The trunk of a bonsai tree is one of the most important parts of the design of your miniature plant. Not only is a beautiful trunk incredibly visually appealing; what’s more, a strong trunk is essential for a bonsai tree’s well-being.

However, developing interesting, large trunks is not an easy task, even though there are various techniques that can be applied, one of these being the practice of trunk chopping.

Learning how to trunk chop a bonsai tree the right way is imperative, for if you approach this process without preparation and knowledge, you can do more harm than good.

Why Trunk Chopping has Sometimes Deemed a “Dirty” Word?

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In the world of bonsai, there are bonsai masters who refer to trunk chopping a “dirty” word, but why is that so?

Above all, there is nothing wrong about trunk chopping.

But at some bonsai shows and exhibitions, it is often the case that you may come across a tree that has undergone trunk chopping at some point without actually fully recovering from the wounds.

The scars from trunk chopping are only visible if you look at the backside of the displayed bonsai, though. For some bonsai enthusiasts, the large scars that are not healed over might not be a big issue. However, for experienced bonsai connoisseurs, this is an undesirable effect that can ruin the entire design of the displayed tiny tree masterpiece.

With this in mind, approaching to trunk chopping your bonsai should only happen when you feel confident about your knowledge on that matter – something that we will focus on in the following section.

Trunk Chopping your Bonsai

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While it isn’t the easiest part of the process of training your bonsai tree, trunk chopping is an essential tool in building a solid, admirable trunk that further complements the authentic appearance of the miniature tree.

To get that fine taper and to achieve the desired asymmetrical effect between thinner branches and a large, strong trunk, chopping the trunk is a fantastic option.

The Moyogi Tapering Style

With the classic Japanese Moyogi tapering style, one of the most important things to keep in mind is the trunk that emerges from the soil as it is crucial in achieving the desired appearance. Because of this, the trunk must show signs of movement prior to being chopped.

As a rule of thumb, chopping the trunk should happen straight across. Straight across chopping is highly recommendable as new buds do not typically develop at a high point.

This means that buds can also appear lower so if you don’t chop the trunk straight across, you may need to re-cut the trunk once again. The reason why it’s best to avoid having to re-cut the trunk is that this will inevitably make a large scar while also setting a bonsai tree’s development back.

If you do notice a small, low branch or a decent low bud, though, you can try chopping the trunk at the angle. Doing so may just save you a whole season.

The Spreading Oak Tapering Style

For a start, the chop must be made straight across the trunk, just like with the Moyogi tapering style.

The best time of the year for the trunk chop is mid-autumn when the primaries have grown all year so that you can choose the best three buds that will, later on, make way to grow the tree from.

Once chopped in the autumn, you need to wait until the spring season before you cut back the branch as soon as you notice four pair of leaves after the buds break. The goal is to leave the branch with only a single pair intact, instead of four.

In order to achieve the Spreading oak style, you need to start adding wire after a few weeks of growth.

Your aim is to be patient as this particular style can take about four years to be fully accomplished. The secondaries should be done in the same manner as the primaries. Finally, tertiaries will be built on top of the canopy.

Important Things to Remember before Chopping the Trunk of your Bonsai

Trunk chopping should only be applied to healthy, vigorous, well-developing tree species. If your bonsai tree shows any signs of slow development, avoid chopping the trunk or you may just kill your miniature tree before it ever grows to its full potential.

Once the tree back-buds, you need to choose another leader, so careful monitoring and planning go hand in hand.

Tree species that belong to the Acer genus usually respond to trunk chopping very well. The same goes for most hardwood deciduous trees. These type of trees are able to bounce back from the wounding relatively quickly and with high survival rates.

When thinking about the desired shape of the trunk that you wish to achieve, it might be a wonderful idea to spend some time in nature. There is a solid reason why bonsai trees collected in the wild are considered a rare, extraordinary, and rather expensive treasures – the living nature is an unparalleled artist that can always surprise you with unusual shapes and patterns.

Video by: GMA Public Affairs – The art of hunting and growing bonsai trees | Reel Time

Final Thoughts

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A bonsai tree always “speaks” to its master. It just takes time to be able to understand its subtle, delicate language as to read the signs and signals it sends you straight away.

If this is your first time trying to figure out how to trunk chop a bonsai tree, remember that planning, contemplation, and patience are crucial. Do not rush but let the tree guide you into achieving its full potential and beauty – the sweetest yet the most challenging part of being not only a bonsai tree gardener but also an artist.