Coconut Bonsai trees take a funky twist on the traditional aesthetic of Bonsai trees that you normally see. Rather than the perfectly pruned and shaped miniature trees that we imagine when thinking of bonsai trees, Coconut Bonsai trees are a bit lop-sided and have a more playful look.
If you didn’t know, you can actually bonsai any tree, it’s a process for treating trees and not a specific kind of tree. So, that means you can bonsai coconut trees too! Through pruning, and Coconut Bonsai trees need less pruning than other trees, you can keep the tree tiny and keep it in your home, where you certainly couldn’t fit a full coconut tree.
First, let me give you a little information about Coconut trees so you can better understand what kind of plant you’re working with. Even if you’re familiar with growing trees, this will be a different process because Coconut trees have a fibrous root system, whereas most trees have tap root systems.
Coconuts are the fruit of Coconut trees and at the center is their seed- this is where the shoot will grow from and begin to produce roots. So, for this bonsai tree you start with a coconut and start growing a little tree out of it!
Coconut trees are in the Palm tree family, so if you have any experience growing Palm trees, you can refer to that. Even if you haven’t grown them before, you’ve surely seen Palm trees and know that they grow quite tall, so it takes a good bit of work to keep them tiny and manageable.
Coconut Bonsai Tree Needs
In this post I’ll explain in detail all the steps for grooming a Coconut Bonsai tree and how to care for it so it lives a long life. Before I get started with the process, here’s some things to keep in mind before beginning to grow a Coconut Bonsai tree, because they are fairly high maintenance and if you can’t do these things the tree will suffer.
The first thing is that this project will take several months because you are, after all, growing a tree! It will take some time for the shoot to get large enough, and then a few more months for the roots to be developed. The good news is, it’s not like you’ll have months of daily work, it’s more like a few months of waiting for growth.
These little trees need lots of sunlight, so if you live somewhere cloudy and don’t get consistent sunlight, you’ll have a hard time with this tree. Also with weather, these trees do best in warmer, tropical climates, so this will determine whether you keep your bonsai tree outdoors or indoors.
Since these trees normally grow quite large, there’s a good bit of maintenance at the beginning of growth to stunt the tree from growing tall, so expect a lot of supervision and pruning at the outset. However, once this work is done, the tree will remain tiny and doesn’t need any further pruning.
Bongkala / Eka Purna Sumeika / CC BY SA 4.0
How Long Do Coconut Bonsai Live For?
Although they are high maintenance to get started, the work pays off in the long-run. Coconut Bonsai trees can live for 60 and up to 80 years! As I explained, they don’t need much maintenance after the first few months, so these trees are really long-term investments.
Interestingly, Coconut trees do very well as bonsai trees and can actually outlive their full grown versions. Also, Coconut Bonsai trees don’t need as much maintenance as some other standard types of bonsai trees, so if you’d like a bonsai tree, a Coconut Bonsai could be perfect!
These little trees will live quite long lives as long as they’re well taken care of. If they don’t receive enough sunlight they will really struggle to grow and definitely will not last as long. In general, if they don’t receive enough nutrients they will struggle to grow, but next I’ll explain all the steps for watering and soil to keep your Coconut Bonsai tree healthy.
Steps for Making a Coconut Bonsai Tree
The beginning of the bonsai process is the most important for two reasons: if the roots aren’t developed well, the tree won’t grow at all, but also if the pruning isn’t done, the tree will grow too tall!
Since the coconut is the fruit for the Coconut tree, it contains the seeds inside it to grow new Coconut trees, so that’s your starting point. It’s crucial that you start with a coconut that is healthy and intact. You want to pick a coconut where you can still hear water inside.
For people who live somewhere with plenty of coconut trees nearby, you can take one directly from the tree. In tropical Southeast Asia, where the practice of making Coconut Bonsai trees started, they’ll often take a coconut that has fallen and has already started to grow a shoot.
If you don’t have access to Coconut trees right around you, you can just start with a coconut. You’ll need to put the coconut in a bag and fill with sand and dirt to get the coconut to germinate and produce a shoot.
Removing the Shell
It can take the coconut 3 to 5 months to germinate, so you need to be patient and just keep an eye on it. Once the shoot is about a foot long, you can take it out of the bag for the next step.
You now need to remove the fibrous shell of the coconut, so the roots can push more easily, plus this adds to the aesthetics of the final bonsai tree. Removing the shell is likely the hardest part of this process because it requires quite a bit of physical labor.
