry reservoirs will think differently.

Look into water reclamation systems. Maybe you can store and solar-distill your home’s gray-water. Maybe you can collect rainwater. Rainwater collection is restricted in Colorado, so check your local authorities.

It should be noted that Norfolk Island Pine is not a true pine - Araucaria heterophylla - from my little research these trees grow throughout the South Pacific and do well in tropical / mediterranean climates. Seems like it could be a good option for you in a desert climate in terms of bonsai because it doesn’t require winter dormancy, it seems like prolonged periods of cold actually weaken if not kill these trees.

I think the bonsai you would have difficulty growing are those from more alpine environments that require winter dormancy. Depends on what kind of fir you have your eye on I’d say and what your winters are like as far as i know!


There’s plenty of species that can be grown in near desert conditions. I can think of many species that are very strong. In Israel Rosemary (yes the herb) grows like weed in the streets and with really amazingly thick trunks. Olive, Eucalyptus. Plenty of species. Of course you need water and possibly you may need a drip watering system constantly on but there are plenty of trees.


I would also look to ask these types of questions to people in a bonsai club that is local to you. People in local clubs will be happy to share their knowledge as to what species of trees they have had success and failure with in your local climate. They can also help with soil adjustments and watering help as well, most of the time. Sadly you will find that climate is the ultimate dictator of what will grow. I’m in Texas and there are some trees that just can’t take the heat, or lack of true winter here. Other non natives thrive for the same reasons. Local knowledge is key.


You can try Dwarf Jade, they are a succulent and would thrive in the warm dry conditions.



Thanks! I love the Norfolk and can’t wait to finish my forest planting of them on rocks. Our winters are mild lately but I believe you can create conditions that will allow for the dormancy. I’ve been reading about using coolers, ice and chilled rocks such as granite to create the right conditions.

Thanks, I limited to my patio size and don’t have the option for set up a watering system. I do have indirect sun so it won’t be too bad but have options and no problem with watering.

The indirect sun helps. Where are you located?

Thanks, I have an Olive that is doing good. Will look into the Israel Rosemary. Others I’m looking at are the Bursera Microphylla, Snow Rose (Serissa foretida), Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra), AZ Cypress Blue Ice, Harland Boxwood, and of course junipers.

south of the Tucson area

I reaaaallly want to do jade bonsai. We have some succulents in the workshop that we will be doing a stream on soon :hugs:


Ryan has talked quite a bit about dormancy requirements - not sure about fir specifically - in previous Live Q&A’s. would be worth looking through those Q&A indices to see if there’s any info similar to what you’re looking for.

Growing bonsai on the island of Cyprus for 12 years - with temperatures reaching 40-45 Celsius in the summer and mild winters- I suggest you try native trees or trees that other locals have managed to grow well. I did try most of the species that grow in other European countries and to my despair, I ended up growing Olives, San Jose and Phoenician junipers, pistacia, tropical species, black pine, elms, Juniper procumbens. Just my 2cents.


Jades are beautiful.

I currently live in Yuma, AZ, but grew up south of Tucson. Unless you are near Sierra Vista, I don’t think you’ll get cold enough weather for some of those alpine species. It’s the trade off for having longer growing seasons and milder winters.

I have had luck keeping Dwarf Jade, several varieties of Ficus, and Bougainvillea. I’ve also had luck with Fukien Tea Trees, and Rosemary. I’m currently trying to see how an Italian Stone Pine and an Afghan Pine do in my heat, but I don’t know if needle size will be an issue.

And I actually do have a Norfolk that I got as a gift and have been playing with for a few years now. It’s small, so I went with a style that isn’t characteristic of the species, but it seemed to fit the little guy well.

Photo is from spring last year. I’ve wired some movement into it, but it takes anything I throw at it like a champ.

Get inexpensive plants and try them out for a year or two before spending serious money on a large specimen. It’s the only real way of knowing what will grow for you with enough health.

And I should mention that I absolutely love my little jades! Everyone should try one!


Your Norfolk looks good. Several people in the Scottsdale club have Stone Pines and they are doing great. That is one I will want to try later. I’m a little confused about what everyone is calling Jade. I have a small Portulacaria afra and was told it is an Elephant Food Tree. However it looks the same as the ones in this post that are being called Jade.

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I got the little guy as a gift, with one branch. Been keeping it for years and really haven’t paid too much attention to it until the past year or so.

With the Portulacaria, same plant, different common names being used. As long as you have the small foliage variety, you’re good.

If you’re doing Portulacaria, you absolutely need to read this by Adam Lavigne. He’s in Florida, and I’ve learned a lot about Portulacaria from him.

Also check out the Phoenix Club’s resources page. They have a list of plants and rate them on how well they do in the area. The list is a little old, but it’s a great place to start from.

And hit me up with a message anytime. I’m always up for talking shop with someone who deals with the same weather that I do.


I love Adam. He has loads of info on his blog. He is a tropical master, and a very funny read.
He is on my short list of Bonsai guys to go and bother in person.
The Jade, Portulacaria afra, that I have is from another Florida fella. I was blown away at what was sent to me for the price.

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I really like his work with ilex vomitoria.

@a1WildWest Oh! I would also mention wisteria. My mother-in-law had a really nice one south of Tucson. I think it may have been the Chinese variety, but it did great for her. Maybe find an inexpensive one and give it a try.