Growing Bonsai In Mojave Desert

So, I’ve recently ordered my 3rd bonsai. My first two are dead. The first one, I kept alive for 7 months before making a terrible mistake (lesson learned), and the 2nd was a dud (again, learned a few lessons). This one is a juniper procumbens nana pre-bonsai from a reputable nursery in California, but I live about four hours away in the Nevada Desert. It was the closest I could find that had been grown anywhere near me. Otherwise, they get shipped from who-knows-where.

Finding proper care instructions is darn near impossible, because so many things are reversed here. For example, our “humid” months are the winter months (up to 25%!), and with 5% humidity and the high temperatures, placing potted plants outside in the summer is akin to putting them in the oven (day temperatures regularly reach over 115 degrees, night is in the 90’s.) It may rain once or twice. The spring and fall are much more agreeable.

On the plus side, I do have a room I can keep sunlit, humid, and temperature controlled. I have been preparing this space for a new bonsai (yes, I am determined to do this), but I’m not sure which advice to take, especially when the advice comes from humid, tepid climates with rainfall.

Does anyone have any advice they think could be helpful to my arid situation, or perhaps a place that offers such advice? I would really prefer not to kill another tree.

Thank you!

Sounds like an interesting challenge - are you looking to grow the tree mostly indoors or outside?

I am planning on growing it mainly indoors as much as possible. Besides all the weather problems, I am a backyard birder. The birds assume anything edible in the yard is for them, and I’m afraid they’d mess with it unless I’m there to watch it (which is totally possible for a few hours at a time). We also have terrible dust and wind storms regularly, which take a toll on the large trees and bushes. I’m not sure it could withstand 25 mph winds at its small size.

I’ve been growing other plants indoors for a while (succulents, cacti, wildflowers, general houseplants). Inside, I can get them the light, while controlling the temperature and humidity, and protecting them from the other aspects of nature.


Welcome to the site.
Please describe your indoor growing conditions. This hobby can be addictive so I hope you have room to expand!
It sounds like you will need grow lights to give your bonsai the light it requires.
I can see you’ve given this idea a lot of thought. How did you decide on a Juniper? What is the winter temperature range in your area? Are you aware if full size Juniper procumbens survive outdoors in your area?
I wonder if you should investigate a tropical bonsai that will be happier with indoor conditions. Good luck!

Perhaps ficus would be a good choice

Hi! Thanks for the welcome!
I do possess three different sets of grow lights which I use to create sunrise to sunset lighting conditions throughout the day (by hand). Though the room has a large South-facing window, the natural heat and light are still too harsh even for my indoor cacti to sit any closer than three feet. I use the wildflowers to test the lights out. It’s fun!

Something you should know about me: regardless of the pandemic, I almost never leave my house. I’m a happy recluse with all kinds of time (and dirt) on my hands. I’m up before dawn, and to bed after dark.

As for juniper procumbens nana, Norm Schilling recommends them for ground cover in Nevada. He regularly appears on NPR. This is one of the reasons I chose it.

The growing conditions I can create inside are more akin to the growing conditions outside in other states, but not tropical ones. I can get the humidity in the room to a comfortable 40% (still lower than recommended for people, but, hey, it’s the desert). The temperature is easier, so let’s say I keep it between 78-80 (the cacti really don’t like it higher than 85). Tropical succulents struggle here, but the desert ones obviously just feel at home. I have a humidity tent for any plants needing a bit more, and have a multi-humidity tray system (I stacked them). The humidity trays have to be refilled completely every 3 days, but I top them off daily.

The winter temperature ranged this past year from 26-60 degrees. The previous year, we had no freeze. The freezes were only two nights.

Hope that helps give you an idea!
Thanks again!

I have no experience with your conditions - I don’t even have evergreen bonsai. I prefer the seasonal change of deciduous material. Deciduous trees quickly let you know if your growing conditions are not ideal. I’m also a newbie so don’t pay any attention to me.
My reading on bonsai sites indicates that the survival rate for outdoor bonsai kept indoors is very low, but perhaps successful growers don’t participate.

