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One of the best things about getting into the art of Bonsai is just how much patience it can give you. I mean if you were to plant a seed today it could take 20 to 30 years until you get the design of your bonsai. With bonsai trees then often being a lifelong hobby, exactly how long do bonsai trees live.
Bonsai trees, regardless of plant breed or type, if maintained and nurtured will live on average for 100 years. Some avid bonsai hobbyists have managed to grow trees that live for more than 200 years, with some of the oldest trees reaching over 1000 years old.
So how exactly do some bonsai trees live for so long, and what can you do to ensure your bonsai has a long life? Keep reading to find out more!
A lot of you reading this post are just getting started with bonsai. You can find my recommendation for the best bonsai I found here (link takes you to Easternleaf) or the best faux bonsai here (link takes you to Amazon)
How long do bonsai trees live?
Arguably the biggest reason why bonsai has taken off and has been a hobby to so many around the world for thousands of years are some of the life lessons it brings.
You see patience is arguably the most important thing when it comes to curating bonsai, from waiting for your plant every day to ensuring you prune it regularly.
It’s because of this time and effort then, that bonsai trees live for so long, with these plants typically outliving other plants.
So exactly how long do bonsai trees live for?
Luckily for you, I’ve complained about some of the main facts below:
- On average, most bonsai trees will live for 100 years if kept well and maintained properly.
- This is because most of the plants that we create bonsai trees from such as Chinese Elm, Japanese Maple, or Ficus will tend to live for around 100 years naturally if we did not transform them into bonsai trees.
- Some plant breeds such as pine breeds naturally have a long life in the wild (with some living for well over 500 years) meaning that potentially bonsai trees could be kept for this long.
- Some of the oldest bonsai trees out there are well over 1000 years old and have been passed down from generation to generation.
- That being said failing to maintain a bonsai tree could mean that your plant dies within the space of a month or two, hence why looking after your tree is so important.
What breeds of plants are best for long-life bonsai?
If you want a bonsai tree then to live beyond you and be passed down through your family, friends, or trust are there any breeds that you should stick to?
Pine plants and trees are the best species of plant to use if you would like your bonsai tree to have a long life. More specifically The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) is common in California which can live for more than 5000 years.
Whilst Bristlecone Pine is a fantastic option, I’m well aware that not everyone can afford these and so to help, i’ve put together a table of a few of the most common bonsai plant breeds as well as how long they live to help give you an indication of timescales:
|Japanese Maple||Over 100 years|
|Chinese Elm||Over 100 years|
|Ficus||20 years in the wild but have been known to live for over 100 years for bonsai|
|Bodhi Tree||Average 100 years with older species living for thousands of years|
|Common Beech||300 years – 1000 years|
|Boxwood||20 – 30 years with some bonsai reaching 100 years old|
|Jade||70 – 100 years|
|Crape Myrtle||50 years|
|Fukien Tea||100 years|
What is the oldest bonsai in the world?
The oldest bonsai in the world is the Ficus Retusa Linn. It is estimated to be over 1000 years old and currently resides in the Crespi Bonsai Museum in Italy. The second oldest bonsai in existence is a juniper tree at Mansei-en Japan which is estimated to also be over 1000 years old.
The top 5 oldest bonsais in the world then are as follows:
- The Ficus Retusa Linn – Over 1000 years old – Italy
- Juniper Tree – Over 1000 years old – Mansei En, Japan
- Shunka-En Bonsai – 800 years old – Japan
- Another Shunka-En Bonsai – 800 years old – Japan
- Japanese white pine – 400 years old – Washington, USA
How do we know how long these trees have lived?
So I know what you are thinking: how exactly do we know that these trees have lived for this long?
After all, it’s not exactly like we can carbonate some of these ancient trees, some of which are worth well over $90,000 – damaging them is definitely out of the question.
Bonsai trees have often been passed down from generation to generation, with experts in japan passing down knowledge on how to curate and care for their trees.
As such a lot of bonsai affections are able to accurately track exactly how old bonsai trees are by tracking their own family history.
How fast do Bonsai trees die?
So as we can tell from this article, bonsai trees will typically live for a very long time, but what happens if you do not look after them or manage to keep up with their uptake, just how soon will bonsai trees die?
Bonsai trees will typically die after a few weeks if they are cared for insufficiently. Typically a bonsai will die after one month of no sunlight, water, grooming, or care and will start to lose its leaves. Bonsais however are very robust, should you correct these issues they will likely thrive once more.
Do outdoor bonsais live longer than indoor bonsais?
Outdoor bonsai trees will live longer than inside bonsai trees, usually because the upkeep involved with outdoor trees is less. Most bonsai trees that live for over 100 years are kept outside when compared to indoor trees which typically only live for a few years.
I mean if we think about it, bonsai trees and plants, in general, are super sensitive meaning that they are very susceptible to the environment that surrounds them.
If you keep your bonsai tree inside it requires a lot of sunlight and water, and moisture which is often not available should you keep your plants indoors. It’s one of the reasons why people invest in UV light kits for their plants indoors.
On top of this, indoor plants will only be able to grow for a certain amount of time before they will need to move due to their size.
An example I like to use is skin tone.
some people who are darker-skinned will have a better tolerance to the sun than those who are lighter, meaning they are much less likely to suffer from diseases associated with this.
The same goes for indoor and outdoor bonsai, so should you decide that you no longer want to keep your bonsai trees indoors, it may not have the result you are looking for.
Outdoor bonsai trees can be temporarily stored indoors for a few days but only for short periods of time so as to not damage the plant. This is because, like indoor bonsai trees, they are very sensitive and would have grown accustomed to living outside.
If you keep your bonsai trees outdoors, at the right temperature, and ensure that it gets plenty of moisture, sunlight, and water, it can live for well over 100 years.
“It’s not uncommon for bonsai trees to live well over 100 years if cared for properly, regardless of plant species”
Does temperature affect bonsai trees’ lifespan?
Keeping your bonsai tree at the correct temperature is an important factor in ensuring your bonsai will have a long lifespan. For example, Chinese Elm typically likes a constant temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Failing to meet this temperature could damage your bonsai.
This is all of course depending on the breed of your plant and when it is optimal.
As a lot of the bonsai we own come from China, Japan, and the Middle East, it is important that you check to try to closely match the temperatures associated with those countries.
If you keep your bonsai outside and are unsure of the year-round temperature check out the USDA hardiness zones.
How to ensure your bonsai tree lives longer
To ensure your bonsai tree lives as long as possible, water your plant regularly, give it plenty of sunlight, ensure it has plenty of moisture, aim to keep it outside, and try to best match the climate and temperature your plant originated from.
Some other key tips to keep your bonsai tree for longer include:
- Checking your bonsai tree for scale regularly and removing – you can check out my blog post here which goes into more detail on how to do this
- Check for any other pests like spiders or fruit flies that are attracted to some breeds
- Maintain good bonsai etiquette by pruning and maintaining your tree regularly
- Try to keep your bonsai in the same place and avoid moving it around too much
- Invest in other bonsai trees to help bonsai growth.
- Regularly attend training to ensure you are aware of the best techniques
- Invest in fertilizer and quality soil but do not overuse
- Repot your bonsai when they get too big, ensuring you take care of their roots in the process.
- Avoid over trimming your tree
What will kill a bonsai tree fast?
Failing to water your bonsai, provide adequate sunlight, remove pests, or maintain a constant temperature are surefire ways that will kill a bonsai plant in the space of a few weeks.
This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the Uk and works in sales.