How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

A successful bonsai growing is the result of careful care and shaping. It is a form of art that requires a great deal of attention as well as patience. The goal of bonsai is to achieve “keisho-sodai“, which means “small size, great similarity”. This is the desired result of people who are growing bonsai.

There are several things that you must consider when working with bonsai. In the beginning, you need to develop a sturdy foundation. Proper root and trunk growth are important to a successful, healthy bonsai. After establishing these you may now start to focus on the limbs of the tree.

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Things you need to follow this tutorial

  • Bonsai plant
    • This could be any kind of bonsai that you wish to shape up. You can purchase ready to train bonsai from local shops or bonsai nurseries.
  • Bonsai Pot
    • You need the right kind of pot to grow your bonsai. Traditional pots are usually plain, may be wide with a circular or rectangular shape. It must have adequate drainage for excess water and fertilizer to drain away from the roots.
  • Bonsai potting soil
    • Potting soil ideal for bonsai growing is available from garden stores and bonsai nurseries. Potting soil is usually soil with good nutrient and water absorption properties. You need soil that has good aeration. You need soil that can retain water and nutrients and drain excess as well.
  • Aggregates
    • You must improve drainage and aeration properties of your soil by using aggregates. These are small pieces of rocks and material that are placed at the bottom of the pot. These allow excess water to drain and will let oxygen enter the soil. You can purchase aggregate materials from local garden shops or from bonsai nurseries.
  • Water
    • You must have clean and safe water for your bonsai plants. You may use rainwater or tap water provided that this is clean water which won’t pose any risk to your bonsai plants. Have your water tested for quality and safety before using this on your bonsai if you are in doubt.
  • Balanced fertilizer
    • Your bonsai needs a balanced fertilizer to recuperate. Some trees need specific fertilizer formulas while some are okay with just like cool water and fertilizer to grow. You can purchase this type of fertilizer from bonsai nurseries, garden shops, and garden centers.
  • Sphagnum moss
    • This is moss that will add more drainage to your soil. The moss will protect the tree and keep it healthy after re-potting. You can purchase this from local garden shops and from bonsai nurseries as well.
  • Pruning shears
    • Pruning shears will help you prune and trim your bonsai carefully depending on the style you wish to achieve. There are many types of pruning shears but always use clean or sanitized shears to prevent the spread of disease or molds from one part of the plant to another.
  • Wire
    • You need wire to position your bonsai to the style you want. Wires come in different types but two are commonly used: aluminum and annealed copper. Aluminum wires are for bonsai with young and pliable branches while strong annealed copper is for larger and thicker branches and trunks. Wires are also available in a variety of gauges from as thin as 1 mm to 4 mm thick.
  • Pliers
    • You need a good pair of pliers to easily cut the wire and to remove wires after training is over. A good pair of pliers is also needed to work with tough roots, branches, and trunks, especially on mature trees.

Step by step instructions

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Possibly the most important part of any bonsai training is working with the tree’s branches. When working with bonsai tree branches, you will do two basic things: wiring and pruning. Wiring is a mechanical way to mold the form of the developing tree into the desired shape and style. On the other hand, pruning allows you to manipulate the growth and refine the form of branches and leaves.

Selecting which part of the tree you want to grow naturally and what to change should be done carefully. First of all, you need to have a background in plant physiology so you can predict how your bonsai tree will grow. You will also be able to make successful alterations on our bonsai as needed.

The two major classifications of trees are deciduous and coniferous. Knowing the exact species of tree is also important so you must understand the basic form you want to achieve.

1) Shaping the roots

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

The roots of the bonsai are composed of the exposed surface roots and the underground root structure. The external roots are called the nebari. Cultivating a proper nebari is crucial to proper bonsai growth and appearance. If working with an older plant, you will have to take special steps to restructure the nebari if it did not originally grow in a proper fashion. Subsurface roots will need to be pruned for optimal root growth.

The External Roots: Growing a Desirable Nebari

The nebari creates a beautiful external root structure of the bonsai. There are differences in the many species of trees and there are also trees with basic forms.

The “eight directions” style of nebari is known as happo-bari orhappo-ne. This is commonly seen in many traditional bonsai styles like the chokkan and hodkidachi. By training the kengai, the nebari is better developed on the non-leaning side to provide structure and balance. The root structures are also improved for both structural and aesthetic reasons. These are known as “imi-ne” or “dreadful roots”. These roots are also improved and intertwined.

Cultivating the Nebari

Growing bonsai will need to be re-potted a number of times as it reaches its mature size. It is during the tree’s growing time when its nebari can be pruned during repotting. But before pruning, the external roots should be growing well and spaced evenly from the trunk.

Once this has been observed, you can start pruning. You will only prune parts that are unnecessary like outgrowths, paying attention to any imbalanced growth or imi-ne. The bonsai should be re-potted as soon as possible. You must repeat this process as needed to be able to develop the nebari.