What is the composition of your soil? What initial care does Norm Schilling recommend for juniper in the landscape? They probably require lots of moisture while they get established in full sun.
It sounds like you’ve chosen a tree based on it’s ability to survive in the outdoors but intend to grow it in a completely different atmosphere. You’ve taken on a challenge. Your next tree should be one that will be more comfortable in the existing indoor conditions.
Let us know how it goes!

I share a lot of the same issues with Canadians, dry air and a need to grow inside. I’ve gotten some tips from their bonsai clubs, but obviously there are still a lot of differences. We joke here that it is like gardening on Mars.

I really want to start traditional. Begin at the beginning, sort of thing, I suppose.

This is what Norm says about the Juniperus procumbens, “This traditional plant is a bit temperamental in Southern Nevada, but once established can be quite tough and carefree. Its undulating, evergreen foliage is a very rich, dark green. It prefers protection from afternoon sun and likes improved soils.”

That’s the thing with full sun, it creates a lot of shadows. That’s where our plants thrive, in the shadows of mountains, rocks, and one another. Luckily, our backyard is shaded in the afternoon by our house and a copse of 40-foot evergreens. Our soil is very alkaline heavy, as is our water. I neutralize the water for the plants, otherwise they get that yucky white powdery coating and/or die. I buy, mix, and fertilize soil based on the individual plant’s needs. I grew up in the country where pretty much anything could be planted anywhere except under a beech tree (too acidic), so this was quite the learning experience in itself!

Oh, I forgot to mention that I crack the window in the winter to cool down the room and allow the plants to go dormant.

It was grown in the Mojave Desert in a greenhouse, so hopefully it can survive 300 miles away inside my house. This is the first one I’ve had shipped, which makes me a bit uncomfortable, but at least it will already know what season it is! lol

It sounds like you’re off to a good start. As Don noted, it’s tricky to keep conifers happy indoors. The main things will be to watch the watering carefully (not too much or too little), and to be on the lookout for pests (trees aren’t able to fend them off as well indoors).

Keeping the tree outside occasionally might be an option at certain times of the year. They’re fine with cold down to and occasionally below freezing, and daytime temps up to 90-95 are no problem in full sun if they get enough water. For the high desert temps (over 105), I’d keep the trees in the shade or inside.

Thanks for the encouragement!

I likely will take it out with me in the mornings when I fiddle with the outdoor plants. At the very least, I’ll be taking it to face the morning sun. Nothing quite like the real thing, I guess.

It will come in the growing pot (not a bonsai pot). Am I right in thinking I should wait until early fall before even considering replanting it in a bonsai pot?

I,m in England so Majave is out of my experience , bbut I would have looked at the local native trees that have evolved to live in your climate . I have been to Arizona and Utah and they have masses of junipers thriving and hundreds just needing a little work to turn them into World Class bonsai. got to be better , easier and more rewording than struggling to baby along a tree wanting a totally different environment to yours

Thanks, but Arizona and Utah are extremely different states climate-wise. Arizona has an even harsher climate than the Mojave Desert (though a small portion of it is in Arizona). Arizona’s hardiness zones range from a comfortable 5b to the dreaded 10b. Utah is mainly (but not completely) in the 6-4 region.

I am in hardiness zone 8b, and the type of bonsai I chose thrives in zones 5-8. I feel comfortable with my choice based on living here and understanding our weather.

Right now, Miku (yes, I name my plants) is enjoying 5 hours of morning sun, and will come back inside to enjoy the rest of the sunny day in temperature and humidity controlled comfort. Babying plants is what I love to do.

Won’t Bursera fagaroides or other varieties and succulents/caudiciforms work in desert?

Personally I would not keep trying with trees so far out of their element. It will be frustrating rather than enjoyable.

This shrub is all over the place out here. I could have just gone to the side of the road and gotten a free one. Yeesh.