Though they are small, Bonsai trees easily outlive other animals and plants. A bonsai that is well cared for can live for hundreds of years; the longest-living bonsai has lived more than 1,000 years. Bonsais can not reach their potential for a long life, though, without proper care.
What is it about bonsais’ small size that enables them to outlive their much larger, sturdier-looking natural parents? The answer does not lie in the size, but rather in the degree of care received. Read on to learn what exactly prolongs a bonsai’s lifespan, and how living in a small pot under a person’s care benefits the tree.
How Long Do Bonsai Trees Live?
Bonsai trees have the same life span as the full-grown species they mimic. With proper care and suitable environmental conditions, bonsai trees can thrive and live for hundreds of years depending on the species. Some examples of long living bonsais are:
- The bonsai white cedar, which can live for more than 800 years
- Juniper trees, a popular tree to bonsai, which usually live from 350 to 700 years
It is no surprise that juniper bonsais typically reach this long lifespan. One of the oldest bonsais in the world, in fact, is a juniper—and it is over 1,000 years old.
Some fig trees have lived for 200 years, so likewise, the fig bonsai can reach this age with proper care. In nature, the holly tree can succeed 100 years, granting the holly bonsai a lifespan of around this age, if not longer.
Why Bonsai Trees Can Outlive Full-size Trees
Bonsai trees live in conditions that are crafted to be ideal for them. They are protected from storms, harsh winds, or otherwise harmful events that can occur in the wild. Think about a person living in the wild compared to a person living in a sheltered place complete with medical care, and you can understand why bonsais live so long.
As you can see, bonsais are dependent on people to achieve the ideal environment for them. Bonsai trees need the same conditions as a full size tree of their same species. Remember that a bonsai is literally a miniature tree, and its needs are the same as a large tree, only on a smaller scale.
So, What Trees Will Live the Longest?
In theory, you can make any tree a bonsai. But in terms of choosing a tree that is more likely to live a long life, strength and adaptability are key. See below for some trees that are known to be capable of outliving their genetically identical fully sized counterparts.
Of the evergreen variety:
Of the deciduous (non-evergreen, loses its leaves with the seasons) variety:
When you are starting out, choosing a Bonsai that is easier to care for and that matches your lifestyle will help your tree thrive. This, in turn, will allow your tree to live for many years. While there are outdoor bonsais, they require more care and a wintering season, which is when the grower limits the plant’s resources in an effort to mimic winter.
For the beginner, indoor bonsai is a great place to start. Indoor bonsais are plants that are subtropical or tropical, meaning they prefer a steadier climate throughout the year—and a climate-controlled house or apartment is perfect for that.
So, you have selected a bonsai. While every species is different and so will have unique care needs, tropical or subtropical bonsai—ones that can do well indoors—have some demands in common. In general, these trees need enough light, water, and humidity.
Because the indoor bonsai is not outside, light intensity is naturally lower, so placing your bonsai in front of a bright window is helpful. If the tree does not get enough light, it will slowly become weaker and this will make living a long, healthy life more challenging.
Bonsais will need water when their soil is dry, so monitor the soil to know when to water instead of sticking to a watering schedule. You can simply insert your finger into the soil and feel how moist it is to determine if the bonsai needs water.
Overwatering can also be harmful to bonsai trees, so you should not pour too much water either. As long as the soil is wet and moist, you do not need to worry about adding more water.
While some species are okay with the drier conditions of being indoors, often bonsais will need supplemental humidity. You can achieve this by misting the surface of the plant with water, or opening a window to allow more humid outdoor air to enter the home.
Adding a humidifier to the room where your bonsai is placed is also another option you can use to produce optimal environmental conditions. If you live in a dry region, then this is a great option since humidity is not easily accessible to your bonsai.
Too much humidity can also be problematic. If your bonsai does not cope well under humid conditions, then you should consider investing in a dehumidifier unless you have dry spaces in your home (e.g. garage, basement).
Trimming for Longevity
Trimming your bonsai is essential to maintain its health. Monitor the tree’s growth and trim any branches that are struggling or producing less healthy leaves. Trimming back less healthy branches allows the healthy ones to thrive and encourages strong new growth in the seasons to come.
Different species respond differently to trimming; some plants do well with heavier pruning, while others may have difficulty recovering from it. Research your species and watch how it responds to trimming. It is easy to twist evergreen branches to prune them, whereas with other trees scissors are more effective.
Fertilizing Your Bonsai
Because it lives in such a small pot, it is important to make sure the bonsai’s soil is healthy. A fertilizer with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium will optimize the tree’s health: Nitrogen aids stem-and-leaf growth, Phosphorus makes the roots healthy and prompts budding, and Potassium helps protect the tree from disease.
What Are Some of the Oldest Bonsais in the World?
If you pay attention to your tree and learn how to care for your bonsai, you could be rewarded with a tree that lives way longer than you. Some of the oldest bonsai in the world include:
- The Ficus Bonsai
- Old Juniper Bonsai
Check out some of these famous bonsais, which have been alive long enough to watch history pass by.
The Ficus Bonsai
On display at the Crespi Italian Bonsai museum, this bonsai is over 1,000 years old. This is the oldest bonsai tree in the world. This ficus bonsai has a winding, ornate trunk and a layered canopy.
Old Juniper Bonsai
This Juniper, at Mansei-en, Japan, has had its age tested. The results prove that it is over 1,000 years old. While this bonsai has received excellent care throughout the years, it is the same Juniper species that is recommended for beginner growers. If this Juniper can reach 1,000 years of age, with the right care yours can live for hundreds.
800 Year Old Bonsai by Kunio Kobayashi
This bonsai is estimated to be around 800 years old. Kunio Kobayashi crafted this tree, and it is on display at Shunkaen, Kobayashi’s bonsai garden. Many other of Kobayashi’s masterpieces are on display at the museum.
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With the proper care, bonsai trees can live for an extremely impressive amount of time. There are certain species that are primed to live longer than others, and some that are ideal for new growers. If you choose a tree that is right for you, then it should thrive. Though they are small, their resilience is mighty.