Growing the oldest tree on earth- Ginkgo Biloba as bonsai

The Ginkgo Biloba has been around on planet Earth for more than 200 million years. Growing one as a bonsai gives you a wonderful opportunity to care for a unique, majestic species that is as tough as it is delicate.

All about Ginkgo Biloba

These marvels of the botanic world reproduce most curiously. Seeds are fertilized after the fruit has fallen, in a process called Oogamy. You may find them referred to as Maidenhair Trees (because it resembles but is different from the Maidenhair fern) or Icho. Found in fossils, living specimens were discovered in Chine in the 1690s and brought to America in the 1700s. Each tree can live to be many thousands of years old and so treasured and well cared for specimens can be passed along in families.

Ginkgo Biloba appearance

The most unusual and endearing part of the Gingko Biloba are the leaves. These delicate, dear little leaves are shaped like tiny fans. They have transparent veins radiating out along the course of the leaf. The leaves range from light green through to golden yellow during September and October. Leaves then drop for a period of dormancy. Fruits that look a bit like a plum, which are really more like seeds or nuts, are produced by female specimens. These have been used in traditional medicine in China and are still used in supplements today- but take note, they can be dangerous in large doses. The bark is fissured and appealing.

Unique Gingko Biloba Bonsai

Some other amazing facts about this plant:

● They can absorb pollution
● Six Gingko Biloba trees survived the Atomic Bomb blast in Hiroshima
● The seeds or fruit contains a substance similar to the irritant in Poison Ivy
● The seeds or fruit are high in antioxidants and are also supposed to improve brain function
● Images of Gingko Biloba are commonly used in art and as a print in textiles and fabric
● The Ginkgo Biloba is one of the most common trees to see in New York City, with one report estimating there are 60,000 growing there

Ginkgo Biloba Bonsai

Gingko Biloba bonsai will want to remain outside. As they have lived for so many millions of years, they are quite tough and can handle most conditions we humans try to keep them under. They can handle most low temperatures, but having said that, infant plants can become damaged in frosty conditions. They would have flourished in more temperate and tropical climates during the days of the dinosaurs.

Ginkgo Biloba bonsai likes and dislikes

If you’re feeling worried about your Ginkgo Biloba’s tolerance for freezing and frosty temperatures, putting inside an unheated greenhouse during the worst of the winter weather is completely fine. The roots are somewhat fleshy and so they may become damaged by frost. Miniature forms are available and smaller plants will be easier to move about, including inside the house. If you do bring your bonsai into the home for a visit, ensure adequate humidity is provided.

Watering Ginkgo Biloba bonsai

You will get to know the best frequency for watering your Gingko Biloba. The general rules are similar for many types of bonsai: water regularly to help the plant stay cool and hydrated during the warmer months, then lessen watering during the cooler months. Misting over summer is a good idea, especially in dryer climates.

Repotting Ginkgo Biloba bonsai

These are slow-growing trees. The Gingko Biloba bonsai species will require less frequent repotting than many other bonsai plants. You will likely be looking at reporting every 3 or 4 years as the tree matures. Repotting more frequently may be required in younger plants. Standard mixed bonsai soils with loam, compost and sand should be suitable. Just check that your mixture allows adequate draining. The transplanting process does not usually cause stress for a Gingko Biloba.

Bugs, pests and problems

Perhaps the key to this plant’s longevity is the fact that it is rarely bothered by pest infestations. The occasional aphid might try its luck, so try water spray to remove them, or do so by hand. In only a few cases, such problems will become severe and using an insecticide will not cause any harm to your plant. The seeds can release a strange and rather unpleasant smell when rotten and squashy. I’ve heard it described as ‘baby’s vomit’ and ‘rancid butter’. Keep your plant clean if you want to avoid such unpleasantness.

Ginkgo Biloba Timeline

● Spring- fertilize during this time but do not expect dramatic growth
● Summer- protect from extreme temperatures and prolonged heat waves
● Autumn- raise new plants from cuttings
● Winter- keep soil moist but not wet

Tips to help your Ginkgo Biloba bonsai

You will need to prune this bonsai plant carefully. The Gingko Biloba can become shocked if too much pruning occurs; it will stunt growth and expend a lot of energy trying to heal cuts that are on the larger size. Make sure to prune during the growing season and use very sharp scissors to cut new shoots back to three leaves or less. You will be unlikely to need to use wire because of the naturally occurring shapes, which require only to be thinned out. The wire can cause damage to the bark anyway, so I think it’s best avoided.

Advice for growing Ginkgo Biloba bonsai

The natural shape of the Gingko is very similar to the traditional bonsai flame shape and you will be able to achieve an excellent example of this form without too much wiring or additional work. I would probably try upright, clump and cluster styles as the only real other best options for the Gingko Biloba bonsai. Anything else will look overworked and unnatural. Glazed pots in oval or rectangular shapes can look very cool, I’ve seen both blue and green tones work very well.

The bottom line: A mysterious and ancient species with no living relatives- the Gingko Biloba is both distinctive and beautiful; a once-in-a-lifetime addition to a bonsai collection.