You’ll need a good quality, strong cutting tool, like a machete or an ax. You can use these for cutting the shell open so that you can start peeling back the shell pieces. It’s recommended that you use the cutting tool just for getting the shell open, then peeling it off with your hands.
This process is laborious, but take care not to damage the internal seed, as that will really disrupt the growth. Once the shell is off, you can trim off or use sandpaper to smooth off the surface of the seed.
The seed will be visible even when the tree is mature, so take the time at this step to clean it off to have the core seed looking how you’d like it to. Some also take a hose and rinse it off to help clear off the hairs.
Embryo in soil / Vencel / CC BY SA 4.0
Promoting Root Growth
At this stage in growth, it helps to place the seed in water to promote root growth. If you have experience propagating plants- or even have a propagation station– that’s essentially what we’re doing here.
So, you’ll need a vase that’s large enough to contain the roots of the seed and provide space for the roots to grow. You want the seed itself, though, to be just dipped in the water, you shouldn’t submerge the entire thing. Position the seed so that it’s sitting at the top of the vase and the roots are in several inches of water.
Leave the seed with this set up for about 3 to 5 weeks- this is the time needed for the roots to really grow and be strong enough to be potted. Keep an eye on the roots and refill with water as needed. It’s best for the seed to be in indirect light for this step.
Bonsai Kelapa / Supardisahabu / CC BY SA 4.0
Potting the Seed
For mulch, you can actually use the shell pieces that were removed to get to the seed. The fibrous texture of the coconut coir makes them great for promoting air flow in the soil, and they also work as compost material.
Lay the pieces down as the bottom layer, about 2-3 inches tall. Cover the pieces with well-draining and sandy soil. Soil with a neutral pH is best for Coconut trees.
Because Coconut trees are tropical plants, they like constant moisture, but not heavy moisture. These trees will not do well with sitting water and therefore need soil that allows the excess water to run out.
Coco_Bonsai / Duakembang / CC BY SA 4.0
Forming the Shape
For this step, you need a flexible yet sturdy material that you can wrap around the growing tree. This helps keep the roots contained to a small area, stopping them from spreading wide and setting up the large root system needed for a full-size tree.
Most bonsai growers use a sheet of plastic that can be wrapped into a cylinder and keep its shape. If you have any cylindrical objects that will fit snugly around the seed and shoot, that will work well.
Once you have your object to contain the roots, fill it with soil, just enough to cover the seed and roots. After 3 months the roots will be stronger and more developed, this is when you can take off the container. Most people prefer the look of just the main roots, so at this point you can take scissors and trim off all the tiny roots and hairs that have grown.
Pruning the Tree
As you’ve probably observed, Palm trees don’t grow branches, so you just need to prune the leaves to keep them tiny and keep the trunk from growing tall. This is why Coconut Bonsai trees are considered easier to make than other types of trees, who have branches that also need to be manipulated.
This also means that you don’t need to use wire to shape these trees. Keeping the roots confined in the last step helps the tree from growing very tall, so the most important element to prune is the leaves at the top.
Take some sharp shears to trim the leaves to keep them small- it’s best to do this in the spring or early summer. When you see new leaves sprouting, take your shears or a sharp knife and slice the leaves into several thinner pieces, without cutting the leaf off. This will encourage multiple leaves to grow from the same bud instead of one large leaf growing from it.
If you see a couple buds with new leaves forming, you can cut them off entirely to concentrate growth on the leaves that are already growing. However, this step is your choice- if you’d prefer a tree with many leaves, you can let them grow.
Some people like the look of just two, larger leaves and will cut off all others that grow. You can also tie growing leaves together so that they grow in the same direction. This helps them grow upwards rather than spread outwards, but this is also a personal decision based on aesthetic preferences.
If you want particularly small leaves, you can repetitively cut off all of the new growth. This will discourage the leaves to grow, so that when they do grow they’ll come back smaller. Just be careful not to get so zealous with this because the plant can actually go into shock
Something that will help keep the leaves at a reasonable size is placing the plant somewhere with lots of direct light. If the plant isn’t receiving enough light, the leaves will grow larger because they’re reaching out, searching for more light.
Coconut Bonsai Tree Care
Those are all the steps for shaping the Coconut tree to keep it as a bonsai tree and here in this section I’ll explain a few things for caring for the little tree so that it lives as long as possible.
