Can You Plant Bonsai Trees In The Ground?

If you’re a new bonsai enthusiast, you probably have a long list of questions about the tree and how you take care of it. One question that comes up a lot is: Can you plant bonsai trees in the ground?

Yes! You can plant an existing bonsai tree in the ground and it will survive. A bonsai is a normal tree that is being manipulated through pruning techniques to remain small. Once a bonsai is given more space and nutrients to grow, it will resume its natural growth pattern and can potentially become a full-size tree.

There are a few factors that will determine if a bonsai tree will continue to live and grow if planted in the ground.


When a bonsai tree is placed in a shallow pot its root growth and the development of a full root system are limited. When exposed to its natural habitat, a bonsai tree has the space to grow larger, thicker roots that are necessary to support a large tree.  


Bonsai trees keep their miniature size because gardeners are tactfully pruning big roots and branches. If a bonsai is planted in the ground and pruning ceases, it will begin to grow into a full-size tree.

Soil Moisture

A bonsai tree lives in soil with drainage and aeration. Because of this, a bonsai must be watered frequently. Because the tree is confined in a container, a bonsai loses its ability to self-regulate its exposure to moisture. Gardeners can water bonsai trees up to several times in one day depending on the weather. When a tree is planted in the ground, it lives in soil that retains more moisture and requires little to no watering. The more access to water, the faster the tree can grow.  


Young trees are more likely to grow a full root system and, in turn, grow into a full-size tree. If the tree is mature (think 50+ years old), it’s less likely to develop a large root system and grow.

Even with the right conditions, some bonsai trees may never recover from the extensive pruning and wiring. There are some records of people planting bonsai trees and they grow over10 feet and even start to bear fruit. While other bonsai trees die within the first few months of being planted in the ground. Survival varies depending on the tree species, weather conditions, and how quickly the root system can be developed. 

What Happens If You Plant A Bonsai Tree In The Ground?

Bonsai trees are normal trees that have been trained to remain small. Bonsai is the art of controlling a tree’s growth. The stunted size is achieved by various pruning techniques to keep roots small and remove new growth. They are just normal-sized trees that have been pruned and shaped to stay small.

When you plant a bonsai tree into the ground and stop pruning it, it will grow into a mature, full-size tree. If a bonsai tree is ever released of its constraints (the small container, wires, and pruning) then it will begin to grow according to nature.

There is no permanent way to stunt a tree’s size. Bonsai trees remain small because they have no room to develop a large root system. Gardeners also intentionally cut any new root and top growth to stop the tree from getting bigger. If you stop pruning and training a bonsai and it is planted in its natural habitat, it will grow to its original size. The DNA of the tree never changes. The techniques used in the art of bonsai never change the nature of the tree, only its growth habit.

can you plant bonsai trees in the ground

Why Do Gardeners Start Bonsai Trees In The Ground?

Many bonsai enthusiasts agree that growing a tree in the ground is one the best ways to start a bonsai. Starting a bonsai in the ground gives it the ability to develop a thick, tapered trunk and a larger root system. At this point, the tree would be in a pre-bonsai stage.

If a bonsai tree is started in a shallow pot, its roots are restricted which results in a slow trunk development. It will take many years for the trunk to become thick and tapered. So instead, gardeners will plant the tree in the ground to speed up the process.

Thickening the trunk is vital to the shape of the entire bonsai tree. In a container, it can take several years until the trunk is appropriately thick. Starting a bonsai tree in the ground speeds up this process. Gardeners strive for a thick, tapered trunk because it makes the bonsai tree look mature. Bonsai gardeners are artists who aim to create a miniature version of a full-size tree. Recreating a proportional trunk can be difficult and time-consuming.

That doesn’t mean every bonsai tree needs to have a thick trunk. According to the Japanese practice, if a gardener wants to achieve a more “feminine” look, the trunk can remain thinner. This look is particularly popular with Japanese maple trees.

Can You Turn A Tree Planted In The Ground Into A Bonsai?

It is possible to convert a tree into a bonsai, but it is an extensive process that many gardeners try to avoid. There are several factors to consider when turning an in-ground tree into a bonsai.

Think Young. Sapling trees are the ideal tree size for anyone who wants to create a bonsai tree. Age is an important factor when choosing a tree. Depending on the species, some trees develop large root systems quickly. If a tree is too old, pruning its roots may kill it quickly rather than preserve it. 

Know Your Type. Some tree species do not react well to root pruning and restrictions. These are the core practices of bonsai. Before choosing just any tree, research which trees can withstand aggressive root and branch pruning.

Size Matters. Not all saplings are ideal for creating a bonsai. Look for trees that have proportional parts for easy pruning. Observe the proportions of the trunk, branches, roots, and leaves. Ideally, the sapling will have smaller leaves or needles and attractive bark. Avoid trees with narrow trunks. You’ll want a trunk with a natural tapered look. That means it is wide on the bottom and gradually becomes narrower at the top. Check the branches and ensure that the lower branches are longer than the higher ones. Choosing saplings with the appropriate structure is essential for creating a bonsai.

You can purposely plant a tree in the ground to turn it into a bonsai. As mentioned above, many enthusiasts start a bonsai tree in the ground so it quickly develops a thick and tapered trunk. In this instance, you would monitor the tree and pot it when the trunk thickness is sufficient.

When you’re ready to dig up the tree, it’s best to wait when it’s in its dormancy period.

  1. Gently work to lift the tree.
  2. Cut off the main root and some of the smaller roots around it.
  3. Plant the tree in a loose compost full of sand so you can easily access the dominant main root in the future.
  4. Prune the branches and foliage to the desired shape and form.
  5. Continue to maintain and prune the tree as necessary.

Final Thoughts

Bonsai literally translates to “planted in a container” and yet there are times when you’ll find a bonsai tree planted in the ground. Bonsai enthusiasts prefer starting bonsais in the ground so the trunks will become thick and tapered quickly. A thick trunk is necessary to create the illusion of a mature tree, although for some tree varieties, a thin trunk is preferred.

If you plant a bonsai tree in the grown and forego pruning and training, the tree will develop its full root system and begin growing to its full size. Bonsai trees are not a special species, instead they are full-size trees that are continually manipulated to remain small.

On the flip side, it is possible to choose a tree in the ground and turn it into a bonsai. It’s best to choose a young tree that has not developed a full root system. Not all saplings qualify as successful bonsais. Its trunk, branches, and foliage should be proportionate. The foliage should be small. The lower branches should also be longer than those on the top. Dig out the plant during its dormancy period and prune the main root to begin the bonsai process.

Happy Pruning!

Learn More About Bonsai

Growing a bonsai requires horticultural skill, artistic skill, patience, and dedication. Bonsai trees are fragile pieces of art that need constant and proper care. 

As a bonsai artist, you will need to have an extensive understanding on topics including: 

* How to get started 

* Bonsai History  

* Major Bonsai Styles 

* Bonsai tree species

 * Bonsai specialty tools 

* Healthy, Aged appearance

* Trunk line & Branching Patterns

* Potting your Bonsai

*Wiring and Shaping

* Pruning

* Watering & Fertilizing

* Repotting  & Seasonal Care

* Displaying your bonsai

If you want to learn these topics quickly and ensure that your bonsai trees thrive, check out this easy-to-follow guide on How To Grow and Care for a Bonsai Tree.

can you plant bonsai trees in the ground

Recent Content