How Long do Bonsai Trees take to Grow?

Healthy Bonsai Tree
Healthy Bonsai Tree (Source: Pixels)

The art of growing a bonsai tree varies from place to place and generation to generation.

Some believe that a bonsai never stops growing, and there are always new ways to prune and wire the trees.

Others believe that once they’ve stunted, they stop growing.

While it is widely debated about the time required to grow a bonsai tree, all of them can say with certainty that they take a LONG time to grow.

Generally, Bonsai takes generations to mature. Depending on its species and the climate, it can take anywhere from 15 to 20 years to grow from seed to healthy Bonsai tree.

Watering a Baby Bonsai Tree with Sprayer
Watering a Bonsai Tree (Source: Pixel)

While a few species grow faster than most, patience is the key.

They argue that a bonsai tree requires meticulous, constant care and nurturing to shape it into a proper bonsai tree.

Read on to clear your doubts and know exactly how long Bonsai trees take to grow and the factors affecting the growth rate!

How Long do Bonsai Trees Take to Grow?

No matter the species, Bonsai can easily take 10-15 years to reach maturity, while you can start to prune and wire it after four years of growing it from seed.

These years are not even a fraction of its life which could be over 500 years if properly cared for.

Depending on its maturity, even a bonsai starter will take at least 7-10 years to reach maturity.

Factors that Decide the Growth Rate of Bonsai Trees

The growth of Bonsai varies, especially according to species.

While bonsai trees do take a lot of time to grow, there are a few ways they can be grown a little faster.

A few factors addressed below can considerably affect the tree’s growth.

1. Choice of Species

Choosing the right tree is vital for growing a bonsai. Choose a fast-growing tree.

Evergreen and tropical trees are usually considered best.

However, there are a few specific trees that do have an accelerated growth rate.

Trees such as Maple, Chinese Junipers, Jade, Japanese White, or Black Pines grow faster than others.

Even the fast-growing trees will take at least four years before you can begin to shape them.

2. Sunlight and Location

Good light is very important for your Bonsai’s health. Bonsai usually needs direct sun, which they make their food.

The ultra-violet ray in sunlight positively affects their growth. A lack of direct sunlight will damage the plant, which will cause weak foliage and other problems.

They like to receive from 5 to 6 hours of sun daily, whether inside or outside.

Direct Sunlight
Bonsai enjoys direct sunlight. (Source: Unsplash)

Bonsai love to be out in the May-September (warmer months), though many species can be kept indoors year-round.

Try placing your plant in a sunny location – the brighter, the better.

Remember, the more sunlight and warmth your Bonsai receives, the more often it will need water.

You have to be particular about where you place your Bonsai indoors, as they need a fair amount of light.

Right by a south-facing window is the best location choice – this will increase your chances of having a healthy tree.

Lack of provision of light according to the demand can end up retarding growth and eventually lead to death.

Artificial light such as

Can be a great substitute as it can easily be fixed according to the need.

It’ll be able to modify lights and make sure everything is perfect.

The proper intensity they provide helps boost growth. Proper ventilation is a must as the radiator can get heated up and lower the soil humidity.

Wondering if the color of light affects the plant’s growth or not. The article; What Light Color is Best for the Plant’s Growth? is here to give you answer

3. Proper Watering

Hydration is the key ingredient to fast growth.

You do not need to stick to a schedule to water your Bonsai, but twice a day is good enough. Depending on the climate you’re raising your Bonsai, you might need to do it more or less frequently.

If you are in an arid climate, it’s recommended to water your tree at least thrice a day but if you are in a more humid area, perhaps once a day in the afternoon is enough.

The point is to keep the root damp but not wet, so don’t overwater the tree, or it might lead to root rot and eventually death of the plant.

Bonsai trees can be up to 55% water. Needless to say, they require a very steady water source.

Watering different plants.
Watering different plants. (Source: Unsplash)

Don’t let the soil get dry, which would indicate the plant is thirsty and needs hydration.

Rather than sticking with a rigid schedule or a routine, stick your finger a few centimeters in the ground to see if the soil is dry.

The roots need hydration. Let the water run from the drainage holes; that is the sign for you to stop watering.

Searching for cute Watering Cans? Here is;10 Cute Mini Watering Cans for Indoor Plants

4. Proper Soil Mix

Soil for Bonsai has to meet three different criteria: It must allow for good water retention, drainage, and aeration.

The soil must be able to hold and retain sufficient moisture, yet water must drain immediately from the pot.