Restructuring the Nebari

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Training your bonsai does not just end when the tree has matured, you must continue on despite the tree’s age. However, this can never be done with a poor nebari. Therefore you will need to take extra care in repairing the nebari at a young age. There are three methods you can use to do this: by simple cutting, air layering or grafting.

Cutting off the undesirable parts is removing the bark, cambium, and phloem. The cambium is the fast developing growth tissue located just beneath the bark. The phloem transfers nutrients to the roots. Do not cut the deeper structure of the root. After removing cutting off the areas where new root growth is desired, the plant should be left alone to let the roots to grow.

Air layering is removing the bark, cambium, and phloem. Then, instead of leaving the open roots you will wrap these with something to retain moisture. The most common material used is moistened sphagnum moss. New roots will develop on the covered surface. This method is the best for root development because it is quicker and more successful compared to just removing undesirable parts. The main disadvantage is that it is too hard to maintain.

Grafting is another method and this can be done alone or together with other methods. Grafting is done by attaching a tree of the same species to your mature tree in the area of the tree where you want to encourage root growth. The young plant will take root in the desired area.

Pruning the Tap Root and Extraneous Roots

The roots found below the ground’s surface also require pruning. This will depend on the age of the tree, condition of its nebari, and thickness of its trunk. The taproot is the main root of the plant and you need to prune this as well.

Preparing Seedlings for Root Pruning

As early as the tree is just a seedling you need to prepare it for root pruning.  Pruning will not begin until the trunk has been established. This is done by careful maintenance of the tree. Repotting aids growth by systemically giving the plant just the right amount of room to grow and nutrients.

Choosing the right pot is very important. The pot should be just large enough to accommodate the roots as well as some growth room. If the pot is large, it will be hard to provide the roots the proper amount of water and nutrients. The soil will become over saturated. Over-saturation depletes the soil’s oxygen which contributes to root rot and mold growth.

Repotting should also be done very carefully during this time. You can start with a small pot. When repotting your seedlings or young trees, never disturb or break the roots. Careful cultivation and repotting will help the plant to grow thick trunks.

Root Pruning for Established Trees

Once the trunk has thickened the underground roots will be ready to be pruned and the bonsai can actively train. During this time, it is also possible for the tree to be repotted into a container that will be able to accommodate the roots but with no excess space.

Before placing the tree in its new pot, prune the roots to fit the pot. This is also a good time to check the root for any condition. The root is good when it has a thick structure with dense balls of thin roots along the surface of the soil.

The Shoot

The shoot is the basic unit of the plant. It includes a stem and its leaves. A plant is essentially a large shoot with multiple smaller shoots growing off the main one. New shoots are formed by budding. This growth process is aided by watering the plant.

As the water is absorbed into the cells of the stem, it enters the cell’s vacuoles. This increases the cell volume, which causes the cell to grow. The growth proceeds rapidly in a longitudinal fashion. This increases the length of the stem and encourages the buds to mature into new shoots.

The ideal trunk of a bonsai is one with a broad foundation and tapered growth. This can be encouraged by promoting the vertical growth of the trunk. This can be done by selective pruning.

The stem will also thicken if it has a large number of branches. This is because the trunk has to expand to accommodate the extra nutrient flow to the extra limbs. To encourage the desired taper, limb growth should be limited as you move up the trunk. This principle can also be applied to individual branches if you are seeking to create a long, tapered form.

Because of the essential purpose water plays in the growth of a plant, water is necessary for new and continued growth. When water is not available, the vacuoles collapse and the plant wilts. A consistent source of water ensures a strong, vibrant plant.

The Root

The root is the other basic structure of a plant. In its simplest terms, the shoot is above the ground and the root is below the ground. This is how plants are conventionally understood to be and how they usually are.

The soil line is not always an accurate way to distinguish between shoot and root since some plants’ roots grow above ground and some shoots descend into the ground. The bonsai has a root structure that is both below and above the ground. The external roots are called nebari.

Shoot And Root Balance

Shoot and root develop in generally opposite directions from each other, growing in symmetry away from the middle. In the area where shoot and root are closest, cells grow and mature.

Cell division is slow as the existing cells get larger and stretch out on a vertical axis. In contrast, the ends of the shoot and root away from the center are areas of rapid, active cell division.

The growth of the roots mirrors that of the shoots. The larger and more developed the shoots become, the more nutrients they need from the root structure.

The roots grow to compensate for the increased demand. The roots and shoots will maintain a steady, proportional relationship as the plant grows or is reduced by something like pruning.

Balance between the root and shoot includes balances in water and nutrients. It also stays balanced to accommodate the plant’s increased size and structural requirements. The roots become stout and large as the plant’s size increases to provide extra support for the growing tree.

Conversely, if the roots are inhibited by an overly small planter, the shoot will quit growing because of the inability to grow an increased root system to support a larger shoot. This can also happen if the roots are damaged during repotting.

In either situation, the plant may show signs of compensation such as losing leaves or wilting. Once the roots are given some time to grow and adequate space to develop, the shoot can regain growth accordingly.

