Bonsai trees are a remarkable feat of humanity. Most commonly associated with Japanese culture, it’s the art of taking an actual rooted piece of a current fully living tree and keeping it small. The trick is in how a gardener chooses to cultivate and care for the bonsai.
Of course, it’s natural to wonder about how long do bonsai trees live. In fact, these little arboretums can live for well over 1,000 years so long as it receives continuous and meticulous love and care. This includes pruning, fertilizing, watering, and sufficient sunlight.
But, it’s important to understand these trees can be somewhat difficult to keep alive. This is because any mistake or dereliction of duty can cause the tree to die. Death can result from anything like root rot, pest infestations, or fungal infections.
What Is the Life Expectancy of a Bonsai Tree?
The amount of time you can expect a bonsai tree to live will entirely depend on the species of tree and the meticulous care it receives. There is a common misconception that because bonsais are smaller, they don’t live for nearly as long. This simply isn’t true. Therefore, a bonsai can live for hundreds of years.
In other words, they live for the same amount of time as their “mother tree” does, if not much longer. In fact, some studies show how they can outlast their larger counterparts by 25%. Therefore, it’s important to study the species of tree in question.
How Long Do Indoor Bonsai Trees Live?
Whether grown indoors or outdoors, bonsais can live for centuries with the right care and conditions. There really isn’t a time frame linked with these trees. Ergo, the responsibility of expectancy lies in the hands of the caretaker.
However, a few things will ensure its brevity. For instance, if the tree experiences disease or a horrible pest infestation, this will result in an early grave. Likewise, putting a bonsai grown indoors in outdoor conditions will guarantee a shortened life expectancy.
Factors Affecting How Long a Bonsai Will Live
There are several variables in determining the lifespan of a bonsai tree. The first of these is the species of tree, and this will dictate the soil, sunlight, water, airflow, and other environmental conditions it requires. Plus, there’s the added task of precise pruning and the delicate balance of fertilizing versus not fertilizing.
The species of the tree used as a bonsai is the starring factor in how long it will live. For instance, there are bonsai trees today that are 160 to as much well over thousands of years old. There are cypresses, figs, and a variety of evergreens, such as red pine and juniper. You can make bonsais out of azaleas, pomegranates, apples, and pears.
The growing conditions for the particular tree in question will rely on what it requires to survive. For instance, cypress requires more humidity than fig, pine, or juniper. Likewise, apples and pears require a more nutrient-rich soil than pomegranates, which need soil well-draining and loamy.
The design of normal trees lends itself to being able to withstand things like harsh sun and extreme cold. Bonsais are much different in this regard. In fact, it tends to be one of the major factors contributing to an early death. This is because most people grow bonsais, not from their immediate environment.
Aside from climate, the tree must maintain a specific temperature range throughout the year and depending on the season. This will be particularly true of indoor ones, which must stay under a range of 104°F to 140°F (40°C to 60°C). So, while it cannot live outdoors, they must still have the experience season changes.
Outdoor bonsais are the general exception. While these should go into a large container, they shouldn’t come into the house during the cold winter months. If they have to come inside, then they will have to sit in your garage, but you must protect it from sudden freezes and drafts. Otherwise, the basement, a shed, or other solid structure will be necessary.
Are Bonsai Trees Hard To Keep Alive?
Caring for a bonsai tree is not an easy task at first. Dedication, patience, timing, and a keen eye for detail will all be necessary to ensure it lives for as long as possible. In fact, very few people have luck with their first attempt at a bonsai tree. But, it does provide a great challenge and, with practice, anyone can do it – even children.
What Is The Oldest Bonsai Tree In The World?
The oldest bonsai tree in the world is a fig sitting in the Crespi Bonsai Museum in Parabiago, Italy. It’s well over 1,000 years old. Legend has it that it once belonged to an ancient Chinese Buddhist master who then passed it on to Shotaro Kawahara, a Japanese Zen master.
It came into the possession of Luigi Crespo in 1986 after a 10-year battle for it. Since then, the tree sits on a beautiful glass pagoda outside the museum.
Other Old Bonsais to Note
However, Japan has the most enduring and interesting bonsais due to its history and longevity. The second oldest bonsai is a 1,000-year-old juniper living in Omiya, Japan. A 600-year-old one resides in Atami.
In Tokyo, there’s a bonsai nursery with several trees that are well over 800 years old and a 500-year-old five-needle pine named after Shogun Iemitsu, a great samurai warrior. But the White Pine bonsai in Hiroshima is one of the most historic since it survived the nuclear bombing during WWII. It still stands today in Washington, DC.
How to Make Bonsai Trees Live Longer
There are several components to keep in mind when you want to make a bonsai tree live as long as possible. These include the usual things like water, fertilizer, and sunlight. However, other factors are important as well, such as pruning, repotting, pest management, and developing an empathetic bond with the tree.
The Mother Tree
The first tip to ensuring a bonsai tree lives for a long time is to select a species or variety known to have a lengthy lifespan. So, a little background research will go a long way before you get started. Then there’s the matter of original habitat versus the environment you are going to provide.
For instance, a fig tree is native to the Mediterranean. Therefore, it needs tons of sunlight with dry, loamy, and sandy soil. If you live in places like North Dakota, Minnesota, or Maine, then you are going to have to work extra diligently to ensure it doesn’t succumb to frost or cold drafts.
Water, Fertilizer & Sunlight
Because you want to keep the tree short and diminutive, water, fertilizer, and sunlight will be imperative. But not in the same way as you would care for a normal plant or tree. This means removing fertilizer yet keeping the soil nutritious enough for the species.
Likewise, spraying water on the soil rather than a direct pour is advisable. Not only does it help keep pests away but also other diseases such as root rot. Depending on how much a tree requires sunlight, you may want to change up the conditions in such a way as to stunt its growth.
Pruning & Care
Because you aren’t growing a genetic miniature, your bonsai will require lots of care and meticulous fussing. This means consistent pruning with Satsuki shears, repotting, and pest maintenance, along with techniques that incorporate wiring and grafting. All of these sculpt and shape the tree over time.
Location, Location, Location
Another important tip to ensuring a bonsai tree’s longevity is its location. Bonsai trees begun indoors must stay indoors,i and ones started outside must stay outside. The only exception is if you must save the outdoor bonsai from the cold.
It may sound strange and hokey, but it’s imperative you develop an empathetic bond with the bonsai. Because this is a Buddhist practice, intuition with the tree is a meditative technique that will help ensure the plant’s success. It will allow you to know when to water and when not to, when to repot and when to leave it.
Do Bonsai Trees Die Easily?
A bonsai tree can die as easily as any other plant when not given the right growing conditions. However, because of its truncated stature, you must check it every day for things like pests, fungus, and bacteria. You will have to inspect everything with a fine-toothed comb because even the smallest infraction can cause the tree to die.
Bonsais can be a difficult yet thoroughly rewarding challenge. When given what it needs to thrive, it has the potential to live for thousands of years. This requires a keen eye for detail and a willingness to be “picky” about its maintenance. Therefore, you have to be judicious with sunlight exposure, watering, fertilizer, pruning, and other such things.