How to Manipulate Your Bonsai Tree Growth

  • By: Josh Koop
  • Date: August 24, 2021
  • Time to read: 10 min.
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Bonsai trees are some of the most wonderful things you can have, however, many people are not always aware of the work that goes into owning one. Usually buying the trees without realizing that constant care will need to be given to ensure the tree is growing properly.

Many times, bonsai owners are left plucking out their hair once they learn how slow bonsai may grow and that they may have to manipulate the growth of their trees. 

To manipulate the growth of a bonsai tree you will have to trim leaves, branches, and nibs that are growing out of control. Many times, you will wire the tree up and force it to grow in the direction you need it to grow, having the tree grow in such a way that it won’t use all of its resources growing back into a normal tree. 

There are a lot of things you need to remember when growing a bonsai tree, with many people failing to realize that the tree needs several hours of work each season.

Bonsai trees love attention during their growing seasons, otherwise, the tree may quickly turn into a normal tree in a small pot.

Some of the best bonsai trees you may see on the internet are constantly being manipulated to become a tree the owner wants and needs. 

Sun Yat Set Chinese Garden

What are the three ways of manipulating bonsai tree growth?

While you will have to change and fix the shape of the bonsai tree each season, how you are manipulating this growth will not be all that different.

Even the master growers of bonsai trees use the same ways of manipulating the trees that they do love. Knowing how to use these and when to use them will ensure more for the growth of your tree than anything else. 

Just be aware that the tree is prone to not being cooperative when you are trying to control its growth, rather sprouting new branches than allowing you to just bend the ones it has.

Many bonsai growers quickly learn how to handle these and will be able to comfortably control their trees throughout the year. 

Wiring

Easily the most important part of manipulating the tree and how it grows is wiring, something that may look obscene if you have never been involved with bonsai care.

Wiring is the art of bending and connecting a wire around the entire trunk of the tree and then the branches, slowly bending them all into the turns and shapes that you need them to be. 

Wiring is how you see bonsai trees that have strangely shaped trunks and branches that seem to be something straight out of a science fiction movie.

Wiring is vital to the growth of your bonsai and it is how you manipulate the tree into growing into what one would normally consider being a bonsai tree. 

Trimming

Trimming is what you will see the old people with bonsai trees doing in every series or movie on earth because it is the most recognizable part of owning a bonsai.

You will need to constantly be trimming some part of the bonsai, either to ensure older branches aren’t using too many resources or dead leaves fall off on time.

Trimming is a good way to manipulate the tree into giving more resources to other parts of it, allowing branches that you have wired up to grow stronger in the direction that you may need them to go.

Usually, people are constantly trimming to ensure that their trees will be giving all their growing strength to the right areas instead of trying to grow new limbs.  

Pinching

Almost like trimming, pinching is the way many tree growers manipulate the general lumpiness of their tree trunks. The tree will naturally start growing new buds all along its trunk when growing seasons starts, usually, you will want to trim these off after they have started growing.

However, many times you won’t be able to do this through trimming, trimming can cause damage to the tree. 

Pinching is done by literally using your fingers to pinch the buds off before they start growing wildly. This prevents any damage to be done to the tree and the trunk in any way, usually allowing the tree to spend energy somewhere else as it continues to grow.

It’s also a good reason to have your nails properly cared for as you won’t be able to pinch as well without them. 

How slowly do bonsai trees grow?

Bonsai trees can be a wild bunch of things to take care of many bonsai tree owners quickly learn that their trees are not all growing at the same speeds.

Usually, people are left with the odd feeling that their tree is either growing too slow or too fast, with some hoping that their trees will grow slower to allow them to give less maintenance. 

Most bonsai trees will grow slowly or not at all during the winter and autumn seasons, while they can grow extremely fast, several inches if left alone, during spring and summer.

What affects the growth rate of a bonsai tree is usually the size of its pot, how many leaves it is allowed to have, and the overall effect of the environment around it. 

Many bonsai trees will start growing slower as they grow to the max size of their pot, with many trees unable to grow any larger.

However, if a tree is still growing too slowly you should also consider taking a look at how healthy it is, as trees can be infected with fungi or bugs that will kill them not long after they have stopped growing at their normal speed. 

How can I make my bonsai grow faster?

Bonsai trees are quite special, while you will want them to grow extremely slowly most of the time there are times where you want them to rapidly start growing.

This can either be after you have wired them up, or you are getting them ready to enter competitions. Some of the best-looking bonsai are those that have grown large canopies of leaves. 

By repotting the tree, in fresh dirt, you can ensure that the tree will grow a lot faster than you may even be able to handle.

This is because the root system is actively sucking up fresh nutrients from the ground and given a lot more space to grow in as well.

Many times, you will see that the more space the root system can grow in, even after a trim, the more the tree will grow as well. 

A faster-growing bonsai will be a lot happier to grow into the wiring that you have set up, as well as allow you to experience the full fruit-bearing power the tree may have.

This boost in growth can be used in several ways by you as the grower, with most growers preferring to use the rapid growth to grow flowers.

A process that can put a lot of strain on the tree, however when you have created the environment for it to grow faster, then it can easily support some extra flowers. 

Why do bonsai trees grow so slow?

You may be wondering why some bonsai never seem to be growing at all, with the owners barely having to do anything to encourage it to grow slower. There are many factors in this, with many of them linking into the type of tree, however, one of the most important ones to remember is the age of the tree. 

Trees that have reached their full maturity will be growing at seemingly a snail’s pace, usually because the tree does not want to grow anymore.

The first few years of a bonsai tree’s growth is the most rapid time for it to show size growth, once it has reached the mature age for the tree this will stop.

Usually, this is why older bonsai are also more expensive, as they have already been taken care of by someone for a long time. 

