So you’ve just bought a lovely little bonsai tree, and you can’t wait to cherish it for the rest of your life! However, you’ve just realized that you don’t know how long that little buddy will live.
Is it going to wilt and perish before you? Suddenly you’re not as happy as you once were… I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t worry. So how long do bonsai trees live?
If you were to plant a tree seed today, did you know that it would outlive you? That’s a pretty scary thought but also a comforting one too. Bonsai is an amazing practice to get into – it helps develop you as a person and also your skills. Whether it’s wiring your bonsai trees and increasing your dexterity with your hands or simply waiting for the next season for the tree to kick some growth out and to train your patience – bonsai can lead to some valuable skills.
Patience is extremely valuable in the art of bonsai. If you planted a seed now, while it might outlive you, it might also take around 10-15 years to turn it into an actual bonsai! Growth can be quite slow in some trees, and it will truly take a while until you’re finally satisfied with the tree.
So how long do bonsai trees live?
The answer? It depends. Some species of trees will live a lot longer than others, while some might not last as long. I’ve compiled some perfect information for you that should give you a general gist of how long bonsai trees live.
On average, bonsai trees will live for around 100 years. Some can last even longer, ranging into multiple centuries or over one thousand years old.
The oldest bonsai tree in the world is reported to be over 1000 years old – located in Crespi, Italy. Specifically, it’s a ficus. From personal experience, a ficus is a lovely beginner’s tree which is quite easy to take care of and definitely doesn’t require as meticulous care as some species like juniper.
Ficus trees are normally kept indoors with high humidity with bright indirect light, with temperatures over 16 degrees. You can find them for relatively cheap in a lot of bonsai nurseries or even from ordinary run-of-the-mill garden centres (which can be a lot cheaper sometimes!)
Some of the longest-living bonsai trees are pines, which can live in the wild for over 500 years. For example, the oldest non-bonsai tree in the world is a Great Basin bristlecone pine which is 4,853 years old.
Although, you should note that not all species of trees are suitable for bonsai. There are a lot of trees people stick to, and that’s because they’ve been grown for centuries successfully. This includes things like maples, pines, junipers, and Chinese elms. So, just because a specific tree species lives quite long doesn’t mean that you should try and turn it into a bonsai. Or maybe you’ll revolutionize bonsai? Who knows.
Is there any way to make my trees live longer?
As I mentioned earlier, some bonsai will have shorter lifespans than others. However, there are ways you can make sure that you get the most out of that tree and ensure it lasts as long as possible.
One way to make sure your tree lives longer is water. You might think it sounds stupid, as all plants need water. However, it’s a crucial factor that a lot of people neglect. Don’t stick to a watering regime – make sure that you only water when the soil is starting to dry out slightly.
You don’t want to rot the roots, and you don’t want to deprive them of water, either! Follow this, and you’ll have a super tree for many years.
Another factor that will determine the lifespan of your tree is pruning. A lot of beginners are too scared to cut away at that tree and give it that much-deserved haircut – this can actually lead to an unhealthy tree. Bonsai trees need to be constantly pruned. However, it would be best if you let them go wild every once in a while to ensure that they’re healthy.
Pruning will also actually encourage growth in your trees. However, beware that you can encounter ‘dieback’, where the cut branch dies back to a point lower along the branch, and it could lead to you losing the branch. This can be prevented by cutting slightly higher than where you were initially cutting.
Make sure to remove dying or dead branches. Otherwise, this could contribute to diseases and pests attacking your trees. When making these cuts, ensure that you use the appropriate tools and use the right technique.
Tools like branch cutters or knob cutters are most suited to take out branches, and you can find these online. They are normally either carbon steel or stainless steel, and from personal experience, both are quite expensive.
They both boast their own advantages and disadvantages. However, if you are only getting into the hobby, it is beneficial for you to start out with carbon steel or a cheaper material.
Stainless steel tools are a lot more durable and normally sharper; however, their price point is a lot higher than carbon steel. Carbon steel tools are also very good, with a lower price point. It’s all up to the user, though.
A very important factor to keep your bonsai trees alive is the soil you use to pot them. If you’re not using good, suitable soil for them, this can negatively affect them. For example, if you had a juniper in very heavy soil which retains water very well, this wouldn’t be the best for it as junipers like to be on the dry side before watering.
You can mitigate this problem by doing a bit of research into the specific needs of the species of your tree. Some trees will prefer soil mediums such as Akadama, which is able to drain well while holding onto some water.
Akadama is very versatile and can be used for a large number of species, making it very useful. However, if you live in the UK, then prices can be quite steep due to Brexit! Other soils like pumice drain very well and are normally used for trees such as junipers.
A major factor in a tree’s lifespan is light. If your tree isn’t getting sufficient light, it won’t be able to photosynthesize as much, which will lead to it being unhealthy.
Research your specific tree and look at how much light it needs a day. A lot of outdoor species, like maples, will need around six hours per day in partial shade. Some are able to tolerate full sun, while some will get scorched quite easily if you put them out.
Think about your bonsai this way. It’s a tree that normally lives in the wild, and it’s now stuck in a small pot, normally only receiving water and nutrients from you.
