People often say that if you want to test your patience and mental fortitude, grow a bonsai tree.
It’s true that bonsai trees are known for their slow growth rate, but is it really a test of patience?
Bonsai growers disagree. They see it as a process akin to meditation where taking care of the bonsai brings calmness and inner peace to the grower rather than irritation.
How long does it take a bonsai tree to grow? The average bonsai tree takes 3 to 5 years before it starts to look like a little tree. After that, the tree will grow 12 to 18 inches a year. Full maturity generally occurs within 10 to 12 years, but some species grow 12-36 inches per year and will reach maturity within the first 3 years of life.
Many factors can impact the growth rate of the bonsai tree. These include the species of the tree itself, the growing conditions, pruning, and the age of the bonsai tree among others.
Read on to find out which bonsai tree species have faster growth rates and which bonsai trees are more suitable for indoor growing.
Bonsai Tree Growth
Bonsai tree growth marches to the beat of a different drum compared to regular trees.
If you spend time with your bonsai tree every day, you might come to the conclusion that the tree isn’t growing at all, but that’s just an illusion that can be attributed to familiarity.
If you go away for a few months and come back, you’ll notice that your bonsai has grown a few inches at least and probably has developed sturdier branches and a bulkier trunk than when you left it.
Growth Rates for Popular Bonsai Tree Varieties
Not all bonsai trees are created equally. Some grow at faster rates than others. Keep in mind that the annual growth rate of the tree goes hand in hand with its maturity rate.
The more the bonsai grows, the faster it will reach maturity.
Fast Growth Rate
Some of the popular bonsai tree varieties with a high growth rate and fast maturity include the Chinese elm, the maple, the ficus, and most varieties of the pine tree.
They all grow from 12 to 36 inches per year. This also reflects on the time it takes each bonsai tree to reach maturity. This usually happens within the first three years.
Average Growth Rate
The next group of bonsai tree varieties have an average annual growth rate between 5 to 12 inches and will reach maturity within the first four years of their life.
This group includes the juniper and cotoneaster, both popular bonsai tree species.
Slow Growth Rate
The last group is the slowest. They only grow between 2 to 5 inches a year and will reach maturity once they’ve reached the ripe age of five.
This group includes jades, Fukien trees, wisterias, and azaleas.
This group is the least demanding in terms of pruning and feeding. You can forget about the bonsai tree for months without impacting its growth or noticing any perceptible changes in its appearance.
The following table lists some of the most popular trees and details their average annual growth rate and the time it takes the tree in years to reach maturity.
Factors That Affect Bonsai Tree Growth
It’s worth mentioning that the above table assumes that your bonsai tree is enjoying ideal growing conditions, i.e., the tree is getting enough light as suits its species, it’s getting adequate amounts of water regularly, and is getting the nutrients it needs and getting pruned on time.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and this can impact the growth rate of the tree, and instead of reaching maturity in four years, the bonsai tree might take five or six years to become a mature miniature tree.
The species and the age of the tree impact growth rate too, so if your growing conditions are perfect but your little tree doesn’t seem to be growing on schedule, take these into consideration.
It’s important to pay attention to the following factors that might impact the growth of your bonsai tree. These factors include:
Overwatering and Underwatering
Watering the bonsai tree should follow a pattern and be done regularly just as you would with a normal tree.
However, unlike a regular tree, the bonsai tree grows in a rather shallow container with a relatively little amount of soil.
That means the water dries faster and the bonsai tree can die of dehydration if you don’t water it regularly.
Overwatering can cause root rot and other fungal infections, which could lead to the demise of the tree. So before watering the bonsai tree, check the soil and make sure the top inch is dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Most bonsai trees grow and thrive in daytime temperatures between 64 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures between 51 to 62℉.
However, tropical trees would require high temperatures while others would thrive in cooler air temperatures.
You should always adjust the temperature in the room according to the specific needs of your bonsai tree species.
As for humidity, each bonsai tree has specific humidity requirements. You can adjust the humidity in the room by placing the bonsai tree in a tray of water and pebbles.
You can also place a humidifier near the tree. I use this ultra-quiet model near my plants, and they are positively thriving.
Another cost-effective option is to mist the tree once or twice a week.
Don’t grow your bonsai tree in regular potting soil. The bonsai tree needs its own special potting soil that has better drainage, is a little looser, and has better aeration.
The roots of the bonsai tree have little tolerance for wet soil with poor oxygen levels and poor drainage.
Most bonsai tree species require feeding from early April until late October.
You should find the right fertilizer for your specific bonsai tree and apply it in the doses and concentration recommended on the package.
Pruning is by far the most important task of caring for the bonsai tree. It’s what gives the tree its miniature shape and distinct size.
Pruning does more than keep your bonsai tree in good shape. It also promotes faster growth and speeds up its maturity. Just don’t overdo it.
Over pruning can leave little foliage on the bonsai to absorb the sunlight and generate the necessary nutrients it needs to grow.
Fastest Growing Bonsai Trees
The top four fastest growing bonsai trees are the Chinese elm, most pine varieties, the maple, and the ficus trees. They average between 12 to 36 inches a year and would reach maturity within three years.
Best Indoor Bonsai
If you’re new to growing bonsai trees and want to keep your bonsai indoors, then I recommend you start with any of these species: the jade, juniper, Hawaiian umbrella, dwarf jade, ginseng ficus, ming aralia, ponytail palm, or Norfolk Island pine.
They’re best suited for indoor growing, and they don’t have a high growth rate in general.
When To Start Training a Bonsai
Once the bonsai tree has assumed the shape and likeness of its normal counterpart, you can start training the branches of the tree.
This usually happens within the first 4 to 5 years of the life of the bonsai tree.
Slight variations in the time to start training may occur due to less-than-ideal growing conditions or the species itself being a slow grower.
7 Tips for Making Bonsai Trees Grow Faster
- Start with a sapling or a young bonsai tree as opposed to starting the tree from seed.
- Choose fast-growing species.
- Keep the roots thin.
- Encourage the trunk to get thicker.
- Feed the tree with balanced fertilizer.
- Repot the tree in a larger pot.
- Treat pests and diseases quickly.
How Long Do Bonsai Trees Live?
A bonsai tree growing in the best growing conditions can live up to 100 years. Some bonsai trees in Japan are over 1,000 year old and still thriving.
What’s the Best Bonsai Tree for Beginners?
For beginners, I recommend the Chinese elm, cotoneaster, and juniper trees. They are all easy to grow and maintain without much difficulty or special growing conditions.
Do Bonsai Trees Need Sunlight?
Your bonsai tree, much like its normal counterpart, needs direct sunlight. The leaves process sunlight and turn it into nutrients that are essential for the survival of the tree.
Without sunlight the bonsai has little chance of survival.
Your bonsai tree has a growth rate that differs from the normal tree growing in the garden.
You will need to make sure the bonsai tree has the right soil and watering patterns and is getting enough nutrients and sunlight.
Pruning encourages the tree to grow faster, but don’t over-prune the tree as it might have adverse effects on its annual growth rate.