Bonsai trees are a meditative art perfected by centuries of Japanese culture. Once introduced to the rest of the world, it’s become a famous undertaking for gardeners everywhere. Therefore, when most of us think of a bonsai, we think of a little tree in a tiny bowl you can hold in your hands. But, bonsais can come in a range of impressive sizes.
So, how big do bonsai trees get? Bonsais encompass a gamut of sizes that start as small as one inch and can grow to a size of up to 80 inches. In fact, there are several size classifications, which set each apart in its own distinct character.
Can Bonsai Trees Grow Big?
Regardless of the diminutive size characteristic of most bonsai trees, they can reach a height of 60 to 80 inches. But this is only after hundreds of years of care by dedicated gardeners. Such large bonsais require the care of many people at once.
However, there is a bit of a debate on how big a tree can grow and still classify as a bonsai. This is because the word bonsai translates to something like “tree planted tray.” Its name inherently infers its miniature status. So, some people say that a tree larger than what one person can handle is no longer a bonsai.
What Makes a Bonsai Tree Grow Big?
Many factors go into growing a big bonsai tree. Repotting, sunlight, water, fertilizer, pruning, pest/disease management, and soil are the main ones. However, the most important of all these are patience and intuition.
In order to have a big bonsai, repotting is crucial. It’s often better to do repotting in spring when buds begin bulging. By allowing the roots to spread out in a larger container, that growth will show in the tree’s larger size.
Some gardeners will put their bonsai outside in the ground for a few seasons. This helps stimulate root growth and proliferation when it goes back into a pot. The more roots there are, the bigger and more robust the bonsai will be.
Sunlight, Water & Fertilizer
While the conditions of sunlight, water, and fertilizer will rely on the specific species of the tree, there is a delicate balance to grow a big bonsai. Generally, though, most bonsais require plenty of bright, direct sunlight for an average of six hours a day. This also means watering the tree often and administering fertilizer when required.
One of the most fragile elements of caring for a bonsai is how you prune it. Defoliation, or removing leaves, and ramification, or cutting away branches, puts energy back into the roots of a bonsai tree. This means it will grow back faster and larger as it matures. But, if you prune at the wrong stage, it can actually kill the bonsai.
It is imperative that bonsai caretakers have an almost compulsive obsessive disorder about monitoring the bonsai for pests, diseases, and cultural problems. If any issues go unchecked, it can spell disaster for the tree. This means treating white spots and avoiding root rot and other such issues.
A bonsai’s soil is very important. It shouldn’t have too much affluence yet should hold enough water to keep the roots nourished. Most species will require soil similar to ones used for cacti or Mediterranean plants, like rosemary and lavender. So, it should have plenty of nutrients but also be soft and spongy yet loamy and absorbent.
Patience & Intuition
It can take 10 to 15 years to grow an imperial-sized bonsai from a sapling. But, if done completely from seed, it can take as long as 30 to 40 years. In either case, a good bonsai artisan has the patience of a saint. They don’t act prematurely and always wait for the right moment.
Combine this with an intuitive connection to the tree, and a master gardener is able to provide what the plant needs at the perfect time without fail or mistake. Because this is a meditative practice connected to Buddhism, it’s a discipline with the forces and mystery of nature.
What Are Bonsai Size Classifications?
The art of caring for a bonsai tree has three classifications, each with its own type: small, medium, and large. These types have names and nicknames, which characterize the size and denote how many people are necessary to care for the plant.
The small set indicates the tiniest sizes for bonsai trees. The least of these is keshitsubo, otherwise known as “poppy seed size.” These range from one to three inches and are some of the most adorable to view. The next size up is shito or fingertip size. These range between two to four inches tall and have a more realistic look than its mother tree.
Mame overlaps in size classification with both shito and shoshin. This is because mame, or “palm-size,” is more about the ability to hold it in the palm of your hand rather than an exact measurement. Shoshin, called one-handed, means you can hold it with one hand. So, a mame can be two to six inches tall.
Shoshin ranges in height between five and eight inches. The largest type of bonsai among the small classification is komono. Also known as one-handed, these can tower six to 10 inches.
- Keshitsubo (Poppy Seed): one to three inches
- Shito (Fingertip): two to four inches
- Mame (Palm): two to six inches
- Shoshin (One-handed): five to eight inches
- Komono (One-handed): six to 10 inches
The medium range of bonsai trees has only three types: katade-mochi, chumono, and chiu. The shortest of these is katade-mochi, with the nickname “one-handed,” just like shoshin and komono. It’s 10 to 18 inches tall.
Both chumono and chiu have the same nickname, two-handed. This means you must hold and care for the plant with two hands. Plus, they have the same height range of 16 to 36 inches. No one knows for sure what the difference is, but many indicate they are interchangeable.
- Katade-mochi (One-handed): 10 to 18 inches
- Chumono (Two-handed): 16 to 36 inches
- Chiu (Two-handed): 16 to 36 inches
Large bonsais can be quite massive, and some people consider them too large to be an actual bonsai. However, there are undeniable bonsais still in existence after hundreds of years, which are quite large. Regardless, large bonsais require two or more people for handling and caretaking.
