Time and bonsai trees

Thinking About Time and Bonsai Trees

If I’ve had a few beers and get all philosophical about bonsai trees, I’d say that bonsai is a lifestyle or a state of mind. People who’ve grown bonsai trees for a long time will know what I mean. It takes time to see a sapling or a collected tree turn into a beautiful bonsai tree Usually, For people at the beginning of the road, thinking about time and bonsai trees is useful in order to develop a suitable mindset for bonsai-growing.

What do I mean by this? It’s common for new bonsai growers to wish time away. People new to bonsai tend to have younger, less developed trees. They buy lower-priced trees and the bonsai they have started off themselves have not had time to reach maturity. They’re wishing time away. This is totally understandable, but still a shame.

The key to not being unhappy at this stage is to find joy in your young trees. Relax and know that if you persevere, you’ll be rewarded with a great bonsai collection.

Even though we have many very old and brilliant bonsai trees, I get just as much pleasure from the Juniper cuttings that I take each year. I’m rarely happier than when I’m mucking about with a lump of Privet hedge, to the point where I spend too much time on them and risk neglecting the posh stuff!


Of course, it’s easy for me to say this. When you’ve already got the old, established bonsai trees, it’s hard to remember the yearning desire to own the trees.

Cracking On

I’ll be 40 this year, 2021. Having done the bonsai tree thing for 25 years, I know how long it can take to make a great boost from scratch. It can take decades. On the flip side, you can sometimes make rice bonsai trees in the afternoon but that’s another story. I’m getting to the point where I’ll probably start questioning whether I’ve got time to start bonsai trees from Scratch. Have I got the years left? What about when I’m 50? What about 70?
Surely the only correct mentality is to know that with some of the trees that you start, you will never see the end. Does it really matter? To some, the answer will be yes, it does. For others, it will not matter. To them bonsai is more about seeing the trees develop, observing the changing of the seasons and the undertaking of pruning, styling, repotting and the other activities which fill a bonsai grower’s time.
If you’re already senior in years, you’ll probably want to buy mature bonsai trees if you don’t have them already. If you’re young, you may well have time to grow your own. Either way, try to enjoy your trees as they are now and don’t wish time away, it really is the most precious thing we have.

Times Effect on Bonsai Trees

I got a bit mystic there! Sorry about that. Bonsai is a giant part of my life, so I suppose I attach a high level of meaning to it.
A different way to think about time and bonsai trees is to consider how time subtly affects bonsai trees.
Trees grow, that’s obvious. They get bigger, again obvious. The thing is, Size and age are not always related in bonsai. Novice bonsai growers in the shop will often pick up a little, fairly young tree and then ask me how long It will take to turn it into the big monster specimen bonsai next to it. The answer is that it probably won’t – Quite often, that isn’t the objective. Shop-bought bonsai trees have been grown to be a certain size. Factors such as trunk movement and branch placement have already been decided. While you can grow a tree past this, it will not happen automatically.
“They don’t rise automatically, like a cake bakes or a mushroom grows – You have to make this happen.”

The Markers of an Old Bonsai

As we said, size and age are not always related. Indicators of age are more common:

  • Craggy, mature bark
  • Twiggy, well-ramified branches
  • A visible root spread, Ike the roots of a mature tree
  • A thick trunk.

Other tricks can be employed, Such as carving to create deadwood areas on the tree and to use older pots.

Sometimes you can just feel that a bonsai tree is old. A little trick is to avoid any straight lines. Young trees and saplings tend to be Straight – Straight trunks and straight branches. Wiring and pruning can help create movement throughout the tree.

Time Passes

Another thing to remember is that time passes! I say this quite often to younger people in the shop. Sometimes they look quite quizzically at me, but their parents tend to know what I mean. If I say that in 10 years, this will be a nice bonsai tree, that seems like a long time. However, like I said, time passes.

Bonsai trees get a little better each year. For the first few years, newly styled trees might not look amazing – but, and this has happened to me many times, one day I’ll look at a tree and seemingly all of a sudden, it just clicks. You suddenly think that’s looking like a proper bonsai!
time and bonsai trees
An old bonsai tree such as this has craggy bark and lots of twiggy branches.

An old bonsai tree such as this has a thick, craggy back and lots of small twiggy branches. Bonsai people call this ramification. The trunk, while not massive, is thick and it has a reasonable nebari, or surface root buttress.


part trained acer bonsai tree

This part-trained Acer has a similarly thick trunk but is far younger. It is about the same size as the tree in the first picture. A commercial nursery tree that has been in training for just a couple of years. Note that the trunk is still smooth and green in places. Also, note that the branches are straight and not well-ramified. There are a couple of tension wires pulling down branches but what I really need to do is find the time to wire the branches properly.

Worth mentioning that I really didn’t need to use a ceramic pot at this stage. A training pot would do perfectly well. There is a tendency for people to use ceramic pots at an early stage in tree development when really it isn’t necessary. I have fallen into that trap with this one!

So, I have a thick truck with some movement. I have branches in the right places. I therefore have the foundation for a nice bonsai tree but we are not there yet. Now I need to give it time. The ramification of the branches will increase each year through my pruning. This will take time. Will I get bored of waiting or hacked off that doesn’t look as good as the tree in the first picture? Sometimes yes probably. However, I have done this for long enough to know that one day, the ramifications will build, the bark will age and I’ll hopefully have a great tree!

Other Bonsai articles

I’ve written some other articles on bonsai tree care so please click here to have a look.


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