As these are tropical trees, they love humidity and moisture, but that doesn’t mean they should be soaked in water. Coconut trees love moist soil, so it’s best to water them often but gently. The soil should never completely dry out between waterings, but you also don’t want the soil to be soggy.
A shallow watering every couple of days is ideal, or at least twice a week. Also, since these trees are used to humidity, it’s helpful to provide humidity in whatever way you can.
It helps to mist the leaves or soil of the tree, so that it receives enough moisture but isn’t getting a full watering. You can also use a humidifier to keep extra humidity around your Coconut Bonsai tree. You can designate an area to keep a humidifier and other humidity loving plants, like the Fiddle Leaf Fig tree.
The bottom line with sunlight needs is that it’s pretty hard to give Coconut trees too much light. These trees need several hours of direct light per day to be at their best.
The only time it might be better to keep them in partial light is if it’s hotter than 85° F, only then it would help them to have a bit of shade. It’s ideal for these trees to have direct sunlight for half of the day and this will be the most important factor in helping them grow.
With any kind of bonsai tree, it’s important to use a nutrient dense fertilizer to feed the tree. Since bonsai trees are potted, and typically in pretty small pots, they don’t have much of a reserve to take from and this is why it’s especially necessary to add fertilizer.
That being said, you don’t need to fertilize the Coconut Bonsai all year round. It’s best to fertilize at the beginning of spring, before the growing season. The tree is dormant during the winter months, so it’s pointless to fertilize during this time.
Towards the end of spring, as summer approaches, you’ll likely notice new growth. This is the perfect time to add fertilizer to support this new growth. You can add organic compost or worm casting on top of the soil to add nutrients and moisture.
Design & Decorations
Since bonsai trees are made specifically for decorative purposes, and since they require so much time and effort, you want to make sure it looks its best. Here’s a few finishing touches to making your Coconut Bonsai as gorgeous as you can.
You can start with choosing a pot that’s stylish and that goes with the design of your home. There are pots that are made specifically for bonsai trees, they’re low and wide trees that show off the shape of bonsai trees. However, it’s important to choose a pot that goes well with the space you’re putting it in.
Many people also place small stones or sand on top of the soil to surround the trunk of the little bonsai tree. This is another way to make the tree even more decorative, as you can choose colored rocks to go with your color scheme.
Another “topping” you can add on is moss! This adds to the living art style of bonsai trees as decoration. To do this, add some mud- a very wet mixture of dirt, water, and some sediments- on top of the soil. This also helps add moisture to the soil and may be particularly beneficial for Coconut Bonsai trees.
Next, gently take some moss from an area near you. If you live by a creek or river, there will likely be rocks with moss. If not, go for a hike and keep your eyes out for moss on boulders or trees! Once you’ve collected some moss, bring it home and just place it on top of the mud layer.
Also, as I mentioned in the section for planting, you can remove all the tiny roots that give the tree a hairy appearance if you don’t like this. After some time, the tree will have very pronounced roots and will live off these, so all the tiny ones you can clip off with shears or scissors.
Those who grow Coconut Bonsai trees often will also use a toothbrush to brush off residual dirt, fibers flaking off the seed, or tiny roots that are growing. You can also rinse it off with water to wash away any dust or soil that may have accumulated.
One last tip for bonsai aesthetics is varnish- some people actually add wood varnish to make the tree shiny and appear very clean. If you remove the fibers and tiny roots, then the coconut seed will be fairly bare. Paint varnish on the seed and roots to make them shine, although it’s not necessary to paint the trunk as well.
Can you Buy a Coconut Bonsai Tree?
Many people also wonder if you can buy a Coconut Bonsai tree, considering bonsai trees require more work and time. This depends on where you live and if the nurseries around you sell bonsai trees. Although, sometimes there are stores that sell exclusively bonsai trees.
However, you can also buy bonsai kits that come with shears and little scissors for pruning bonsai trees. If you’re a little worried about using the tools you have or you don’t have any experience with bonsai trees, it could be really useful to get one of these kits.
Get Started Growing
However, I hope that after reading this article you feel prepared to begin this bonsai project! As I explained at the beginning, bonsai trees require a lot of training at the beginning but hold their shape and live for many years. So your work completely pays off!
Considering all you need is a coconut to get started, why not try out this bonsai tree? It’s also the easiest kind of tree to bonsai, so if you’d like to give it a try, this is a great start!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.