Bonsai trees are one of the most beautiful and intriguing plants to style your home with.
These small trees have been cultivated for more than 1,000 years, and cultivating bonsai trees has become its own art.
With their unique appearance and rich history, bonsai trees have garnered an image of being difficult to grow and maintain.
That’s why we’re here to clear up the misconceptions and prove that with a little care and effort, anyone can grow their own beautiful bonsai tree.
If you’re interested in growing and cultivating a bonsai tree, then this is the article for you. Here we’ll guide you through what a bonsai tree is, how to grow a bonsai tree, and how to give it the nurture and care it needs.
We’ve also included a handy FAQ section to answer some common questions that you might have.
Ready? Then let’s get started!
What Is A Bonsai Tree?
First things first: what even is a bonsai tree, exactly? As it turns out, it’s a little tricky to answer.
Contrary to popular belief, bonsai aren’t a specific species of tiny tree. Bonsai actually refers to a style of cultivation, where plants, shrubs, and trees are grown in small pots.
These are cultivated and pruned in a way that gives them the appearance of a small tree, and are typically more visually appealing than they would be in the wild.
Practically any tree can be turned into a bonsai, as long as they are properly grown in a pot. In fact, the word ‘bonsai’ translates to ‘potted plant’!
Bonsai get their unusual size through the ways they are cultivated and pruned. Bonsai trees are pot-confined – this means that they are grown in a pot, which restricts the size they can grow to.
On top of being confined to a pot, bonsai also undergo root reduction to further limit their size and make sure there is enough soil and nutrients to sustain the tree.
Another important part of cultivating a bonsai tree is proper pruning. In order for the bonsai to stay healthy and maintain its aesthetically-pleasing appearance, it needs to be pruned.
This doesn’t just help keep the bonsai looking good; removing excess foliage and new branches helps prevent the bonsai from growing too large, running out of nutrients, or collapsing in the pot.
Pruning should only be done during certain parts of the year, as the tree will need some time to recover from the process.
With all these factors taken into consideration, you can see that bonsai trees are very different from regular trees.
They require special attention and care to cultivate and look great. With that aside though, cultivating a bonsai tree is a lot simpler than it might seem.
A well-maintained bonsai tree can live for more than 100 years, so with some proper nourishment, your bonsai will be a lovely addition to your home for many years to come!
How To Grow Your Own Bonsai Tree
So now that you know what a bonsai tree is, it’s time to start growing your own. This step-by-step guide will take you through everything you need to know, from seed to sapling.
Pick Your Plant
As mentioned before, pretty much any variety of tree or shrub can be turned into a bonsai. It’s important to pick the right type of bonsai for you.
Because bonsai cover a range of many different species, some bonsais are much harder to grow than others.
In addition to the time it takes to grow, bonsai trees can vary dramatically in terms of the attention they need, the conditions they require, and how you need to prune them.
Fortunately, there are also plenty of beginner-friendly types of bonsai that are as easy to grow as they are beautiful.
Some simple bonsai that are great options for newbies include: juniper, Chinese elm, and the ficus bonsai.
All of these trees are easy enough for anyone to grow as long as they are willing to put some effort in, with fast-growing times and less maintenance.
Planting Your Bonsai
Once you’ve picked your plant, it’s time to plant it. The easiest way to do this is to get a bonsai kit online with a ready-to-plant bonsai, but this is an expensive option.
You can easily save yourself a fair amount by starting out with a regular nursery or pre-bonsai tree and growing your bonsai from there.
You can also use saplings from out in nature, although you need to be careful with which trees you uproot – you never know whose tree you’re digging up, so make sure you ask permission beforehand or stick to trees from your own property.
And if you want an even cheaper (but much longer) process, you can start from scratch by growing the tree from a seed.
Just be warned that this will take a lot of time – the tree can take between 3-5 years before you’re even able to start cultivating it into a bonsai.
Plant your tree or shrub in the same type of soil that it would use in the wild; the only difference is that you need to plant it in a pot.
The size of the pot varies from plant to plant, but the general rule of thumb is: the pot should be at least 1/3 of the tree’s height in diameter, and as tall as the diameter of the trunk at its thickest point.
Square or rectangular pots should have a length approximately equal to 2/3 of the tree’s height.
