Japanese bonsai trees are known for their impressive, small size while maintaining the proportions of a full-size tree. Through careful management and care, these small trees can appear exactly like their full-grown counterparts.
So, how big does a bonsai tree grow?
The gardener decides how big a bonsai tree grows. A bonsai tree can grow up to 60-80 inches (152-203 centimeters) or it can be as small as 1-3 inches (3-8 centimeters).
There are a wide variety of bonsai sizes. The smallest can be the size of a seed while the largest can require several people to move.
You can classify a bonsai tree based on its size. Although the size classes vary depending on the source, the concept is well-established and useful for any bonsai enthusiast. A photo of a bonsai may not always provide an accurate view of the tree’s actual size. Classifying trees according to their size helps the viewer determine the height and weight of the tree in its container. Size classifications help to gain an understanding of the aesthetic of a bonsai tree.
Bonsai Tree Size Classification
The Imperial size is the largest bonsai class named after the large bonsai trees of Japan’s Imperial Palace. The smallest size classification is known as Keshitsubo. Using particular techniques and styles, these trees can be so small that they fit in a thimble.
Because the sizing classification was created centuries ago, modern guidelines for bonsai tree size classification can vary depending on the region.
How Many Hands Are Required To Move The Tree?
The bonsai tree size classification system was originally based on the number of hands required to move the tree and pot. Trees can be classified as “one-handed”, “two-handed”, “four-handed”, and so on.
There are three size categories for bonsai trees: miniature, medium, and large. Each classification has subcategories with specific measurements and hand required.
While this a useful guide, not every bonsai tree may fit into a particular category. Categorizing a tree by its size is considered more of an art than a science. These categories are not set in stone.
There are some variations between the definitions of small bonsai tree sizes. Here are the most common miniature subcategories.
The Keshitsubo tree is the smallest bonsai size. They grow between 1 and 3 inches (3 and 8 centimeters). They are so small, they can be easily lifted with just two fingers.
The Shito bonsai tree size is also known as the fingertip size. They grow between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 centimeters). These trees are also known as thimble bonsai because they can fit into pots as small as thimbles. Sometimes, Shohin and Shito are used interchangeably, but the main difference between the two bonsai tree sizes is the technique used to create each of them.
The Mame bonsai tree grows between 2 and 6 inches (5 and 15 centimeters). The Mame is so small, it only requires one hand to move them. Sometimes, they may have larger pots than Shohin bonsai trees.
The Shohin bonsai tree classification often overlaps with others so it can be difficult to precisely define it. They grow between 5 and 8 inches (13 to 20 centimeters). Shohin trees are also known as palm bonsai because they fit in the palm of a hand. Sometimes, Shohin and Shito are used interchangeably, but the main difference between the two bonsai tree sizes is the technique used to create each of them.
The Komono bonsai is also known as the generic small bonsai tree. On average, it grows between 6 and 10 inches (15 and 25 centimeters). The Komono is the largest tree that can be moved with one hand.
There are some variations between the definitions of medium bonsai tree sizes. Here are the most common subcategories.
The Katade-Mochi is the largest bonsai size that can be lifted with one hand. They grow between 10 and 18 inches (25 and 46 centimeters). The Katade-Mochi is one of the most popular tree sizes to work with because they are easy to handle.
Over the years, Chumono and Chiu have become virtually the same. They are both two-handed trees that grow between 16 and 36 inches (41 and 91 centimeters). Today, these two size names are used interchangeably.
There are some variations between the definitions of large bonsai tree sizes. Here are the most common subcategories.
Over the years, Omono and Dai have come to share the same size definition. These are the smallest of the large-sized bonsai trees that require four hands to carry. They can grow between 30 to 48 inches (76 and 122 centimeters).
The Hachi-Uye bonsai tree is very large. They require six hands to move the tree and its pot. They can grow between 40 and 60 inches (102 and 152 centimeters).
The Imperial bonsai is the largest and most regal of all bonsai trees. They are the largest trees growing between 60 and 80 inches (152 and 203 centimeters). Imperial sized trees are commonly found in the Japanese imperial gardens. They require up to eight hands to move them.
How Do I Grow and Care For A Bonsai Tree Of Each Size?
The size of a bonsai is determined by the gardener. You need to choose the best size for you before choosing your tree. There are several factors to consider when choosing a bonsai size. The size of your bonsai will determine how you prune, water, and care for your tree.
Caring for Miniature Bonsai
Growing and maintaining miniature bonsai trees are demanding tasks for a bonsai gardener. Training a miniature bonsai is more difficult compared to training larger trees. It requires a complete understanding of plant growth in a restrictive environment. Because there are limited branches, gardeners will need to be creative to achieve the bonsai aesthetic.
Although these trees are demanding and challenging, many still aim to create a miniature bonsai. Because of its small size, those living in apartments or small spaces have the opportunity to grow a bonsai that won’t take up much space. Miniature bonsais are ideal for small balconies and windowsills.
