If you are interested in the extraordinary art of bonsai trees, you are probably keen to learn all that you can about these incredible things. Bonsai trees have captured the imagination of the west, and across the globe, they are admired and loved as an amazing art form. One question that many people run into is about the bonsai lifespan. How long does a bonsai tree live for?
Bonsai trees are very long-lived, which might surprise you given what small containers they grow in, and how tiny they are. However, if they are looked after well, a bonsai tree can live as long as its full size counterpart, or possibly even longer. Some can live as much as twenty-five percent longer than their full size versions.
How Long Do Bonsai Trees Live?
Although the lifespan of any plant can vary massively according to environmental factors and the health of the individual, bonsai trees can sometimes outstrip their full size variants. Bonsai trees are not – as many people believe – short-lived as a result of their tiny size.
It is thought that the oldest bonsai in the world is around a thousand years old. Many will live to hundreds of years old, and if you can successfully care for your bonsai tree, there is no reason that it will die young.
However, it should be stressed that bonsai trees are very challenging to look after, and many will die due to poor handling or insufficient care. They need watering regularly, nutrients adding, and the proper light levels. Many people struggle to keep their bonsai trees healthy, and this will certainly affect their life expectancy.
In the hands of experts, a bonsai can live far, far longer than a human. Some are passed down through families, with each new generation taking over the care of the tree and tending to it, and then passing it to their children.
Because so much care is poured into these bonsai trees, they are often in extremely good health, and their conditions are constantly monitored to make sure they are always ideal for the tree. That extends the tree’s lifespan and – barring an accident or disease – bonsai trees will often live to be around a hundred or more.
What Determines How Long A Bonsai Will Live For?
It won’t surprise you to learn that there are a lot of factors in determining how long a bonsai can survive for. Any of these can have a huge impact on the tree’s lifespan. Let’s explore some so that you understand how the lifespan of a bonsai tree can be extended.
Factor One: General Care
As with any plant, making sure that a bonsai is well cared for in general is very important. The day-to-day conditions that your bonsai grows in will affect its longevity.
It may not matter very much if the tree goes a little thirsty once or twice, but if this starts to happen often, the tree’s health will suffer. Likewise, the tree won’t mind going hungry now and again, but if it is constantly short of nutrients, it won’t live as long.
Just like with people, the cumulative effect of daily conditions really matters to a bonsai tree. In the same way that an occasional helping of fried food won’t do any harm to a person, the odd little hiccup in a bonsai tree’s care should not matter, but the overall care needs to be superb to ensure it is kept in the best possible health.
General care includes things like watering, nutrient provision, and light levels. You need to pay attention to your bonsai tree. If it’s wilting, it needs water. If it’s getting sun-scorched, it needs relocating. If it’s not growing, it might need more food.
You may want to get a water gauge so that you can easily see when your bonsai is drying out, as watering is often one of the big challenges associated with bonsai trees. Because they are grown in shallow pots, they can dry out surprisingly fast, and you don’t want this to happen regularly.
Other tools that may help include a hygrometer, which measures the humidity. As some bonsai trees benefit from increased humidity levels, this can make it easier to ensure that the conditions are suitable.
Pay attention to how you care for your bonsai day-to-day, and remember that the little things you do to ensure its health is maintained can make a big impact.
Factor Two: Pruning
Many bonsai trees benefit from being pruned, and this will improve their overall health. A bonsai tree that is left unpruned will quickly become unruly and may start to suffer from stress if its weight gets unbalanced.
Pruning is an important part of owning a bonsai and will help to keep it healthy. The method varies a bit depending on the species, so it’s important to learn how your bonsai can be pruned and make sure you follow the guidelines that will keep it healthy.
Although it is a good idea to read detailed guides on how your specific species should be pruned, you may find the following information helpful. Bonsai trees should generally have their developing growth pruned in the winter. Old growth should be pruned in the fall.
It is important not to be too savage when pruning your bonsai. Because they have very limited access to nutrients and grow so slowly, harsh pruning could seriously damage the health of the tree, and may set its growth back significantly. Work slowly and carefully, using sterilized tools and assessing each branch thoughtfully before making any cuts.
Pruning is also an important aspect of cutting away diseased wood. If you notice any problems with your bonsai tree, you should cut the stems away and discard them to stop the disease from spreading.
Factor Three: Its Environment
One of the things that has the biggest impact on your bonsai tree’s health is the environment that surrounds it. We discussed light levels a bit under general care, but they are worth mentioning again because they are environmental as well as something that you can influence.
Growing a bonsai in the wrong conditions is likely to be disastrous. Because their root systems are very shallow, they can be sensitive to things like temperature fluctuations. And because the trees are small, they may be less resilient when something goes wrong, as they have decreased resources to fall back on.
It is really important to read up on the kind of tree that you wish to grow as a bonsai and understand whether your environment is suitable for growing it.
For example, some bonsai trees need warmth while others would not thrive in hot climates. Equally, some bonsai trees need to be grown inside while others prefer to be outdoors. Reading up about the conditions a bonsai needs before you get one is crucial to ensuring that you can provide the optimal environment that will help it to thrive.
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to the environment, but some of the major ones include:
- Light levels
- Nutrient availability
- Water availability
- Growing medium
- Container size
You can massively improve the health of your tree by maximizing your knowledge of the things that it needs and then providing these to the best of your ability. For example, your bonsai might benefit enormously from being kept in a humid room, or on a humidifying tray.
There is no single rule on what bonsai trees like, just as there is no rule about what full size trees like, so it’s important to learn as much as you can about your bonsai tree and then tailor your home to match its needs.
Doing this will maximize the lifespan and ensure that it is as healthy as it possibly can be.
Factor Four: The Species
Just as full scale trees live for varying amounts of time, bonsai trees naturally have shorter and longer lifespans. Some will live for much longer than others simply because they are long-lived trees.
It is a good idea to research how long a bonsai tree of any given variety is likely to live before you go ahead and buy (or try to grow) one. This should help guide your expectations about its life.
Some of the longest living varieties include:
- Cherry trees
- Pine trees
- Ficus trees
- Cedar trees
- Cyprus trees
- Maple trees
Of course, there is no guarantee that these trees will live for longer than other varieties if their conditions aren’t good, but assuming the environment is suitable, they have a greater chance of outliving some other tree varieties. Genetics play an important role, after all!
Factor Five: Pest Control
An important part of looking after any plant is ensuring that it is kept safe from pests. Bonsai trees can be vulnerable, just as full size trees can, and it is up to you to watch out for these. A serious pest infestation can decimate your plant.
You should familiarize yourself with the kinds of bugs that are likely to infest your species of bonsai and keep an eye out for them. Bonsai trees can be attacked by aphids, so look for any sticky spots surrounding the tree. Aphids will attack young buds and make it harder for your tree to grow.
You should always be on the lookout for abnormalities on the leaves and trunk. If you notice anything that does not look like the standard growth, do some research into what it may be. While a healthy bonsai should not be too vulnerable to pests and diseases, it’s still important to keep an eye out.
If you do find pests on your bonsai, they can be killed using neem oil or soap and water in most cases. Isolate your bonsai tree from other plants while you treat it to avoid the infection from spreading.
Insects are generally a short-term problem, but if they are allowed to repeatedly attack your bonsai, they may reduce its overall life expectancy because they will weaken the tree.
Bonsai trees can live for incredible amounts of time, and will often survive for hundreds of years. Because they grow slowly and need superb care, they tend to be healthier than their full size counterparts, and in the right hands, they can be extremely long-lived trees.