The smallest of the large bonsais is both omono and dai, which stand between 30 inches and 48 inches tall. These are interchangeable since they both have the same moniker, “four-handed.” The next size up is hachi-uye, known as six-handed. Indeed, you would need at least three people to handle this towering tree at 40 to 60 inches.
But the grandest and biggest type of bonsai tree is the imperial size. These are 60 to 80 inches tall. It has the nickname “eight-handed” because at least four people are necessary to handle and care for the tree.
- Omono (Four-handed): 30 to 48 inches
- Dai (Four-handed): 30 to 48 inches
- Hachi-uye (Six-handed): 40 to 60 inches
- Imperial (Eight-handed): 60 to 80 inches
The table below lists all classifications and their varying types. You will also see their nickname, tree size, and the Japanese word for the type. Understanding what the words mean gives a deeper understanding into the name of the size.
|Classification||Nickname||Size Range||Japanese Script|
|Imperial||Eight-handed||60 to 89 inches (5 to 7½ feet or 152 to 203 centimeters)||宮 (Called futsuumeishi)|
|Hachi-Uye||Six-Handed||40 to 60 inches (3⅓ to 5 feet or 102 to 152 centimeters)||鉢植え (another word for “potted plant”)|
|Dai||Four-Handed||30 to 48 inches (2½ to 4 feet or 76 to 122 centimeters)||台 (means “stand,” “reign” or “generation”)|
|Omono||Four-Handed||30 to 48 inches (2½ to 4 feet or 76 to 122 centimeters)||王物 (translates to “royalty” or “king”)|
|Chiu||Two-Handed||16 to 36 inches (1⅓ to 3 feet or 41 to 91 centimeters)||亨子 亨 (means “lead” and is a girl’s name)|
|Chumono||Two-Handed||16 to 36 inches (1⅓ to 3 feet or 41 to 91 centimeters)||Unknown|
|Katade-mochi||One-Handed||10 to 18 inches (¾ to 1½ feet or 25 to 46 centimeters)||Unknown|
|Komono||One-Handed||6 inches to 10 inches (½ to ¾ of a foot or 15 to 25 cm)||こもの (roughly translates to “small trinket” or “this thing”)|
|Shoshin||One-Handed||5 to 8 inches (or 13 to 20 cm)||初心 (Zen Buddhist word for “beginner’s mind”)|
|Mame||Palm Size||2 to 6 inches (or 5 to 15 cm)||まめ (translates literally to “blister,” “diligent” or “honest)|
|Shito||Fingertip Size||2 to 4 inches (or 5 to 10 cm)||使徒 (translates literally to “apostle”)|
|Keshitsubo||Poppy Seed Size||1 to 3 inches (or 3 to 8 cm)||消し壺 (translates literally to “erasing jar”)|
What Is The Most Common Size for a Bonsai?
The most common size for a bonsai is typically the small or medium classifications. However, mame and shoshin tend to be the most popular types. They are easy to care for and the quickest to achieve, which are very desirable among newcomers.
How to Care for a Big Bonsai?
Massive bonsais are quite the challenge to care for. There’s a lot of work, and they don’t nearly have the same flexibility as small or medium-sized ones. Pruning becomes a little difficult and the design of it is far more complex. This is why most big bonsais require at least two people.
Best Grown Outdoors
Because they’re big, they’re also heavy and incredibly difficult to move. Therefore, these are best for outdoor growing or in their own shelter where it stays in the same spot. This is why some people will actually plant it in the ground.
Adequate Environmental Conditions
Whether in a pot or the ground, you have to ensure it gets adequate sunlight along with a soil composition it loves. This means drainage will be a top priority, along with nutrients and the soil’s components. So, if you’re just starting out and wish to grow a large bonsai, ensure the soil in your yard is equal to the environment you have in the container.
Bonsais must also have plenty of moisture. Bigger roots mean a lot of water, especially on hot and dry days. An automated watering system is ideal for guaranteeing this. Plus, you can control the conditions as is necessary according to the season.
Depending on the type of bonsai you have and its species, you will have to administer fertilizer on occasion. If you do this too much, you can make the tree suffer, and if you don’t do it at all, it will stunt the tree’s growth. So, it’s a delicate balance.
Pests & Diseases
Then there’s the matter of pests, diseases, and cultural problems. It’s not a question of if these will pop up, but when. Bonsais can succumb to white flies, spider mites, scales, aphids, fungal diseases, bacterial infections, and root rot.
Even if you tackle the infestation before it becomes a real problem, it still has the potential to stunt the tree’s growth. This is why many bonsai gardeners have an almost paranoid overprotective nature about pests when it comes to their trees.
How Much Does a Bonsai Tree Grow in One Year?
How much a bonsai tree grows in one year will heavily rely on the tree’s species. Therefore, it can range from two inches to as much as 36 inches. For instance, Jade grows a maximum of five inches annually, while a Chinese Elm can grow as much as 36 inches.
The largest a bonsai can be and still classify as a bonsai is 80 inches tall or imperial size. In order for it to get this big, a lot of love, care, and patience must go into it. This includes providing enough room for the roots to grow while also giving the tree the soil, light, water, fertilizer, and pruning as needed.