Bonsai Longevity

The Japanese art of Bonsai uses careful and masterful pruning and care techniques to create a miniature, yet naturally realistic plant. Contrary to popular belief, Bonsai trees are not a particular species of dwarf tree or plant. In fact, any species of tree can be grown and trained to become a Bonsai. It takes skill and discipline to achieve and ideal shape and form. Simply planting a tree in a small pot and letting it grow with occasional pruning would not result in an aesthetically pleasing plant. Each branch, root, twig must be constantly trimmed and guided with precision to develop the desired image.

Life Expectancy Of The Bonsai Tree

The Sandai-Shogun-no-matsu in the Tokyo Palace collection in Japan is a white pine Bonsai believed to be over 500 years old and is the oldest known specimen of Bonsai in the world. In general, a Bonsai tree can be expected to have the same lifespan of other trees of its species with optimum environment and care. It is very difficult to determine the age of a Bonsai tree by sight. Trees are often pruned to mimic the look of ancient trees with twisted branches and contorted trunks. A tree aged just a few years may achieve the look of a miniature version of a wild tree hundreds of years old. It is certainly possible to have a Bonsai tree pass from generation to generation.

Unlike their wild relatives left alone in the forests, Bonsai trees must be carefully maintained in order to survive. The biggest factor in the longevity of a Bonsai tree is the care it receives. A tree that is poorly nurtured will wither and die quickly and if it does live, it may be weak and scrawny. Keeping the tree in the proper environmental conditions and ensuring it remains disease and insect free can ensure is key to longevity. Like any plant proper soil and fertilizer must be used as well as replanting the entire tree if necessary. The small stature of a Bonsai tree does not mean that it must have a small lifespan if it is cared for properly.

Proper Care

Environment is key to a healthy Bonsai. Depending on the variety of tree, it may thrive outdoors or indoors. Outdoor species require a season of cold weather and become dormant. Outdoor Bonsai are likely to die if kept indoors for an extended period of time. During milder seasons such as spring and summer an outdoor Bonsai may be brought indoors for up to a week. An indoor Bonsai tree must be kept at temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees. In milder months they may be kept outside, but extreme cold will cause it to die and must be kept indoors.

As with other plants proper watering is an important consideration. Soil moisture should be monitored closely to ensure it is not over or under watered. In summer months when it is hot the tree will need to be watered frequently, less frequently in the winter or rainy months.

Though many Bonsai enthusiasts chose to create their own soil mix, a store-bought potting mix can also be used. Bonsai specific soil mixes are available. The main difference from a Bonsai mix and other potting soil mixes is the reduced amount of fertilizer.

Fertilizer is often used for plants the grower wishes to become full and lush. Bonsai plants require fertilizer for optimum health as well. To ensure proper growth, a fertilizer containing Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium must be given to the plant at the right time of year. Nitrogen enhances the growth of stems and leaves. Phosphorus ensures healthy roots and encourages budding. Potassium helps protect against disease and encourages flowering. Fertilize the Bonsai throughout spring and summer with a balanced mix and switch to a fertilizer lacking in nitrogen in the fall in preparation for winter.

Trimming For Optimal Lifespan

A Bonsai tree, like any plant, has a regular growth cycle. Though the Bonsai does appear to be stunted, this does not mean it has ceased in growth. Proper trimming of a Bonsai tree is the key to maintaining its miniature stature while keeping it healthy for a long life.

Depending on the plant, it may respond well to pruning or struggle to recover from an intense trimming. Typically new growth can be trimmed in the Spring and old growth should be pruned in the Fall. Conifer trees such as pine or cedar can be pruned with the fingers using a twisting motion. This produces a more natural look for these varieties than using scissors. Deciduous trees fare better with scissor pruning.

Trimming sick or diseased leaves and branches can increase the health of the tree. Monitoring the plant’s growth carefully to be able to determine which branches produce healthy leaves and which are struggling to survive. Pruning the unhealthy branches can allow the rest of the plant to flourish and encourage healthy branches to grow the next season.

Once the desired branches and leaves have been trimmed, a sealant should be applied to the cut branches. A wax sealant is best for a conifer tree, while a tar-based paint is best for deciduous varieties.

Ideal Plants For Bonsai

In theory, any plant can be trained to be a Bonsai. When choosing a plant for longevity, it is best to select a variety that is known for its adaptability and strength. Depending on the aesthetics and style either deciduous or evergreen trees can be used. Consideration should also be taken based on the skill level of the grower.

Preferred evergreen plants:

  • Pine
  • Pomegranate
  • Holly
  • Fig
  • Azalea
  • Cypress
  • Cedar

Preferred deciduous plants:

  • Maple
  • Beech
  • Cherry

These plants have been used to create beautiful Bonsai plants throughout history and many are known to be able to live beyond the lifespan of their wild counterparts. Ensuring the plant is well cared for and free of stress and disease can help the Bonsai not only outlive its natural lifespan, but possibly survive and even thrive for several human generations as well.