Secondary Growth

Plant growth progresses from a single shoot to growth of new shoots from that initial shoot. This branching will continue and the plant’s size will grow. The plant will become larger, and the initial stem and supporting stems will all thicken as new stems emerge.

Stem growth increases due to increased demand for water and nutrients requiring larger channels for transport and increasing the diameter of the stem. To keep up with that increased demand, the roots also grow.

The thickening of the stem is called secondary growth. This horizontal growth occurs in cell division tissue called the vascular cambium. This increased tissue thickens the cell walls and eventually dies and forms hardened supportive tissue for the stem.

Secondary growth happens in roots and shoots. Although secondary growth does not occur in all plants, it occurs with most plants used in bonsai and is an important concept to keep in mind when developing a thickened trunk and an overall tapered form.

Pruning the Tap Root

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

The taproot is the long, thick root that digs deep into the earth. It is the very first root that develops from the seed as it germinates. The taproot has many functions.

It grounds the tree by creating a sturdy, deep root. This is important especially for trees that are grown outside due to the wind and other external forces. A bonsai does not face these conditions, therefore, it is not actually needed to have a prominent taproot.

Pruning the tap root is important because it gives the bonsai advantages to the bonsai, too. A large root such as the taproot takes up a lot of space and will even consume resources. Because of the taproot, other roots do not properly develop.

This will make leaves and branches least healthy and lush. Smaller roots will develop along the site of the taproot pruning. This will let the bonsai develop the desired root system of dense groupings of lateral and hair roots just below the surface of the soil.

Root pruning is necessary to create the ideal root structure for a bonsai and make sure that the plant has adequate water and nutrition. Pruning the roots regularly when the plant is young allows the bonsai to develop the desired thin, abundant masses of roots instead of a large tap root and minimum smaller roots.

A tree growing in nature requires a prominent tap root and large root structure to provide physical support for the massive tree as well as supply the large supply of nutrients needed.

A bonsai’s needs are different. It does not need the prominent anchor a tap root provides. It needs the fine, thin roots to maintain the reduced size of the tree while still adequately nourishing the tree.

Pruning the tap root and other thickened roots will encourage fine lateral roots to develop. This provides proportionally more nourishment to the tree, which assists in the development of the lateral buds after the branches have been pruned.

Healthy shoot growth is proportional to the healthy, fine root system it has. Cultivating your bonsai’s roots will allow the plant to mature as desired.

Once the root structure and nebari are already adequately developed, you may now focus your attention on creating a powerful trunk. As much as possible, the trunk should be characteristic of its full-sized counterpart or regular tree.

Take note of the important factors that determine good trunk growth. By understanding these qualities, you will be able to develop a good and healthy bonsai tree.

2) Shaping the Trunk

The bonsai’s kokejun is its taper. The ideal taper for a bonsai should be thick at the bottom with an even tapering towards the middle and the top part of the trunk. This is not achieved naturally and you need to train and guide your tree to achieve this.

The miniaturization of the tree will need an increase of the trunk thickening and tapering. This can be done by improving the trunk’s tachiagari.

The tachiagari is known as the tree’s initial rise and growth. Careful pruning will encourage the trunk’s proper growth and kokejun. The tachiagari is the time when the tree is able to achieve its mature height.

Aside from the tachiagari, other factors to consider are the curves of the trunk and refinements of the form. There are some basic tree forms with specific characteristic trunks.

Take time to plan the final form of your tree. If you can draw, draw the final form you want to achieve. Think about future branch location, foliage distribution, and leaf reduction. You must do this while the tree is still young and the trunk is still pliable.

Understand the Basic Bonsai Forms

Understanding the four basic bonsai forms: chokkan, moyohgi, shakan and bunjingi will help you shape the trunk, branches, and leaves of your bonsai as early as you can.


Chokkan is a traditional upright form in bonsai. It is considered one of the most aesthetically natural form because it is like how a tree traditionally is seen in nature. And even if it has an organic form, this still needs special attention to detail and careful training to achieve.


Moyohgi is almost the same as the chokkan but more informal. It remains upright like a regular tree, but it is less symmetrical. The trunk may be slightly tilted, but it remains straight preserving a basic vertical form.


Shakan is a slanting form in bonsai and this needs a prominent nebari that grows on one side with the bulk of the limb and leaf on the opposite side. Special planning for this form should be made to achieve the lopsided design. The tree should be trained while it is still actively developing its roots.


The bunjingi is the literati form. This style is based on a definite line formed by the tree. The trunk, limbs, and foliage are all trained to follow and emphasize that line. There is a subtle difference between this form and the others, but the most prominent characteristic of the bunjingi form is the prominence of the trunk as well as the line it creates.

Shaping the Trunk

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Before you start shaping the trunk the final form must be decided. Once you have decided on the final form, the tree’s kokejun can be crafted. There are three different approaches to crafting the kokejun; tachiagari cultivation repeated pruning and growing the trunk through selective trunk pruning. The last method is called tate-kae.

