There is a simple and short answer and a much detailed answer to this question. I will start with the first.
Bonsai trees can live for thousands of years. The oldest Bonsai in the world is over a thousand years old, and there are many other Bonsai trees within that range.
Bonsai trees are miniature trees grown in small containers. They are often cultivated for aesthetic purposes and handed over from one generation to another. Any tree can be cultivated as a Bonsai. The Bonsai technique involves restricting the growth of these trees artificially so that they remain portable and live in the container for years.
The Ficus retusa Linn, which can be found at the Crespi Bonsai Museum in Italy, is believed to be the oldest Bonsai tree in the world. It is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.
The Juniper Bonsai tree located in the Mansei-en Bonsai nursery owned by the Kato family in Japan is over 1,000 years old too. The Nursery also houses several other Bonsai trees collected all over Japan that are hundreds of years old. It is, therefore, common knowledge that Bonsai trees have a very long lifespan, just like other trees.
This is why they are kept in the first place. It is possible to pass on a Bonsai tree from generation to generation, and it will look the same every year and can outlive several generations.
Now to the long answer, there is nothing in the genetic makeup of Bonsai trees that makes them live longer than other trees. This means that they can die if they are not grown under the right conditions.
A tree should not live for several years because of the Bonsai technique. Instead, it should die as a result of the pressure and harsh conditions that it is subjected to. One may argue that because Bonsai trees go through a lot and have to adapt to survive, they become more durable and last for several years as a result. This argument, however, cannot stand because some Bonsai trees die at an earlier age than others.
How Does a Bonsai Tree Live For So Long?
They are shielded from harsh environmental factors and pampered to health, unlike other trees in the forest. This is why they live long as they are protected from natural and human-made disasters such as droughts, plaques, wildfire, etc. that may cut their life short.
It is easy to tell that a bonsai has not been adequately cared for. It will reflect in how they look as they will be too skinny or malnourished.
How To Care For Your Bonsai
If you want your Bonsai to flourish and even outlive you, here are a few ways that you can nurture them so that they live longer.
Bonsai trees need enough water to survive. Their roots are larger and more expansive than the standard indoor plants. Therefore, you need to make sure they get enough water by watering them consistently.
You should water them at least once a week or more, depending on how the plants react. When watering the Bonsai, watch out for air bubbles on the top of the soil. This is one of the easiest ways to know that your plant has had enough water.
You can also inspect the top of the soil with your fingers. If the first two inches feel dry, then you should water your Bonsai. You should note that the watering requirements for Bonsai trees depend on the season and the size of the Bonsai.
Bonsai trees, just like every other tree, will need more water during summer and winter than it would in spring. Thus, you should water according to each season. Water less often when the sun is low and during spring and water more during summer and winter.
Also, the bigger your Bonsai is, the more water it will need. Finally, growing trees need more water than old trees. Thus, you should water your tree consistently when it’s still growing.
Regular Pruning and Maintenance
Bonsai trees require a lot of pruning, shaping, and wiring to get the desired shape and stop the tree from growing. This is referred to as structural maintenance and can be done by you, but you need to do this consistently to maintain the shape and form over the years.
The pruning and maintenance may be done one in a year. However, if you want your Bonsai to achieve a desired shape or form, then you have to prune when the plant starts growing.
When pruning, ensure that you make use of sharp and sterilized tools only to minimize fungal infections and avoid damaging your tree.
Use the Right Soil Mix
Bonsai have their preferred soil content, and you should ensure that you give them the right soil mix to enable them to thrive. The best soil mix for Bonsai trees is one with a smooth blend and all the essential nutrients that are necessary for the tree to thrive.
Also, the soil should retain water so that the roots can easily absorb the moisture needed for the plant to thrive. Furthermore, the soil mix should provide maximum aeration and drainage so that the soil will not be waterlogged.
While you may not get the perfect soil mix at a go, you can add fertilizers and compost to improve the soil structure over time. Also, if you mulch consistently, your soil would be able to retain a lot of moisture that will help the plants remain healthy for a longer time.
Alternatively, you can buy a ready mix soil from a gardening shop. The Bonsai specific soil mix has been tailored to suit the maximum requirements of your Bonsai and will, therefore, be a good buy if you cannot formulate the right composition yourself.
Furthermore, you should opt for a soil that has a pH value of 6.5 to 7.5 for maximum growth. The soil mix is essential as it helps your plants live longer. You should also change the soil occasionally so that the composition remains consistent and well suited for the tree.
If you want your Bonsai to live for a long time, regular repotting is one of the small prices you have to pay. Bonsai trees need to be repotted frequently for several reasons.
First of all, if the tree is old, it may have old dead roots that are unhealthy for the plant, and this needs to be trimmed away. You can only discover this if you repot your plants regularly. The roots may also outgrow the containers.
If you notice some of the tree roots creeping out of the container, then you need to repot your plants. You need to plant the tree in a bigger and larger container that can accommodate enough soil for the roots.
Also, plant pots or vessels are not as durable as your bonsai tree. They will get fragile and are prone to damage as the years go by. Therefore, you need to change into a bigger and better container that will last for a while.
You can go for a more elegant container as well to make your plants look more beautiful. You may also need to repot to replenish the soil or change the potting mix. With time, the soil loses its nutritional value and composition.
It is also advisable to repot your plants after winter. Bonsai trees store energy in their roots during the winter to make use of these stored up energy as soon as summer begins.
Also, younger trees need to be repotted more often than older trees. You should repot younger trees at least once in every year, and you may repot older trees once in 5 years, depending on how fast they grow. Fast-growing trees should be repotted more frequently.
Use of Fertilizer
Bonsai rely heavily on fertilizer than most houseplants. If you want your Bonsai to maintain its vibrant colors, then you need to pay it upfront by feeding them with enough fertilizer. Bonsai trees love fertilizers with the necessary macronutrients in the right quantity.
Nitrogen helps their leaves remain green after so many years on earth, and phosphorus and potassium ensure that they grow and develop continuously. You can make use of a Bonsai specific fertilizer or an organic fertilizer.
You should fertilize more when the tree is growing and fertilize less during dormant seasons and as the tree grows older. Fertilization helps with root development and flowering of your trees. Thus, your trees will keep reproducing after many years.
In conclusion, Bonsai trees live for long and may outlive people who plant them. However, their longevity comes with a price. The price is to consistently care and cater to their needs so that they do not die on you.