The reason that bonsai pots are shallow is to restrict the growth of their roots. If left unchecked, the roots of the bonsai would grow too large for the tree and leave it struggling to sustain itself.
Cultivation And Maintenance
The story doesn’t stop when your bonsai has been planted – you still need to learn how to look after your tree.
Cultivating your bonsai is key to keeping it healthy and flourishing, and you have to give it the proper nourishment to maintain its beautiful appearance.
While minor details about your bonsai’s cultivation may vary between species, the same rules apply for the most part.
You should water your bonsai at least once a week, and more regularly if the topsoil has dried out.
Be careful not to overwater your bonsai; due to the shallow pot and small root system, it can be easy to give your bonsai too much water.
You’ll know when you’ve given your bonsai enough water when you can see air bubbles rising to the surface of the soil.
Keep the bonsai in a bright place with plenty of sunlight. Avoid anywhere too hot or too cold, and check beforehand if there are any specific instructions for your variety of bonsai.
Pruning Your Bonsai Tree
As mentioned earlier, pruning is one of the most important processes for your bonsai tree. There are two types of pruning when it comes to bonsai: aesthetic pruning and structural pruning.
Aesthetic pruning involves tidying up leaves and stray branches to keep your bonsai looking pristine and elegant.
You can do this year-round, and it’s recommended to perform an aesthetic prune at least once every 1-2 months to remove dying or dead leaves, trim any small branches, and sculpt your bonsai into a work of art.
Structural pruning is a much more important task, and is where you perform a more thorough pruning of leaves and branches to maintain its integrity and health along with its appearance.
This includes removing excess twigs and branches to clear up the architecture of the bonsai, trimming and shaping the canopy of leaves, and spacing the bonsai out to avoid it looking cluttered and becoming unbalanced.
The best time to do this is spring, when the wounds to the tree will have the easiest time healing
Bonsai trees also need their roots trimmed to avoid them outgrowing their pot. This should be done every 1-2 years, although the times can vary based on the type of plant, the pot size, and its environment.
The roots should be trimmed by a maximum of 40% at a time, unless your bonsai is visibly struggling.
To do this, remove the tree from its pot and use a saw to trim down the amount of root on the tree. Replace the tree in its pot and continue to maintain it as normal.
Root reduction is best done during the winter, when the tree is lying ‘dormant’ and will recover quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take To Grow A Bonsai Tree?
Growing a bonsai tree is a long process that requires a lot of patience. As mentioned earlier, if you’re starting out with seeds then it will take around 3-5 years for the tree to even be suitable for planting as a bonsai.
Additionally, growing the bonsai itself takes several years, with the average bonsai tree taking between 10 and 15 years to reach maturity.
This is a lot shorter than regular trees, however, and some varieties of bonsai will grow much faster than that.
How Long Will A Bonsai Tree Live?
A well-maintained and healthy bonsai tree can easily live to over 100 years old. This varies based on the variety, of course, but giving your bonsai tree adequate care and proper maintenance will ensure it stays happy and healthy for years to come.
There are some bonsais that live much longer than that. In fact, the oldest bonsai tree in the world is over 400 years old!
What Are The Best Bonsai Trees For Hot And Cold Climates?
Climate matters when it comes to caring for your bonsai, and keeping it in the wrong conditions is a recipe for disaster.
Like any plants, some bonsais do better in the heat while others fare best in the cold.
Warmer climates are the perfect environment for tropical bonsai. These are trees and shrubs that enjoy warm temperatures and lots of sunlight, including olive, ficus, and most fruit tree varieties.
Meanwhile, other bonsai mimic their regularly-sized counterparts and are built to withstand much colder temperatures. These include pine, maple, and spruce, all of which are found in colder climates.
So there you have it – everything you need to know about growing and looking after a bonsai tree!
We hope this guide has convinced you that anyone can grow a bonsai, and maybe even persuaded you to get your own.
Bonsai trees are a beautiful addition to any home, patio, or garden, and are the perfect choice for anyone looking to grow a gorgeous and unique tree without the luxury of a massive yard.
So if you’re interested in growing a bonsai tree yourself, just follow these simple steps and you’ll soon have your very own bonsai tree!