Tachiagari Cultivation for Kokejun Growth

Tachiagari development is accelerated by the growth of new limbs from the trunk. The extra branches encourage growth because of these force more water and nutrients to the roots and to the trunk

Removing the branches also removes the extra nutrient flow in the trunk. Therefore keeping the limbs on the tree will keep the trunk thicker and stronger to accommodate the extra nutrient flow. The tree should have adequate sunshine, water, and fertilizer to encourage the tree’s growth.

Repeated Pruning for Kokejun Growth

Limb growth should be encouraged to develop kokejun. This method also encourages budding on the stump. The buds are repeatedly pruned and regrown to boost trunk growth. Pruning should be done early summer and late autumn. The trunk should be shaped with wire as it grows and thickens to its mature form. The trunk may be trained at least two months after the early summer budding. This is a long and arduous process that can take up to three years.

Tate-Kae For Kokejun Growth

The kokejun is developed by selectively pruning the trunk to encourage the growth of a limb. This will thicken and become part of the trunk.  You need to prune the trunk just above the desired branch. You can actually do this repeatedly to cultivate the desired trunk and ideal kokejun. Trees tend to grow upward and vertically, the trunk will soon right itself as it grows and form a strong, robust and healthy trunk.

3) Wiring the bonsai tree

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Wiring lets you control the growth of your maturing tree. Wires are used around the developing trunk and branches to manipulate their growth into the desired shape. You can start wiring once the roots of the tree have been established and the trunk is starting to grow. It is an ongoing process created in stages and done with multiple branches.

Wiring serves a practical function since the tree will not grow into the desired form. Wiring lets you guide the growth, even in sometimes unnatural ways like the shakan slanting form. Wiring also benefits the tree aesthetically. It lets you form the tree in an artistic manner to make the bonsai beautiful in ways that would not be available through natural growth techniques.

Types of Wire Used in Bonsai Artistry

Bonsai wiring is done with either copper or aluminum wire. The wire used should be approximately 1/3 the diameter of the branch or trunk. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each wire when wiring your tree.

Copper wire is more durable than aluminum and, because of that this wire can hold its form and stays in place compared to aluminum wires. Copper wires can damage the branches and trunk if not carefully monitored. This can bruise or cut the plant when left unattended. If you use copper wire, you should monitor the growth and condition of the wired parts regularly. Aluminum wire is easier to use and manipulate. Because of that easy flexibility, it is not as sturdy as copper wire. It is more forgiving especially for anyone new to wiring. Aluminum only needs to be monitored every two weeks.

Both beginners and professional bonsai artists may prefer aluminum wire because of the greater ease of use than copper. Both wires will accomplish good results and it does not matter what type of wire you chose; you must monitor your plants regularly to ensure their good health.

When is the right time to wire?

Wiring should be done to a young, healthy plant to create the best results. Wiring is done when the plant has been re-potted to support new growth. Choosing the right time to wire depends on the type of plant as well. The proper time to wire is also different between deciduous and coniferous trees.

Deciduous trees are wired during the early spring. This is done during the development of new buds on the limbs. Wiring at this time gives you the best appearance of the trunk and branches before the leaves and new growth starts on the limbs. At this point, you will be able to see the limbs clearly and apply the wiring without new leaves and branches getting in the way.

Coniferous trees should be wired in the late autumn or early winter. This is because coniferous trees renew their foliage annually so the limbs are always populated with a certain amount of foliage. Compared to deciduous trees, bare limbs are not important at this point. Wiring is performed when the sap is lowest in the branches so the branches are more flexible and respond better to wiring.

Do not wire a tree that is suffering from any condition. Do not wire weak branches as well because these could bend and snap. Spend some time providing well-balanced nutrients to the tree and improving its vitality before you start applying wires.

Avoid wiring a plant that is freshly watered because it will be difficult to do so. The branches and limbs are most flexible when they are moderately dehydrated. Wiring when the limbs are less flexible can damage or break limbs.

How to Wire Bonsai Trees

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

You need a healthy, young plant and the most suitable wire. Take your time, and be very careful about wiring the plant. As you apply the wire, hold the limb in both hands and you must remember to bend the wire to the branch and not the branch to the wire.

When you are ready, start with the trunk and then move from the thickest branches to the thinnest. Bend the wire from the trunk and outwards on the branches or from the trunk to the tip. Position yourself comfortable to give you the maximum control and to evenly wrap the wire.

The wire should be wrapped around the limbs at a 45-degree angle. This should be done like a “barber pole” or candy cane fashion. The wire should form to the limb and guide its direction. Never wire the branch too tight as well. Your plant is growing and needs space for its increasing size. So the wires will be guiding the growth of the tree in unnatural directions, too.

Anchoring the branches will provide stability and prevent crossed wires or excess tension on the different limbs. The trunk’s wire should start with a firm foundation which is on the soil or on the roots. It should feel steady with a moderate amount of movement. Once you have a steady foundation, the trunk can be wired.