If your bonsai is not yet mature you need to look at the root system that it has, if there is no more space for them to grow then the tree will seemingly be standing still as well.

Bonsai trees need space for their roots to grow properly, usually, a grower will have to report a tree every two years to ensure the root system has ample space. 

Which bonsai trees grow the slowest?

While the pot, seasons, and trimmings of a tree do affect how well it grows overall, there is one more part of the bonsai tree growing that needs to be taken into consideration.

The species of the tree greatly affects the overall growth rate, with many trees growing at many different rates than others. Some trees are even affected by the fact they are not growing in the wild, usually growing slower in pots.

These trees are all part of different species, there are many different species of trees in the world, however, most species will be growing quite fast.

However, even in these species, some trees will be growing slower, which can be easier to manage for beginners. 

  • Juniper Tree: Juniper trees are easily one of the best sleeper bonsai trees out there, able to easily grow quite beautifully without requiring expert knowledge. However, if you have seen some of the older, more scenic bonsai trees out their chances are they will be Japanese Juniper Trees.
  • Oak Trees: Oak trees are quite diverse and capable of being in almost any shape a tree can be in, which is why they are also prone to growing a bit slower. This makes them the perfect trees to have if you are looking for something that takes a while to grow, as the oak trees prefer to grow strong rather than fast. 
  • Pine Trees: Some of the oddest looking slow-growing bonsai trees on the market are all pine trees that have been wired to have gnarly trunks. These trees are slow-growing but can be encouraged to have moments of fast growth when needed. Sometimes the only way to have the bonsai of your dreams is something that can be manipulated into doing almost exactly what you need when you need it. 
  • Spruce Trees: Spruce trees are straight growing and elegant once they start having full canopies of leaves. These trees grow slow and will require that you wire them up properly to ensure that the branches aren’t going crazy. Many of the best spruce bonsais are those that are growing slightly skewed, allowing the branches to build up a large support area. 

Which bonsai trees grow the fastest?

Slow growing trees are perfect and will allow you to easily learn how to do everything properly, but they can be a pain in other areas.

Bonsai trees that grow fast can easily reach maturity in half the time of slow-growing trees and will allow you to shape them much faster.

Knowing which trees are faster growth will also mean you know which to pick for your needs when shopping for a tree. 

These are some of the easiest fast-growing trees, just be ready, even the easy fast-growing trees can require that you already know what you are doing.

Many times, these trees are better for your second tree, as they allow you to learn different skills, that rely on knowing the basic skills. 

  • Maple Trees: Maple trees only ever seem to be in two types of bonsai, one that is so big and majestic it could win almost any competition, or so small and unhealthy looking that they seem ready to die. Maple trees are not easy bonsai to own but will easily grow at a rapid pace, even when conditions aren’t perfect. 
  • Juniper Trees: Fast-growing is not the only thing you need to know about Juniper trees, they also have strong and hard to control trunks. Juniper trees are easily some of the most amazing trees to have in bonsai form but will be challenging each step of the way. 
  • Japanese Black Pine: This is one of the trees that are part of the pine family, but they tend to grow fast and wild, which makes them a challenge to control. Some of the best bonsai trees are black pines, but they require constant care from their owners. 
  • Jade Bonsai Tree: Fat plants, or desert plants, are meant to be where they rarely get water, which is what makes them so amazing as bonsai trees. These can become a handful when you water them too much though, usually because they will quickly start growing once you give them regular watering.

Why do you have to manipulate bonsai trees?

While you are busy wiring up a tree, or just removing a few of the tree’s leaves and branches you may be wondering why you have to manipulate it at all.

Many growers think this and try to let a bonsai grow wild for a few years to see what happens. Usually ending up with a plant that has died or needs to be planted in a regular garden. 

Bonsai trees need to be manipulated to ensure they stay small and growing in the bonsai shape that you want them to keep. Many bonsai trees will need to be trimmed every season, ensuring their canopies are growing properly and not out of control in the worst way possible. 

Even the oldest bonsai trees in the world are trimmed and wired every few seasons to ensure they are growing perfectly. Sometimes all a dying bonsai even needs is to be trimmed and manipulated in the right way, allowing the tree to enjoy proper growth. 

Final Thoughts Around How Slow Do Bonsai Trees Grow

Manipulating bonsai trees is not a difficult thing and can be done by anyone, even the cousin you are asking to take care of the tree while you are on vacation.

Each bonsai will grow to need different types of manipulations and will usually become the perfect miniature trees once everything has been done properly.

Just be sure you are manipulating them into becoming what you need them, not what they want to become!

If you are just learning about bonsai trees and looking to purchase high quality trees that will likely live longer than you then I would highly suggest checking out Bonsai Boy Trees as they are a long lasting New York business that provides trees for all price ranges!

Here are some of my favorite Bonsai Items

Thanks for reading this article, I have a few items I love to use with my bonsai tree care and wanted to share the best options for the core needs for the new bonsai enthusiast!

Best Bonsai For a Beginner – Most of what you find online are starter plants where they are going to be difficult to start and grow successfully. Most beginners like to have a starter plant to work from. I highly suggest looking at Bonsai Boy directly (more options and good prices), or you can look at their inventory from Amazon.

Best Bonsai Tool SetTianBonsai makes the best quality tools for simple bonsai work, if you want tools that will last you they won’t come cheap, make the right investment the first time with these beginner tools on Amazon!

Best Bonsai PotBonsai Boy’s Beige Ceramic Bonsai Pot – The team at Bonsai Boy operates out of New York and has been perfecting bonsai in the US for over 50 years, there is a reason I love and share them, if you want to order directly from Bonsai Boy then click here, or click here to order through Amazon.