The self-assembled growth of GaN nanorods on Si (111) substrates by plasma-assisted molecular beam epitaxy under nitrogen-rich conditions is investigated. An amorphous silicon nitride layer is formed in the initial stage of growth that prevents the formation of a GaN wetting layer. The nucleation time was found to be strongly influenced by the substrate temperature and was more than 30 min for the applied growth conditions. The observed tapering and reduced length of silicon-doped nanorods is explained by enhanced nucleation on nonpolar facets and proves Ga-adatom diffusion on nanorod sidewalls as one contribution to the axial growth. The presence of Mg leads to an increased radial growth rate with a simultaneous decrease of the nanorod length and reduces the nucleation time for high Mg concentrations.