Start at a tight angle as the wire emerges from the ground, and then wire at a 45-degree angle throughout the trunk and limbs. Branches should be anchored by winding the end of the wire closest to the trunk around the wire that holds the trunk.

The 45-degree angle may be adjusted if the limb has a sharp bend in it. Wind the wire at a smaller angle as you move past the turn. This will provide the additional support to straighten the bend.

You can use the same piece of wire on two branches if these two have the same thickness. Anchor the wire around the trunk to secure and balance the wiring. Do not wire branches that have different thicknesses. Use separate wires for each branch if this is the case. If there is a strong branch, you can use two or three wires winded together.

Removing the Wire

Once the wire has achieved its purpose then you may remove the wire. This is usually done during the same season it was applied which is mostly true for moderately-growing trees. The wire should also be removed if it begins to grow into the plant.

When removing wires, cut off the wire with wire cutters. Do not unwind the wire from the limb or reuse wire. This can damage the plant and even break the branch. Cut the wire at every turn so you can easily remove the wire without hurting your bonsai.

4) Pruning your bonsai

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Pruning is cutting away unnecessary growth on the bonsai. Usually, branches, buds, and leaves are pruned. Pruning controls the progress of the bonsai’s development, so you can mold the developing tree to the style you wish and later maintain its mature form.

The tree is considered mature for branch pruning when its trunk and first three branches are established and the tree’s basic form has already emerged.

Branch pruning removes emerging growth and existing limbs that do not conform to the bonsai’s shape. Branch tips and apical buds are also pruned to stop the growth of branches. Existing branches are also pruned when these stick out from the bonsai’s form. Anything that is unattractive and not harmonious to the tree as a whole is pruned.

Goals of Branch Pruning

Branch pruning has to be done to achieve kesho-sodai. The bonsai gardener creates the similar form of the full-sized tree in its miniaturized, bonsai form. Removing extraneous and unattractive budding limbs and mature branches help produce kesho-sodai in a couple of ways.

Branches will contribute to the bonsai’s shape. Removing the limbs also provides space and light to the inner, smaller branches and lateral buds and this will promote growth and development of these branches.

Branch pruning will help will also help you increase the trunk’s size. Pruning is done on the trunk right above the branch that you want to create as your new trunk. Pruning this way will also be able to change the growth direction of the bonsai tree.

However, you must give special consideration if your tree bears flowers or fruit. Pruning will inhibit flower or fruit growth. Always consider your goals and your tree’s needs when deciding to remove or prune buds.

When pruning, keep the desired form in mind. Cut away the branches which do not blend with that form. Strategically prune branches to provide adequate sunshine and ventilation for smaller branches and the inner lateral buds. New branches will grow from those lateral buds.

The Importance of Lateral Buds

Lateral buds are the emerging limbs from existing branches. These buds will mature into new branches that can be trained to become one with the bonsai’s design. When pruning, check the lateral buds to have a good idea about their future growth. Maintain lateral buds on the pruned branches that you think will add to the bonsai’s form. If the branch does not have any lateral buds and is not growing in harmony with the tree’s shape, you can prune it back to the trunk.

Choosing which branches to remove

Prune branches which will not contribute to the structure and the aesthetic quality of the tree. This can include branches that are growing in the wrong direction and oversized thickened branches.

Branches that may not be explicitly deformed but do not fit properly with the tree’s design should also be removed. If the limb’s perceived imperfections take away the overall appearance and design of the bonsai, consider pruning it back or remove it completely from the trunk.

The right time for branch pruning

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

At an early age or when the tree is still young, branch pruning is not a priority, the only root, nebari and trunk development are important. After that, branch growth needs to be encouraged so that the basic form of the tree can finally take shape. This growth can be promoted by wiring the trunk and branches.

Never prune your trees when weather or temperature is in the extremes because these can stress your plants. In summer, the cuts can be damaged by the strong heat and sun. In winter, the cuts can be easily injured because these are easily susceptible to freezing especially when you are growing bonsai outdoors.

Another disadvantage to winter pruning is the potential for overly dense foliage growth and overlong internodes on the branch that develops following spring. Internodes are the spaces between new buds and because this creates extra space, it is not desired. The milder conditions of spring and autumn are ideal for pruning because it is when there is least expected damage to the tree.

The type of plant is also a consideration when considering when to prune and when not to prune. Deciduous trees are pruned in spring when leaves are not on the branches and new growth has not developed for the year. Coniferous trees should be pruned at the end of the plant’s dormant period for the year. This is between autumn and early winter. Pruning needs to be done before freezing starts.

Pruning the Branches

Pruning the branches is the final part of an extensive process of planning and patience. When you are ready to cut the branches, you have already helped the plant from its growth from seedling to a form that resembles its regular counterpart. Enough growth has occurred which add to the bonsai’s form and it is now easier to see which growth detracts from the bonsai’s actual form.

