Can A Bonsai Tree Live Forever? Trees, in general, can and will outlive all of us – many times over. The giant redwood trees, indigenous to the West Coast of the United States, are some of the oldest living creatures on the planet. It is understandably difficult for some people to equate or associate a 200 ft. tall redwood tree with a 12 in. tall bonsai tree, but nevertheless they are both trees. In the case of bonsai trees, the simple fact that they are "trees" genetically, and "bonsai" trees by way of human intervention, gives them the innate capability, under favorable circumstances, to live for several centuries – at least and forever – theoretically.
Of course, there are scores of circumstances and variables, some controllable and many others not, that all have the potential to enable or to prevent a tree, be it a bonsai or not, from living for very long.
A tree in nature and growing under what we will assume are "perfect" conditions, will grow until it reaches the natural predetermined height for that species. Once this height has been realized, the tree commences its natural habit of growing or, to put it another way, spreading sideways, enabling the tree to support as much foliage as possible. After centuries of this continued growth pattern, what happens is that the distance between the active and effective roots at the edge of the trees root system and the now massive amount of foliage at the incalculable number of branch tips is just too vast. As a result of this natural process, the tree starts to weaken and will eventually die. Why? Because the foliage has grown too far away from the active roots – its leaves are now receiving inadequate amounts of life giving water and nutrients and, in turn, the leaves are unable to supply sufficient sugars to the root system. In due course, this course being centuries long, the heartwood will rot and the tree will collapse.
How Can A Bonsai Live Forever? The main difference between a bonsai tree and a tree growing naturally in the wild, as mentioned above, is human intervention. A tree in nature, growing in perfect conditions, will grow until it reaches the maximum dimensions for that species, with consideration given to the specific environmental conditions that it is exposed to, and inevitably it will die. Conversely, a bonsai tree, which it is not a "species" of tree, but rather a traditional set of techniques and styles for growing and caring for a tree – almost any kind of tree can be trained as a "bonsai" tree – is prevented from ever reaching its maximum dimensions through regularly pruning of both the root system and branch structure. A non-bonsai example of this pruning technique extending the life of a tree is that of trees that are grown as hedge. Hedges live much longer than their full-size counterparts growing in their natural habitat, because they are never allowed to reach their maximum dimensions. My Aunt Agnes still lives in the home that her father built and the hedges that separate their property lines were planted by her grandfather before the war – World War Two! While the practice of trimming hedges is not exactly like the practices of branch and root pruning in a traditional bonsai sense, it is a good "Western" gardening style example of how the life of a tree can be extended through regular and careful human intervention.
So, Then, How Does One Keep A Bonsai Alive Forever? Trees that are being: grown, nurtured, trained, and developed using traditional bonsai techniques have the very real potential of living forever. The reason this potential exists is because a bonsai grown by a professional (and so must yours for the same incredible results to be possible) is cared for very precisely and very meticulously. On a daily basis the every need of the bonsai are met, starting with the essentials of proper watering and sunlight exposure.
And on a seasonal basis, the bonsai’s health is monitored and maintained through the observation and pruning of the trees root system. This enables potential problems to be seen and addressed before they can jeopardize the health of the bonsai and the pruning encourages the development of healthy new roots. The branch structure is also monitored and maintained on a regular basis, allowing branches to be removed if they are deemed as possibly dangerous to the tree and beneficial new shoots are allowed to grow so that they may benefit the future health of the tree.
This careful and calculated care management keeps the bonsai in a constant state of growth, because the bonsai, just like its full-size cousin on the front lawn, is genetically programmed to achieve maturity. The essential difference is: by preventing the bonsai from reaching maturity, you are preventing it from ever reaching old age and falling victim to the troubles that inevitably go along with aging process.
A bonsai tree – your bonsai tree – if given the proper and essential care, will always remain healthy, growing, and youthful. And, if everyone that is responsible for its care, after you become mulch, continues to care for it properly, it will and should out live them, as well!