Ginkgo Biloba Bonsai: A Beginner’s Guide

The Ginkgo Biloba is a fascinating plant which is very old. Fossils which are remarkably similar to this gorgeous tree date back nearly 270 million years, and it helps that you can grow it as a bonsai tree without a lot of trouble. 

The fact that this species has survived, unaltered, for so long, makes the tree a living testament of its hardiness and robust nature. 

Interested in growing your own piece of natural history as a bonsai tree? Here’s what you need to know.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About A Ginkgo Biloba Bonsai Tree

It may not come as a surprise when you consider that a Ginkgo Biloba tree is considered a living fossil, but when grown as a bonsai tree, this plant can live for over a hundred years. That is, of course, if you give it the right care to begin with.

This makes growing it as a bonsai a rewarding hobby, especially when you consider that some plants which are grown as bonsai trees will last less than 50 years.

Exactly how long it can live for as a bonsai tree is a mystery. In the wild, there is a Ginkgo tree which is reported to be over 3000 years old, so these characterful trees are capable of living an extremely long time. 

You may also see it sold under the Ginkgo, Gingko, or the Maidenhair Tree. 

You can recognize this tree by its famous fan-shaped foliage, which is lost during the winter months, drawing the eye to its lovely pale gray trunk.

It comes from China, and it’s the last living species in the plant order Ginkgoales.

We’ve been cultivating it for nearly as long as we’ve been around, where an extract made from the leaves is used as a traditional dietary supplement.  

A mature Ginkgo tree produces false flowers and cones, which, in the case of a bonsai tree, will take about 20 years. 

In the wild, Ginkgo trees can reach anywhere between 66 and 115 feet high, though there have been some enterprising trees which have reached impressive heights of 165 feet!

When grown as a bonsai tree, they are more likely to get to about 16 inches tall when mature, at about six years old. Of course, this depends on how you prune your bonsai tree, and what style you might train it into.

Starting Off: Should You Grow A Ginkgo Bonsai Tree From Seed, Or By Propagation?

Starting a Ginkgo bonsai tree from seed is not recommended. At best, it’s a lengthy and complicated task, and at worst, you won’t see any seeds germinate.

It’s worth noting that nurseries do not raise Ginkgo trees from seed, because they are too time-consuming. Instead, they grow their stock from cuttings.

It is much easier (although it will be more expensive) to buy a Ginkgo bonsai from a garden nursery or bonsai seller.

But why not grow a Ginkgo bonsai tree from a cutting? Well, if you look carefully at the Ginkgo bonsai trees being sold, you might notice that they have been grafted.

The reason for this is that ginkgo trees are either male or female. While the male tree produces pollen, the female tree produces fruiting seed pods which smell absolutely horrible. 

So horrible, in fact, that they are grafted to avoid them entirely.

Another benefit of buying a Ginkgo bonsai tree from a nursery is that you don’t have to wire it. Gingko trees have very delicate bark, making the process more than a little complicated. 

Can You Grow A Ginkgo Bonsai Tree Indoors?

No. If you want to keep a Ginkgo biloba bonsai tree alive, then you need to keep it outside. 

The reason for this is that a Ginkgo tree will not survive in the harsh, warm and dry atmosphere that our homes provide. 

They also go dormant in the winter, but in order to do so, they need the drop in temperature to tell them when to stop growing. 

Without this dormancy period, the tree cannot rest. While it will put out growth for a while, it will be noticeably weaker, and if not given a dormancy period at all, the plant will die.

How To Care For A Ginkgo Bonsai Tree 

Sunlight And Position

A Ginkgo bonsai tree will be happy in either a fully sunny position, or dappled shade. For a mature Ginkgo bonsai tree, pop it in full sunlight. Not only can it withstand direct sun with no problems, but you’ll also be treated to fabulous color in fall.

Just before the leaves drop, in full sunlight, they will turn the most spectacular shade of gold.

For anything younger, put your bonsai tree somewhere that gets some relief in the shade, away from the hottest part of the day.

When it comes to winter, you’ll need to give it some protection from freezing temperatures. Frost damage can kill your Ginkgo tree.

You could put it by the side of your house, where it should get some protection, or to really help it, keep it in a cold frame or insulated greenhouse where the frost cannot kill it. 

Soil Requirements

A Ginkgo tree requires well-draining soil in order to thrive. A basic soil mix for bonsai trees will do just fine. 

When Should You Water A Ginkgo Bonsai Tree?

When it comes to watering a Ginkgo bonsai tree, the number one rule is to not let the soil dry out completely, as the plant won’t thank you for it.

Just make sure you don’t overwater it, either. Stick your finger into the soil, deep enough that the soil reaches your second joint. If the soil is wet down to this level, don’t water it. 

During winter, you’ll need to water it much less, as the plant won’t need as much water during its dormancy period.  Only water it to keep the soil slightly damp, stopping the roots from drying out completely.

Fertilizing A Ginkgo Bonsai Tree

Your Ginkgo bonsai tree will benefit from some fertilizer during the spring and summer months, twice a month. 

For best results, make sure to use a balanced, specially formulated bonsai fertilizer, and only feed it when it requires watering, and water it in to stop the roots from burning.

Use half the recommended dose.

How To Prune A Ginkgo Bonsai

Ginkgo bonsai trees are not forgiving when it comes to pruning. You have to be careful when trimming back this particular bonsai, as any cuts will produce permanent scarring on the plant.

Only prune your Gingko bonsai tree during spring and autumn, reducing any leaf clusters to three leaves at the most, never cutting the tallest leaf on the outside.

Trim your Ginkgo bonsai tree sparingly, as it absolutely hates it. 

How And When To Repot A Gingko Bonsai Tree

The ideal time to repot is in very late winter, or very early spring, when most of the tree is still dormant.

You should aim to repot your Ginkgo bonsai tree every two or three years, or when the roots start to grow out of the drainage hole, whichever comes first.

Use a bonsai compost mix for best results to replace the compost, adding a layer of grit into the bottom to improve drainage.

Common Problems To Look Out For

As long as you give your Ginkgo bonsai tree the right level of care, it should thrive for years without any problems.

It’s a robust tree by nature, so it’s likely to only run into issues when the growing conditions cause it to suffer.

The biggest killer of a Gingko tree is probably root rot. Luckily, this is easily preventable by only watering your Gingko tree when necessary, checking beforehand to confirm it does need watering. 

Another thing you should be aware of is frost damage. The Gingko tree is quite vulnerable to it, and the plant is made more susceptible by keeping it in a pot. 

Always move your Gingko bonsai tree to a sheltered location before temperatures plummet in fall.

Final Thoughts

A Ginkgo tree is a very rewarding plant to grow as a bonsai tree. Not only for its looks and robust health, but also for the fact that it’s considered a living fossil by some, and that you can care for your own piece of living history.

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