The ingredients for bonsai soil must be large enough to allow air pockets to provide oxygen to the roots and micro bacteria.

The common ingredients in bonsai soil are lava rock, pumice, akadama, organic potting compost, and fine gravel. Ideal bonsai soil should be pH neutral (6.5-7.5), neither acidic nor basic.

Soil Mix For Bonsai
Soil Mix For Bonsai (Source: Unsplash)

Organic potting compost may be peat moss, perlite, and sand. It doesn’t aerate or drain well and retains water, but it works as part of the soil mix.

The exact mix of bonsai soil is dependent on what type of tree species is being used. That said, here are guidelines for two types of soil, one for deciduous trees and one for conifers.

For deciduous bonsai trees, use

  • 50% akadama,
  • 25% pumice,
  • And 25% lava rock.

For conifers, use

  • 33% akadama,
  • 33% pumice,
  • And 33% lava rock.

Usually, the above mix is sufficient. Start with the basic recipe and keep a close eye on the tree.

If drainage or aeration needs improvement, re-amend the soil.

5. Potting and Repotting

The main reason bonsai trees are so small is that their roots have limited growing space.

Fast-growing trees require repotting every two years, sometimes even sooner. More mature, older trees need to be repotted every three to five years.

Repotting a bonsai is very crucial to its growth and well-being. You should repot your Bonsai depending on the size of your Bonsai’s pot and tree species.

This will allow the tree more nutrients and more room to grow.

Repotting A Plant
Repotting a Plant (Source: Unsplash)

Things to Keep in Mind while Repotting Bonsai

  • Things to Keep in Mind while Repotting Bonsai
  • Repotting is not something that should be done routinely.
  • Check your Bonsai early in the spring by carefully removing the tree from its pot.
  • If you see the roots circling the root system, your Bonsai needs to be repotted.
  • If the roots are still contained within the soil, leave it and recheck the following spring.
  • Pruned off around 1/3 of its roots, this is beneficial as they will grow back stronger and faster.
  • Paying attention to the soil is also vital while repotting a bonsai.

Also watch,

If you want to ensure that your Bonsai stays miniature and retains its size, it’s important to use small pots; but not too small that the roots have no room to grow.

Use pots according to the size of the plant that you have in mind.

You can use bigger pots while the sapling is growing to encourage trunk growth, but that would mean that its root pruning would be more difficult, and it might grow too big.

6-9-3 is usually the recommended size for a bonsai.

You can even use other pots if they’re not too big. There is a wide variety of pots that you can buy.

  1. Round Unglazed Ceramic Bonsai Pot with Bamboo Tray
  2. Plastic Bonsai Plants Growing Pot for Garden
  3. Terracotta Bonsai Planter Pot

The pot material doesn’t matter as long as it has drainage on the bottom. It ensures the roots get just enough water and the risk of root rot goes down significantly.

6. Adequate Fertilizer

Fertilization is a necessity when it comes to fast-growing Bonsai.

It needs to be provided with adequate fertilization as they do not get as many nutrients as trees outdoors.

The nutrients per unit square in the pot must be very high as a compromise for the small area.

A few notable exceptions are worth pointing out for using different ratios of NPK fertilizers.

  • If you use a high Phosphorous fertilizer like NPK 6:10:6, it can help promote the flowering growth of a Bonsai tree.
  • For Bonsai in spring, it is recommended to use a relatively high Nitrogen content like NPK 10:6:6 fertilizer.
  • A relatively more balanced fertilizer like NPK 6:6:6 is more optimal for summer.
  • A low-Nitrogen fertilizer like NPK 3:6:6 can be used for autumn.
  • While it is recommended to be specific about fertilizers, all-purpose bonsai fertilizers can also be a great substitute.

Using a fertilizer that has a low Nitrogen concentration or reducing the amount of fertilizer used can be favorable for older or more mature Bonsai.

Things to Keep in Mind before Fertilizing Bonsai

  • The frequency of applying the fertilizer can vary depending on the quality and type of fertilizer you use.
  • Make sure you feed your Bonsai correctly by following the instructions listed on your fertilizer packaging.
  • Ensure your Bonsai is planted in proper, well-draining Bonsai soil to prevent a buildup of salts.
  • Pay attention to the seasonal change as the plant will not need as much fertilization in winter as in summer.
  • If the tree has weakened by any factors such as diseases or repotting, try not to use fertilizer right away. Let the tree heal and gain its natural strength before forcing rapid growth.

7. Timely Pruning

The purpose of pruning is to refine and maintain the shape of a tree.