Pruning should be done using a concave branch cutter or pruning shears. It should be sharpened to provide the cleanest and the best cuts. Once you have made a cut, it should not be allowed to remain open. It can be sealed with a drop of glue, paste or a sealant. Once the cut has been sealed, the cut should heal quickly and will no longer occur in the area.

5) Pruning tree buds

How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Bud pruning is usually done together with branch pruning. It is also done with a developed tree. Bud and branch pruning aim to harmonize and perfect the final form of the bonsai. Before you start pruning buds, keep in mind the advantages of bud pruning as opposed to branch pruning.

When to prune buds

Bud pruning is preferable to branch pruning when the bonsai is already in its completed form. Pruning the buds instead lets you maintain the form without extra growth. Pruning is also preferable if you want to suppress branch growth without pruning it.

There are other reasons for choosing to prune buds. If your deciduous tree has attractive branches and lush foliage then you want to preserve these. Bud pruning will retain the tree’s beauty.

With coniferous trees, bud pruning is recommended than leaf pruning because the latter can damage the tree’s growth and affect the quality of the leaves produced.

Bud pruning is sometimes necessary for trees with lateral buds that are not growing. This allows the branch to be saved. Further branch pruning may be necessary if this branch is not growing and compatible with the bonsai’s overall design.

The best time for pruning buds

Buds should be pruned as they grow on the trunk. This usually happens in the spring. Some trees have an extended season of budding which can last from spring until autumn so the buds need to be monitored and pruned as necessary throughout the entire period of budding.

Bud pruning should be avoided in an unhealthy plant or a plant that has been weakened such as after being repotted.  Do not prune if you are still thickening the trunk. The buds need extra water and nutrients to grow, and the trunk and branches usually thicken to accommodate the transport of those nutrients to the buds.

How to prune buds

Bud pruning is done by pinching. This is done by hand or pruning with scissors. Remove the undesired buds when they emerge. Apical buds encourage the growth of the branch. Pinching these will slow branch growth. It also helps control the size of the tree and even its growth.

Bud pruning is done on the older branches near the top of the tree. Pruning near the bottom should be stopped if you choose to prune in that location. And of course, always make sure that the plant has been adequately fertilized and watered before and after the bud pruning process so it can recover quickly.

The Relationship Between Node Length And Growth

A bud is called a node. It is the emerging growth from a stem. Node growth indicates the general growth of the tree. Nodes emerge as the stem grows, and the space between two of them is called the internode. Balanced growth for the tree is desired, but when growth is excessive, the internode can become overly long. This can be due to many conditions such as excessive fertilizing. Overly long internodes are a problem because they encourage a larger tree size. This is counter to bonsai goals and will need to be monitored and pruned as necessary.

Types Of Buds

Bud growth creates new stems and allows you to craft the bonsai’s shape as needed. Buds appear at different points of the stem. Buds at the end of a shoot are called apical, terminal or end buds. Buds in the middle of the stem are called lateral or axillary buds. Buds that develop from the trunk, roots, or leaves are called adventitious buds. Plants which have flowers form flower or floral buds. Buds which form leaves are called leaf or foliar buds.

Once a lateral bud has produced a shoot, it becomes an apical bud at the end of the new shoot. These shoots that branch off from other stems are called lateral branches. This is the basic growth of a plant, and selectively choosing when and which buds to prune will guide the bonsai’s growth.

Bud pruning for deciduous and coniferous trees

Bud pruning for deciduous trees is a straightforward process. With the annual cycle of new foliage, it is easy to determine when to remove buds. Bud pruning should be done ideally in the early spring when the buds first emerge and before the leaves come out.

Coniferous trees include many popular pine varieties that are used in bonsai. Coniferous trees should be pruned at least twice a year, first when the buds emerge in spring and in the early summer when a new round of budding happens after the first pruning.

Buds will still form even after the second pruning until autumn. Two pruning sessions create a shorter growth period for the buds on the tree. This is considered ideal for bonsai growth since it will create smaller leaves. You will also encourage new bud growth by pruning leaves to provide better access to sunlight and ventilation.

Special preparation during winter time is needed to prepare to bud on coniferous trees. Most of the leaves should be pruned away from well-developed buds while more leaves should be left on the weaker buds.

This lets the tree develop more uniformly. All the buds should retain some of their leaves. After completing pruning buds, adjust watering and fertilizer to help your plants recover well.

Bud pruning is predominantly performed on coniferous trees as leaf pruning is mostly used on deciduous trees. Pruning the leaves improves sunlight penetration and ventilation to the and smaller branches and leaves. This encourages vertical growth.

Leaf turnover can be rapid, which can help in recovering from pest infestation. Leaf pruning also helps in branch and bud pruning. It also improves visualization of the tree’s trunk and limb during the planning stages in shaping your tree.

6) Leaf pruning

The first thing to consider is the main purpose of pruning. You must keep in mind any immediate concerns and your long-term goals. Always remember the full-sized form of your specific tree before you decide to prune. Make sure that your tree is healthy and make sure it is adequately watered and fertilized before you start pruning.

