Growing a bonsai tree is a long process, but really, how long does it actually take?
Honestly, it really depends on a lot of things. There is no simple answer; all you can be sure of is that it will take many years, no matter what you do.
Of course there are ways to speed the process up, but it is always going to take time. (You can read more – How Can You Speed Up Growing A Bonsai?)
I will now go through some of the factors that can influence how long it can take to grow a bonsai, which will help you understand how long it might take to grow your tre.
What Is The Goal With Your Bonsai?
Like most things in life, you need to know where you are going to know how long it will take you to get there.
Saying you want to grow a bonsai doesn’t really mean anything, you need to know the end goal.
You need to know what size bonsai you want, how thick a trunk do you need, are you wanting to win an award with your tree?
You are going to be able to grow a small tree with only a 1 inch thick trunk a lot faster than you will a large tree with a much thicker trunk.
Once you know what you want, it will make it a lot easier to work out how long it’s going to take to achieve it.
What Material Are You Starting With?
Once you know what your end goal is, you need to know where you are starting from.
Really you need to know what material you are starting with. For example, no matter what size tree you want, starting from a seed will always take longer than using an already established plant you’ve bought in a nursery.
If you roughly know what you want, you can look for material that is going to make that goal easier to achieve.
If you want a tree with a 3 inch trunk, it’s going to be a lot faster to turn it into a bonsai if you start with some material that has a trunk closer to this size. It might take you a few years to build out some main branches and you start on the ramification and building the tree.
If you started the same project from seed you are probably going to spend the first decade just developing the trunk, so of course it is going to be much slower.
The Species Of Bonsai You Have Affects How Long It Takes To Grow
The species you use is also going to play a huge role in how quickly you can grow a bonsai. Some species grow a lot faster than others and this can really make a difference.
Some species you may be able to prune 2 or 3 times a year. Every time you do this your branching is going to get that little bit more ramified.
If you are using a slower growing tree that you can only prune once a year, then of course it may take 2 or 3 times longer to get the same level of branch development as the faster species.
How Long Can It Take To Grow A Bonsai?
As you can see the combination of what you want and where you are starting from can really make it difficult to say how long it might take.
I would say that even if you wanted a small tree and where starting with some decent material, that was also a species that grew quickly, it is going to take you at least 10 years to get anything decent.
I defiantly think you can get a tree to start looking like a bonsai long before that, but it will not be amazing.
I have a few trees that are around 5 years old from both seed and nursery stock and they are all starting to get that bonsai feel, but they are not quite there yet.
They may have some basic structure and shape, but they are just not quite there, but you can see their potential and that will be bonsai.
I think if you showed them to most people they would be able to identify it as a bonsai, just not a very good one, rather than just a plant, or a bush.
The Growing Conditions Also Affect How long It Takes To Grow A Bonsai
Even if you have a fast species and a good bit of material, you still need good growing conditions as they can massively affect how long it can take to grow a bonsai.
The climate your tree is in will affect its growth massively. Your tree will thrive if you can give it the right temperate, light levels and water. A healthy and strong tree will grow much more quickly and vigorously and therefore you will get to your goal faster.
Of course you will reach a point where you want it to calm down and not be so aggressive, but that is something you can worry about later.
The soil you use is also important. The tree gets its water and oxygen from the soil, which it needs to grow and be healthy.
If you have good quality soil you are going to get a healthier tree and better, finer roots, which all help to turn your tree into a bonsai more quickly.
This will be linked to your goals, If you want a thicker trunk, then you will need a bigger pot.
Trying to achieve the same goal in a smaller pot is going to take much longer and slow your progress down.
By using the right pot size you can really optimise your growth rates and get to your goal a lot quicker. Something as simple as this can really change how long it can take to grow your bonsai.
As you can see it is nearly impossible to give an accurate figure as there are too many factors at play.
All you can do is try and start with a decent bit of material that is close to your end goal and then optimise the growing conditions.
If you do this you can start to see your bonsai forming within a few years, probably after 5, certainly after 10 years, and then from there it should really be a bonsai tree in a development, more than just a tree you are growing that maybe one day could be some sort of bonsai.