As mentioned above, trees will concentrate most growth on the top and outer parts of their stems; it is important to prune the growth areas regularly to encourage growth closer to the inner parts of the tree.

Pruning of the Bonsai can be done throughout the growing season, usually from March to September, for outdoor Bonsai. Indoor Bonsai can be pruned year-round.

Maintenance pruning is essential to maintain the trees’ shape.

Things to Keep in Mind during Pruning

  • Prune shoots and branches that have outgrown the intended canopy shape using normal cutters or twig shears.
  • Using the right Bonsai maintenance tools will help greatly.
  • Prune your Bonsai regularly; it’s essential to force the tree to distribute growth more evenly and develop dense foliage.
  • Pine trees and some conifers should be pinched by hand rather than cut with scissors.
  • Using shears, scissors, or cutters to prune some of the species of conifers can lead to dead, brown foliage at the cuttings.
  • To prevent the brown foliage from cutting, hold the tip of the shoot between your thumb and index finger and then carefully pull it away. The shoot will definitely snap at its weakest point, and you will avoid dead or brown ends.

Different species need different maintenance regarding pruning and pinching; some even need both.

Another popular method of Bonsai pruning is defoliation, which usually involves removing leaves of deciduous trees.

It is generally done during the summer to force the tree to grow new leaves.

This technique is used to reduce the size of the tree’s leaves and increase ramifications.

It is advised to prune only either the shoot or the root at a time. Experts also recommend waiting at least a year for another structural pruning.

8. Aiming for Trunk Growth

Encouraging trunk growth is the best way to ensure the healthy and speedy growth of a Bonsai.

A bonsai’s trunk serves two purposes.

  • First – the trunk supports the entire tree.
  • Second – the trunk transports water and nutrients from roots to leaves and carbohydrates from foliage to roots.

The longevity of your Bonsai is ensured by the thickness of the trunk.

There are many different ways to encourage trunk growth, to name a few:

Potting the Tree on the Ground

By potting it on the ground, the roots will have plenty of room to grow, absorbing more minerals and boosting the growth of the trunk.

However, this is also very risky for several reasons:

  • Low soil quality wouldn’t have enough minerals to support the growth of the tree
  • Lack of drainage might cause the root to rot
  • The tree will also be vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Trunk Merging

This method might be too complicated for new bonsai enthusiasts, but it is the fastest way to promote trunk growth. This, too, comes with its complications.

  • This method will not work for an existing bonsai tree
  • It requires many saplings tightly bonded together with a light rope.
  • It might develop some problems that come with growing a hollow trunk bonsai.

Growing a Sacrificial Branch

Growing a sacrificial branch is another way of promoting trunk growth.

As the name suggests, a branch is left to grow around the base of the trunk.

That branch will be much larger than others, which will feed the trunk with large amounts of nutrients. The branch is later cut off, and it too might pose some problems for the Bonsai.

When the sacrificial branch is cut off, it will leave a Bonsaigly scar on the side of the trunk, which might affect the aesthetic aspect of the Bonsai.

Outdoor and Indoor Bonsai Species

Many different types of Bonsai thrive in indoor or outdoor environments.

Some require fewer external factors, while others require more. Thus the settings are favorable depending on the species.

Here are a few outdoor and indoor bonsai species.

Outdoor Bonsai SpeciesIndoor Bonsai Species
Olive Bonsai
Ficus Bonsai

Pomegranate Bonsai
Carmona Bonsai
Fuchsia Bonsai
Crassula (Jade) Bonsai
Mulberry  Bonsai
Schefflera Bonsai
Privet BonsaiSerissa Japonica (Snow Rose) Bonsai

Which is World’s Oldest Bonsai?

There are a few examples of ancient Bonsai and arguably the most popular ones.

The Ficus Retusa Linn of Italy is the oldest Bonsai, which is over a thousand years old.

Other old and popular Bonsai are:

BonsaiLocationAge (years)
Chabo-Hiba CypressesCambridge, Massachusetts, USA10-275
Sandai Shogun no MatsuTokyo, Japan500
Bonsai of Shukaken NurseryTokyo, Japan800
Juniper BonsaiOmiya, Japan1000
Fiscus Bonsai TreeParabiago, Italy1000+

Conclusion

Before committing to bonsai care, understand that it is a long road.

It will never be easy. Bonsai is an art of patience and dedication.

Growing a bonsai tree is raising and structuring life.

The most we can do for rapid bonsai growth is provide it with suitable conditions and aid its needs.

After that, the plant will grow naturally and on its own accord. We can only push it with proper support.

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