Bonsai absolutely NEED fertilizing. They’re not able to get nutrients from any other place while they’re in your care, so you need to make sure that you are feeding them. This can be with organic or chemical fertilizers. However, from personal experience, I mostly use chemical fertilizers.
Not a lot of people recommend this. However, I have used organic fertilizers, and they can stay on the surface for quite a while and not decompose properly, which can reduce the amount of water getting to the roots.
Before picking up any random plant food off the shelf, you should research NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) ratios. These are the essential nutrients that your tree needs. However, you should alter the ratio throughout the seasons to make sure that you don’t encourage too much growth, which could get damaged in winter.
Pests and Diseases
Another important factor is pests and diseases, which are normally quite overlooked when caring for the tree. Pests such as aphids will suck the sap out of your tree and cause it to be unhealthy, which can lead to further problems and this will have a knock-on effect.
Diseases are also a major problem. Some diseases, such as ones that cause cankers, are untreatable (however, the tree will survive) and can cause some health issues for your tree. It would be best if you always were looking for signs of disease and pests and taking preventative measures such as spraying them with a fungicide ideally a week before putting them into cold storage.
Some common diseases include things such as powdery mildew (a fungus), which appears as a white powder on the leaves – I’ve experienced this specifically when I’ve had trees in a not very well-ventilated area for a long time, such as over the winter.
Another common disease is rust, which produces orange and brown spots on the underside of leaves. If you grow roses, you’ll most likely be quite familiar with this as well as black spot fungus.
The Best Species For A Long Life
I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the best species that last quite a while and are also interesting to work with. However, you will gradually build up your own opinion on different species and some you may enjoy working with and some you may dread!
As I mentioned before, pines are one of the most suitable trees if you’re looking for trees that have a long life. They can live for over 500 years in the wild, and they are definitely interesting to work with. Pines are a type of conifer, and instead of normal leaves, they have needles and these require different types of pruning.
If I’m being completely honest, I definitely have a bias towards azaleas. They are an absolutely beautiful species for bonsai, and they produce jaw-dropping flowers, Azaleas are grown specifically in Japan for contests. I own over 27 azaleas, and they are definitely a personal favorite of mine. They also last for hundreds of years, and I would greatly recommend gathering inspiration from pictures online.
While I may not have much experience with cypress trees, I do have quite a few friends who do. They adore their cypress trees. However, I’m not so good with them! Cypress trees are notorious for having long lifespans, they normally live for hundreds of years, given proper care. So while you may be growing a cypress right now, later it might be given as an heirloom to your children or another loved one!
Overall, bonsai trees do live for quite a while! A lot of species will live for over a hundred years, with some lasting a lot longer than that. As discussed, you are able to extend your bonsai’s lifespan with meticulous care, making sure that it’s properly cared for. Hopefully, this has answered your question about how long bonsai live!
Hopefully, you’ve begun to understand how long bonsai trees are able to live and how you can maximize their lifespan, but if you still have some questions, then these answers below might help you!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How can I save my bonsai from dying?
First, you should identify what the problem is. Yellowing leaves? Dropping leaves? Weak roots? This is going to tell you what is actually causing this issue. Problems such as dropping leaves could occur from not being watered enough or not receiving enough light. These are easily fixable.
Some problems may not be as easily solved and may require a bit of digging and research, as there can be multiple roots to a problem. However, it’s quite rare that you’ll run into a problem that no one in the world has ever experienced before, mainly due to the fact that bonsai has been around for thousands of years.
If you still don’t know, you can ask the helpful folks over at https://www.bonsainut.com. It’s a forum with hundreds of dedicated users who can answer your questions in no time at all. I’ve had a lot of personal experience on there, and they’re always helpful!
You can also find some helpful information on https://www.bonsaiempire.com, which provides good detail and is understandable.
A lot of YouTube videos are also very helpful, and I would recommend not just looking at ‘bonsai people’ – you should consider people who grow ordinary plants as they will definitely run into a lot of the same pests and diseases as you!
What’s the second oldest bonsai tree?
Interestingly, the second oldest bonsai tree is a juniper at Mansei-en in Japan, which was collected in the wild (Yamadori). It’s been tested and proven! Stamp of approval.
How do I know exactly how much water to give my tree?
I thoroughly water a bonsai for 10 seconds, leave it for a minute, and then water it for another 10 seconds. This makes sure that the soil is definitely receiving a good amount of water. You should remember that if your bonsai is in a good soil mix, then it doesn’t matter how much water you give it at one time, as it should drain quite quickly.
Overwatering is also a common problem for beginners. It would be best if you only watered your tree normally once a day unless it’s high temperatures and the soil seems to be drying out quite quickly. You could also move the tree into a partially shaded area if this is becoming too much of a problem.
What are the most suitable trees for bonsai?
There are quite a lot of suitable species for bonsai. A lot has been grown and cultivated for hundreds of years, such as maples, pines, junipers, and Azaleas. Some species will not work as they might have problems such as too large leaves, which makes them hard to work with, or they don’t respond very well to pruning.