The art of growing bonsai isn’t a weekend habit or short-term hobby. It’s a practice that can last a lifetime, and that’s the best part! But how long until you get to enjoy the fruits of all that labor?
The question “How long does it take to grow a bonsai tree?” doesn’t have a direct answer. Some say a bonsai tree is never finished. Others argue once you’ve stunted a tree, the growing ends—and the nurturing begins.
So, what does a bonsai-growing timeline look like? Here’s what to expect!
A Bonsai Tree Timeline
Most new growers start by purchasing a mature bonsai from a nursery or inheriting one from a family member or friend. By the time a tree has been stunted enough to exhibit the “bonsai effect,” it’s likely at least five years old—but starting with an established tree isn’t cheating!
Bonsai can live for hundreds of years. So think of it as a head start that puts you a little closer to the most rewarding parts of your practice. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of work to do!
How Long Does it Take to Grow a Bonsai Tree From Scratch?
To grow a bonsai from seed or sapling, be prepared to spend between five and 10 years stunting its growth before it’s ready for more stylistic shaping and training. This process is notoriously arduous, and we recommend newer growers start with established specimens. If you’re determined to go this route, keep the following in mind:
- Plant multiple seeds, as many seeds never germinate.
- Start with a sapling native to your region to boost your likelihood of success.
- Make and keep your bonsai small with these care techniques.
What’s the Fastest Growing Bonsai Tree?
Nothing about bonsai happens in a snap, no matter which species you grow. There are, however, a few varieties that mature faster than others. Keep in mind, you’ll want a tree that grows quickly but is hardy enough to handle defoliation, structural pruning, and limited soil.
These six varieties are a good place to start:
- Weeping Willow
Remember, bonsai is a marathon, not a sprint. While you can choose a faster-growing bonsai tree, our best advice is to practice growing more patient yourself.
How Can I Make MY Bonsai Grow Faster?
Here’s the truth: There’s no magic way to make your tree grow faster.
Your tree will grow at whatever speed it pleases. The best you can do is master bonsai tree care and practice the proper techniques. With that in mind, here are a few tricks to streamline the growing process.
1. Provide Suitable Soil
Bonsai trees aren’t like other plants. Because they’re grown in shallow containers with limited space, they need specialty soil. The right potting mix will support their delicate root systems, hold moisture without becoming waterlogged, and retain nutrients through regular waterings. Conventional potting soil just won’t cut it.
2. Master Repotting & Root Trimming
Limiting root growth is an essential part of keeping your bonsai tree small. But when a tree runs out of space beneath ground and becomes root-bound, its growth can stall altogether. That’s where repotting comes in. You’ll repot your healthy, mature bonsai once every two or three years. Depending on how much your tree has grown, you’ll either trim its root system and place it back in the same container, or move it to a larger pot.
Root trimming is like getting a haircut: you trim a little off the ends to facilitate strong and healthy new growth. The process can seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually quite easy if you master a few simple techniques.
3. Provide the Right Fertilizer
All living things need nutrients to grow; trees get theirs from the soil. In nature, these nutrients are replenished by dead and decaying organic material. But a potted tree, like your bonsai, needs to be regularly fertilized.
It’s important to master your fertilizer routine: if you provide too little, your tree won’t be able to power new growth. But over-fertilizing can damage its sensitive roots and stunt its growth.
4. Use Pruning Techniques
Proper pruning techniques can help your tree photosynthesize light more efficiently and grow faster. Trim small sticks and branches near the top of the canopy to force dense growth closer to the core. This keeps your tree short and full without reducing the number of leaves with which it can capture sunlight.
Psst! Only prune your bonsai during the growing season!
How Long Will My Bonsai Live?
Your bonsai tree can easily outlive you. With the right care, a bonsai can live for hundreds of years. Some of the oldest specimens are estimated to be 1,000 years old—painstakingly cared for and passed down generation after generation.
That’s where patience comes in: You can’t rush the process, but your diligent care can be rewarded with a meaningful heirloom. Imagine descendants you’ll never live to meet tending to the bonsai you started today. It’s a pretty nice way to keep in touch!
How long does it take to grow a bonsai tree? Keep the conversation going in the comments below—we’d love to hear from you!
Bonsai With Us!
The Bonsai Resource Center is here to help you learn how to make a bonsai tree and provide you with the tools you need to keep your tree healthy and strong. Explore our other articles, visit our online shop, and connect with other bonsai lovers in our Facebook group to learn everything you need to know about this rewarding hobby!