Pruning in the late spring and early summer allows for budding and foliage formation. Pruning later in the season is only possible when you are considering selective pruning. The full growth of leaves will have developed during this time so you will have a better view of the leaves you need to remove.

Objectives of leaf pruning

Leaf pruning can be done on a mature tree to refine its length and shape. This is done by pruning the well-developed portions of the outer tree and tree top.

The tree’s health and vibrancy may be maintained by focusing on the leaves that grow in pairs and only removing one of from each pair. If the form and appearance are desirable but the leaves have become dense, leaves can be cut in half to improve ventilation and natural light access to the inner part of the mature tree.

Care after leaf pruning

After pruning water your bonsai tree. It will need to be reduced. Fertilization should be discontinued until new budding occurs. If the number of leaves has been radically reduced, place the plant in a bright but shaded area in your garden for ten days after pruning. This will help the tree recover.

7) Pruning different kinds of trees

Deciduous trees

Deciduous trees have an inverse relationship between leaf size and the amount of sunlight received. Deciduous trees that grow in partial or full shade have longer and larger leaves.

The increased leaf size is important to produce more food for plants. Because food production happens in the leaves, it’s necessary to provide the maximum surface area for the very limited sunlight available.

Deciduous trees that grow in the direct sun become smaller despite having dense leaves. Sunlight is already available, so excess leaf size is not necessary. Small leaves can easily obtain a sufficient amount of sunlight and energy. This is beneficial to the bonsai grower because the smaller leaves are pleasing because it is a miniaturized version of the full-sized tree.

Coniferous trees

Coniferous trees shed their needles in 2-3 year cycles every autumn. And because of this predictable timetable of coniferous trees, healthy trees always have needles in different stages of maturity. The characteristic evergreen nature of many pines is a constant replenishment cycle.

8) When To Prune The Roots Of Deciduous And Coniferous Trees

Root pruning is done on a young, developing plant to create an ideal root set and help regulate the size of the final tree. Desired roots will be dense, clumped balls of thin, hair-like roots. This will be accomplished by pruning the tap root and monitoring root growth through repotting.

Deciduous trees cyclically grow new leaves every spring and lose their entire growth of foliage every autumn. Root pruning for deciduous trees typically takes place in the early spring and late autumn. This bookends the growth season for the trees, before nutrient levels increase for spring and summer bud and leaf growth.

Coniferous trees are evergreen, since their leaves are in a constant, rotating cycle of replenishment. The best time to prune their roots is when they enter their period of dormancy, in late autumn until freezing conditions begin. At this time, the tree’s energy levels are reduced and soil temperature is still warm enough to allow any pruning wounds to heal.

Sometimes you may want or need to prune the roots at other times. Sometimes roots can be damaged or lost during repotting, for instance. In a case like this, you will need to also prune some leaves to compensate for the lost portion of roots.

When deciding what part of the plant to prune, keep in mind that the roots tend to serve the shoot structures on the same side of the plant. So, if root loss occurs on the right side of the plant, focus on pruning some of the leaf growth on the right side to compensate.

9) Achieving Keisho-Sodai By With Balanced Root And Shoot Growth

Stem and bud pruning is necessary for bonsai creation. The emerging plant will naturally want to grow upwards and outwards at a relatively brisk pace. Pruning will contain and control the growth. Focusing on nurturing the lateral buds is of special importance to the bonsai grower, since they allow the bonsai to take its characteristic shape with proper tapering while maintaining a small overall tree size in the spirit of keisho-sodai’s “small size, great similarity”.

Prune the buds which form on the outside of the tree’s frame. Also target the buds on the branches with vigorous growth. These branches tend to have long internodes, and discouraging that growth is important. As you choose what to prune, remember to look for balance in the tree’s form and keep the supply of nutrients steady for the growth it is supplying.

10) Encouraging Balanced Bonsai Growth Through Trunk Development And Selective Pruning

The ideal bonsai form is a miniaturized version of its full grown counterpart. This will require some special care and work to accomplish. In the beginning, it is important to establish a large, thick trunk that tapers as it rises.

Since you are starting with the same seed that typically develops into a large tree, its trunk will not adequately thicken on its own when on the scale of a bonsai. Trunk growth can be encouraged by letting the roots grow adequately.

This can be accomplished by giving it a spacious pot to grow in or letting it begin its growth in the garden. You will also need to provide the proper amount of fertilizer and water.

Once the trunk has developed, the bonsai’s final form begins to take shape. Pruning branches, buds and leaves lets you guide the growth to the ideal form.

Bonsai growth can be manipulated depending on what you choose to prune. For instance, if you prune away a large amount of growth, the plant’s overall water and nutrient need diminishes.

Provided that the root size remains the same, the roots now are able to channel those excess nutrients to dormant lateral buds. This creates new growth from those buds.

If you prune the stems above the lateral buds, vertical growth will cease on the pruned stem. Growth of lateral buds will continue. New shoots will bud and extend at that site. If the lateral bud has begun to develop, the emerging shoot will diverge even more in its growth.