The small size makes it easier to handle and provides more flexibility when working on the tree. Miniature bonsai do not require a turntable. It’s easy for a gardener to simply pick it up and prune/trim the tree while sitting on a couch or bed.
One difficulty when working with a miniature tree is scaling the flowers, fruits, leaves, and branches. Some tree varieties are extremely difficult, almost impossible, to scale down to the miniature size.
Many who attempt to maintain a miniature bonsai will find their tree to be unhealthy and weak. Because the bonsai lives in such a small pot, it’s important to have the right proportions of water, soil, and sunlight. A miniature bonsai will die quickly if it is over- or under-watered. They need to be planted in soil with good drainage, preferably a sand mixture. Many find it best to place the miniature tree in a larger tray that holds damp sand or gravel. That way, the shallow tray can collect some water from the larger tray if needed. The soil needs to be very fine so the root system can grow.
When shaping miniature bonsai trees, don’t use complicated designs that generally work for larger trees. Due to its small size, it’s best to keep a simple design.
- Ideal for Apartment-Dwellers & Those Living in Small Spaces
- Can Be Placed on Small Balconies and Windowsills
- Flexibility in Work Location
- Use a Simple Design
- Most Difficult and Time-Consuming Bonsai Size
- Requires Strong Attention to Detail
Caring for Medium Bonsai
Many beginners start with a medium bonsai tree. Medium trees require the standard training and maintaining that is associated with bonsai trees.
Depending on the tree variety, medium bonsai trees can be indoor or outdoor. Medium bonsais are great for indoors because the smallest medium size is relatively easy to move. Medium bonsai trees need the right soil mixture that will retain water. A gardener can use a bonsai watering to prevent the soil from washing away. Medium trees also require fertilizer to promote healthy growth.
If you choose a medium-sized bonsai tree, you open up many more tree variety options. It’s easier to scale the flowers, fruit, and leaves when working with a larger size compared to miniature bonsai. When working on a medium bonsai, you’ll need to use a turntable to properly inspect the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves.
When choosing a design, medium-sized trees allow you to use simple or complicated designs.
- Great for Indoors (depending on the tree variety)
- Ideal for Beginners
- Can Use Many Tree Varieties
- Many Design Choices
Caring for Large Bonsai
Growing large bonsai trees is a lot of work with limited flexibility. Training a large bonsai, while still difficult, is simpler compared to training miniatures.
Large bonsai trees are usually outdoors so they have maximum sun exposure. Because they are heavy and require multiple people to lift, large bonsai trees are not typically moved too much. Some bonsai enthusiasts may opt to put a large bonsai tree in the ground instead of a pot.
Like any size, large bonsai trees require proper sunlight and soil. The soil should have good drainage and aeration. The tree should have enough water. Some bonsai gardeners may consider an automated watering system to ensure the tree does not dry out on hot days. Large bonsai trees look best with a more difficult design due to its size.
- Use a Complex Design
- Best for Outdoors
- Can Be Planted in the Ground
- Very Heavy, Hard to Move
How Do I Choose The Best Bonsai Tree For Me?
After you’ve picked out the size of your bonsai, it’s time to choose the bonsai tree. It’s important to choose a bonsai that will fit your lifestyle so you have the time and energy to make it thrive. Many factors will help you determine which bonsai tree is right for you.
Cost is an important factor when purchasing the best bonsai tree for your lifestyle. The cheapest option is to start with a seed and grow your bonsai. There are no “bonsai seeds”. Any tree can become a bonsai so you can start with an ordinary tree seed. However, starting a bonsai tree from a seed is a long, tedious process.
Another option is to grow a bonsai tree from a cutting of another bonsai. Using a cutting is faster than growing a bonsai from a seed. Cutting involves taking a branch from a healthy bonsai and placing it in the soil to create a new tree. This is a popular method within the bonsai community because this creates high-quality trees. The new tree will retain the positive features from the parent tree.
Finally, you can purchase a pre-made bonsai tree. Pre-made bonsai trees are already developed. The older and more developed the tree, the more expensive it will be. It’s not uncommon to see mature bonsai trees priced at several hundred dollars. Some even cost thousands of dollars!
Indoor vs Outdoor
Think about where you plan to keep your bonsai tree. You’ll also need to pay close attention to the weather if you keep your bonsai outdoors. If exposed to the elements and freezing temperatures, your bonsai could die.
Consider how much space you’ll need to dedicate when winterizing your bonsai. If you have a smaller space, you will want to opt for more tropical plants. If you have more space, like a garage, you can choose evergreens and deciduous trees.
Certain varieties of trees can be easier to grow than others. Beginners with little experience growing and caring for bonsai should consider certain tree varieties. Popular trees for beginners are Figs, Chinese Juniper, and Jade.
The gardener decides how big a bonsai tree grows. There is a size classification for bonsai trees. In ancient Japan, the size classification was determined by how many people were required to carry the tree. Today, the size classification helps provide a clear understanding of a bonsai’s height and weight beyond what a photograph can offer. Size classifications help gardeners gain an understanding of the aesthetic of a bonsai tree.