If you have ever looked at purchasing a bonsai tree, you have probably wondered “why are bonsai trees so expensive?” After all, they can cost more than a large version of the same tree, and why on Earth would you be paying so much for a significantly smaller plant? However, there are a few reasons why bonsai trees cost so much.
Bonsai trees are expensive for several reasons. One is that they are considered a form of art, and any art can be very expensive to own. Another factor is that there are not many bonsai trees and supply increases slowly. A third factor is the slow speed with which bonsai trees increase in size and height. Some bonsai trees are also very tricky to successfully grow.
Why Are Bonsai Trees So Expensive?
Let’s delve into more detail to understand why these trees are such expensive things to buy, and why they are sometimes quite difficult to get hold of.
Reason One: They Are Rare
One of the major things that drive up the price of a bonsai tree is the fact that they are quite rare. Bonsai trees are not particularly common, because they can be a challenge to grow and they need quite a lot of care and attention.
Unlike many other plants, which only need a pot, some growing medium, and some water, bonsai trees must be pruned and shaped. This requires more time and attention. If they are not looked after properly, bonsai trees are likely to die.
This means that, despite their popularity, bonsai trees remain in relatively short supply. Their rarity drives up the prices, which in turn makes them seem more precious and desirable – which then drives up the prices further.
If bonsai trees were common, there is no doubt that the cost of purchasing one would be massively reduced.
Reason Two: They Grow Slowly
Part of what keeps them rare and increases their value is that bonsai trees grow very slowly, and some may gain only millimeters in a year. While many people do choose fast-growing tree varieties to bonsai, they still tend to be slow when grown in this form.
A bonsai tree has very restricted root growth and is frequently pruned back to create the desired shape. The root restriction prevents them from gathering nutrients and water as efficiently, which slows them down.
The pruning also obviously reduces their size, as they will put energy into new shoots that are then removed because they don’t fit with the desired shape of the bonsai. This energy is wasted and sets back the tree’s growth rate.
While some bonsai trees may gain more growth in a year than others, all grow slowly, and it can take upwards of a decade to produce a proper, healthy bonsai tree that has a satisfying shape. That means a lot of hours put into the tree, plus storage space, nutrients, etc.
If you look at it from a purely business perspective, bonsai trees are slow to create a monetary return and need to be kept for a long time before they will be viable products to sell.
If you look at it from an artist’s point of view, they have grown and nurtured the tree for many years, so of course, they are going to value it highly. They know how many hours it took to create such beautiful art!
The slow growth rate of bonsai trees certainly drives up the price and makes them a far more expensive product.
Reason Three: Some Are Difficult To Grow
Sometimes, part of the price tag will reflect how difficult that particular species is to grow in bonsai form. Different trees can vary massively in how readily they will grow as bonsai trees, and if you want a rare and challenging variety, you are going to pay a lot more for it.
Because so many of these trees end up dying because they are so challenging to care for in their miniaturized form, the value of those that survive is significantly higher, and you will find that they cost far more than the common options.
Trees such as hickory and money trees are extremely challenging to turn into bonsai trees. Anything that has a large taproot and large leaves will be difficult, and if the tree is keen to back bud when pruned, it will be even worse.
If you are interested in growing a bonsai tree yourself, you should certainly choose a variety that is known for being easy, such as a ficus. If you are buying a bonsai, it is also a good idea to choose a variety that is easy unless you are already experienced.
Some bonsai trees need an immense amount of care even once they are established, and you don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars only to find that you can’t look after it well and it dies!
Reason Four: The Container
It might sound odd to suggest that the pot could make a big difference to the price. After all, how much can a flower pot cost?
However, bonsai pots are often handmade and have been very specifically selected to suit the tree that is being grown. They need to be shallow enough to restrict root growth, and they have to suit the aesthetic that the artist is aiming for.
The container is probably not the biggest cost in the price of a bonsai tree, but it will certainly increase the overall value, especially if the container has been handmade or cost a lot initially. It makes a big difference to the aesthetic, and it matters more than you might think.
Reason Five: Labor Hours
This has already been hinted at in the previous sections, but it is worth mentioning as a separate category because it is significant. Growing a bonsai tree takes a lot of labor. Any plant will take up some of your time, in that you need to water it, feed it, and make sure it has the right light levels.
However, a bonsai takes up considerably more time because it needs to be constantly checked on and pruned, and guided into shape. Artists may spend hours deciding on the best way to guide a branch, and still more hours on actually doing so.
The trees must be handled gently and carefully, and a beautiful bonsai specimen has thousands of unseen labor hours poured into it.
Reason Six: The Experience Needed
Bonsai trees – as you have probably realized – are not easy to grow. Some people train for life to become true artists, and without experience, it is very easy to accidentally kill a bonsai tree. Shaping and training and caring for them are all challenges that require experience to understand.
When you buy a bonsai tree, you are paying for the experience that someone has. Like paying a plumber so that the pipework in your house will be constructed properly, you are acknowledging the skill required to create bonsai trees.
It is not just about the hours put into the tree; it is about the experience needed to become a bonsai artist, and this can’t come cheap.
Reason Seven: Transporting Them Costs
A hidden cost in many bonsai trees is how much it takes to transport them. In general, the most beautiful bonsai trees will come from Indonesia, Thailand, China, or Japan. That means they have to be shipped across the globe, and if you have ever tried to post a plant, you will appreciate that this is not easy.
Bonsai trees must be packed extremely carefully so that there is no risk of them being damaged in transit (which would also increase the costs associated with the trees) and they need to be shipped quickly to minimize the disruption and the changing conditions.
Remember, plants are susceptible to light and temperature changes, so the more time they spend in transit and moving from place to place, the greater the risk of them dying becomes. That means exporters need to pay for fast, reliable, and safe shipping, and that is not cheap.
Of course, bonsai trees also can’t easily be stacked, and need to be handled with care. They take up a lot of space in nurseries and garden centers, and all in all, they are not a cheap product to move around.
Even if you buy a locally produced bonsai, you are looking at significant transportation costs, because the pots, display tables, and tools are often shipped internationally.
The best quality items still come from the same places that the bonsai tradition originated from, so a US producer will have high transport costs associated even if they grow their trees locally.
Astonishingly, transport costs may account for around three quarters of the bonsai tree’s cost in some cases. That might sound high, but when you think about the logistics of shipping rare, valuable, and delicate trees around the world, it makes sense.
Reason Eight: They Are Art
Many bonsai trees are valued purely because they are an expression of creativity and, like any kind of art, they carry a very high price tag as a result. While the amount of time and effort that a bonsai needs certainly is reflected in the final price, a bonsai is more than just the hours that have been poured into it.
To many people, the bonsai trees that they create are expressions of themselves. Bonsai trees come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, and each one is completely unique.
You can buy bonsai trees that are wild and domineering, with dead wood and imposing twists. You can buy bonsai trees that are thin and elegant, covered with flowers. You can buy bonsai trees that look young and twiggy and bonsai trees that are old and gnarled.
They are valuable because they are an art form, and a lot of art is highly prized by today’s world. The final price tag of a bonsai is often based on the perceived value that we place on it, rather than on a worth that can be described in terms of logic and rationality.
Bonsai trees are expensive for many reasons, but the fact that they are a piece of art is probably one of the biggest. If you took this away, there would still be significant costs in the hours and dedication, and skill needed to grow one of these, but you probably wouldn’t see trees fetching close to a million dollars!
Bonsai trees are extremely beautiful and are steeped in culture and history. They tap into the human love for miniaturization, and they are an extraordinary concept.