Bonsai is an ancient Japanese art that dates back to the 6th century BCE and is characterized by growing miniature versions of a native tree in a jar, vase, pot, or platform.
Typically, this art form is a long journey, taking anywhere from 10 to 15 years to grow. Because you can generally turn any tree into a bonsai, the fastest growing bonsai are incidentally going to be the fastest-growing trees.
Each tree is environment specific, and like anything, the odds of your bonsai turning out the way you want it to depend on you giving them the favorable conditions in which to thrive.
The environment you live in will determine the best breed of tree to go with. Read on to learn more about the fastest growing bonsai species and the best way to care for them.
Fastest Growing Bonsai: Weeping Willow
The Weeping Willow is one of the most recognizable trees in the United States, with vine-like branches that droop downward. Willow trees gain their long, thin leaves in early spring and lose them in late fall. There are several things to note when deciding which tree is best:
- Speed of Growth
- Water consumption
- Root system
By choosing a tree that grows naturally fast, you are potentially cutting several years from the training process and will see it mature before other types of trees.
Speed of Growth
The speed at which Weeping Willows grow is approximately 3 to 8 feet per year but takes roughly three years to develop a sturdy root system.
Weeping Willows need a lot of water and grow best by bodies of water such as a lake, pond, or swamp. As such, the bonsai version of this tree should be watered daily if the soil is dry, but shouldn’t be too dry.
The roots on this tree can be invasive, so if you are considering it for a bonsai, once the root system is strong, it may need repotting and pruning every year to maintain a healthy root system and to prevent root rot.
As fast as the Weeping Willow grows, its lifespan is short compared to other bonsai trees. Under favorable conditions, it can last for roughly 25 years.
The Quaking Aspen may seem like just any tree in the summer when its leaves are green, but this tree provides a beautiful view in the fall with vibrant yellow leaves. These are also fairly difficult to turn into bonsai for several reasons:
- The root system is so complex, they generally entangle with other trees
- Difficult to wire due to soft, weak bark
- Low branches die off
The Quaking Aspen grows about 24 inches per year and they also like to be watered regularly and grow best in moist climates. As bonsai, Quaking Aspens tend to have a shorter lifespan than its life-sized counterpart, lasting up to 75 years. Since they grow so fast, they are a viable option to use as bonsai, but it is not widely done.
October Glory Red Maple
The October Glory Red Maple is characterized by its orange to red leaves in the late fall and grows in a rounded shape. In the wild, it can grow anywhere from 13’ to 24’ in a single year. The root system can be extensive under the right circumstances and should be pruned every other year to control it.
Like other maples, this tree is easily susceptible to scarring as the bark is delicate. As a deciduous tree, it prefers wet soil and should be watered every day, and may need to be placed in a thin tray of water in especially hot climates. The Red Maple is a popular tree to use as bonsai for a few reasons:
- Spectacular fall color
- Delicate fine twigs give a mature bonsai an elegant look
- Can adapt to most climates and are readily available in the US and Canada
The most notable advantage of growing a red maple bonsai is the tolerance of a wide range of climates. Aside from this, this bonsai is fast growing and has a beautiful appearance when grown out properly.
Dawn Redwoods are popular among bonsai enthusiasts because the tree itself was thought to be extinct. It can grow 36-126 inches in a single year and in the wild, Redwoods are known to be one of the tallest species of tree. They have relatively strong branches and a moderate root system that is simple to maintain.
Usually thriving in a warm climate, the Dawn Redwood can live to easily surpass 100 years old. These trees are not tolerant to drought and must be kept moist constantly. They should also be repotted every other year in the springtime. Because the Dawn Redwood is a naturally large tree, it should be trained for the larger style bonsai.
Fast Growing Bonsai Tree The River Birch
The River Birch is well known for its unique bark and rapid growth. In the wild, it can adapt to most climates but is often seen on river banks, hence the name. As a bonsai, it is easily trainable but must be pruned regularly. A healthy River Birch can live from 50 to 150 years but there are a few concerns when it comes to them:
- Leaf Blight
- Birch canker
As it says in the name, leaf blight affects the leaves of most species of Birch, but River birch is more susceptible due to the damp conditions in which they grow, and can decimate over half the leaves on a tree before halfway through summer. It is usually remedied by burning the affected leaves as soon as they fall to the ground.
This affects mostly young or already weak Birch trees and causes dark spots on the leaves, and sores on the limbs and bark. If left untreated, this can eat through the inner layers of the tree so be sure to provide your bonsai with plenty of moisture to prevent water or oxygen starvation. Remove all affected limbs from your tree and apply a fungicide to prevent spreading of the disease.
Rust is common with all birch trees and causes a faded yellow/red tint to form on the leaves near the stem. In the event your tree gets rust, the leaves will typically fall to the ground to prevent others from getting rust and it can be prevented by spraying the tree with liquid copper.
The last major issue you should worry about with Birch trees is dieback. Dieback is the death of branches. This is a serious issue which can affect one branch, half, or all of the tree. It is usually caused by heat damage and your tree should be sufficiently watered and partially shaded.
The Redbud Bonsai: How to Grow One Yourself at Home might be a interesting article for you!
If you are almost ready to start your bonsai journey but do not want to wait the 10-15 years it would take for most trees commonly used for bonsai to mature, starting with a fast-growing tree to practice wiring and pruning might be the best route.
While not all trees are suitable for all climates, many of the fast-growing trees easily adapt to most climates and can have simple care techniques.
Determine which tree suits the climate you live in best, then ask yourself what kind of look you are going for: delicate and elegant like the October Glory Red Maple or strong and sturdy like the Dawn Redwood.
The art of bonsai takes patience and practice as it takes years, but it may work best for you to cut a few of those years out by choosing a fast-growing tree.