This new shoot will be thinner, which can be advantageous when developing the overall tapering form of the bonsai.

11) Auxins And Cytokinins: The Hormonal Growth Regulators Of Plants

Auxins and cytokinins are two plant hormones that regulate and promote cell division in a plant. They are chemicals which are produced in different parts of the plant. Understanding how they work can help predict growth and make decisions to promote a good bonsai form.

Auxins promote the growth of lateral roots. They are synthesized predominantly in the apical buds on the branches. The auxins are transported to the roots through phloem, which is a channel within the stems and trunk that moves products in one direction, to the roots. Cultivating apical roots encourages auxin synthesis and promotes the growth of the desired thin lateral roots.

Cytokinins work in the opposite direction. They are synthesized in the root tips and transported up the plant through xylem, the plant’s counterpart to phloem, whereas phloem moves one way from the stems to the roots, xylem moves one way from the roots to the stems.

Cytokinins are deposited in apical buds and encourage cell division and growth. They also encourage auxin production in the apical buds, which creates a feedback loop.

Cytokinins are not deposited in the lateral buds, so growth is suppressed to them. Understanding the cytokinin and auxin influence on bud and root growth will let you make decisions to encourage the type of growth your plant needs.

12) Xylem, Phloem And The Photosynthesis Cycle

The inside of a plant’s stem is similar in most cases, regardless of species. Vascular cambium forms the outer layer of the stem. It contributes to the growth and thickening of the stem as well as the formation of the protective plant wall.

The inner part of the stem is mainly composed of channels of phloem and xylem.

Phloem forms the outer channels. It transports carbohydrates from the leaves towards the roots.

Xylem is in the innermost part of the stem. It flows in the opposite direction of phloem, transporting nutrients to the stems and leaves.

The carbohydrate products transported by phloem are produced in the leaves through photosynthesis. Xylem’s nutrients include water, nitrogen and inorganic minerals which are provided to the roots by water and fertilizer.

When xylem brings water to the leaves, it is broken down to hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air and the hydrogen is used to manufacture carbohydrates which provide energy for the plant.

Once the carbohydrate products reach the roots, they combine with nitrogen in the soil to produce amino acids and proteins. This is the basic building block of growth and is necessary for the continued vitality of the plant. This cycle repeats itself throughout the life of the plant.


How To Shape A Bonsai Tree

Shaping a bonsai tree requires the use of a variety of methods. There are pruning and wiring that will eventually create that distinct style you want. But no matter what method you use, remember that you need to carefully understand the actual or regular growth of your trees.

These will you a hint as to how to properly care for your trees and what to expect when they become mature. You can shape just about any tree and this activity will surely give you satisfaction like never before.

Types of Bonsai Trees
Artificial Bonsai TreesBroadleaf Bonsai TreesConiferous Bonsai Trees
Deciduous Bonsai TreesEvergreen Bonsai TreesFlowering Bonsai Trees
Shohin Bonsai TreesTropical Bonsai TreesWire Tree Scultupres
Best Bonsai Tree For BeginnersBest Indoor Bonsai TreesBest Pre-Bonsai Trees
Best Outdoor Deciduous Bonsai TreesBest Outdoor Evergreen Bonsai TreesBest Bonsai Starter Kits
Bonsai Species Care Guide (A-C)
Apple (Clusia rosea)Azalea (Rhododendron indicum)Bahama Berry (Nashia inaguensis)
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)Bamboo (Nandina domestica)Black Olive (Olea europaea)
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)Bromeliad (Bromeliaceae)
Buddha’s Ear (Alocasia cucullata)Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus)Cactus Combo (Carnegiea gigantea)
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma Capensis)Cedar (Cedrus Libani)Cherry (Prunux x yodoensis)
Cherry Blossom (Prunus serrulata)Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Bonsai Species Care Guide (D-N)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)FicusFicus Ginseng (Ficus retusa)
Fukien Tea (Carmona retusa or Ehretia microphylla)Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)Grapevine (Vitis vinifera)
Green Mound Juniper (Juniperus procumbens)Hibiscus (Hibiscus Sinensis)Himalayan (Cedrus deodara)
Jade (Crassula ovata)Japanese Black Pine (Pinus Thunbergii)Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Juniper (Juniperus chinensis)Liquidambar (Liquidambar Styraciflua)Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Money Trees (Crassula ovate)Needle Juniper (Juniperus squamata)Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
Bonsai Species Care Guide (O-Z)
Oak (Quercus)PinePomegranate (Punica Granatum)
Powder Puff (Calliandra schultzei)Privet (Ligustrum lucidum)Pyracantha (Pyracantha Coccinea)
Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostrobides)Rosemary (Rosemarinus Oficinus)Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera)
Serissa (Serissa foetida)Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum)Weeping Willow (Salix repens)
Wisteria (Wisteria sp.)Zelkova/Japanese Elm (Zelkova serrata)