How To Trim A Bonsai Tree: A Simple Guide

Japanese for ‘planted in a container’, Bonsai is more than just a plant. Bonsai is an art form that has been cultivated and refined for centuries. These beautiful miniature trees can live for years with the right care and are a true symbol of patience and practice. As overwhelming as the upkeep may seem- don’t let that intimidate you from growing one of these beautiful trees for yourself. A symbol of harmony, peace and balance, this little tree is a great way to add a little serenity into your life. Just like anything beautiful and alive, a Bonsai tree does need a little tender love and care, so trimming your Bonsai is an absolute must and learning how to do it is absolutely rewarding. Just ask any seasoned Bonsai owners, trimming a Bonsai tree will quickly become a treasured activity. So, get your bonsai branch or knob cutters and let’s get started!

Maintenance vs Structural Pruning: What’s the Difference?

Diving into the world of Bonsai, you will hear the terms, maintenance and structural pruning. The basic idea of Bonsai is to essentially create a miniature version of an actual tree, but that does not mean you cannot have some fun with it. Basically, these are the two types of pruning that you can do for your Bonsai. Let’s break it down:

Maintenance pruning- this is when you prune the tree to maintain the shape and refine it. It helps keep the tree small and regular pruning does encourage new growth.

Structural pruning- this is where all the fun happens. Structural pruning is about shaping the tree and where you can style it to the shape you want. This is where the real artistic side of Bonsai comes in.

Maintenance Pruning: How To and When?

Since maintenance pruning is about just keeping the shape and encouraging growth, it is a rather simple process. Depending on where your bonsai is kept, will determine when to maintain prune. For outdoor Bonsai, the growing season is usually Spring and Summer, so between March and September, so this is the optimal time to prune. Indoor Bonsai plants can be pruned all year long, as needed so the more regular the better!

The order in which to prune:

  1. The first step is to remove any weeds, dead wood and leaves. Whether these are around the plant or still attached. It is important that if you are picking out weeds or anything from the soil or lower levels, to be mindful of the roots and be gentle so they do not get damaged.
  2. Once all the dead wood, leaves and roots are removed, then trim any crossed or broken branches. The reason you need to remove these branches is so the plant can channel as much energy as possible into the new growth, as well as to prevent any rubbing and damage that crossed branches and broken branches can cause.
  3. Then once all the damaged and dead branches are removed, it is time to prune the branches so that they only have 3-4 nodes (the joints that the leaves grow from). Pruning these nodes down allows new growth and stops the plants from getting too big.

Structural Pruning: How To and When?

Structural pruning sets the foundation for all the magic that happens during the growing period. As structural pruning is about giving the Bonsai tree it’s structure and shape, the best time to do any structural pruning is just before the growing season, so from November to February. Out of growing season, a Bonsai is dormant, so structural pruning is a lot kinder on the tree during this period. Once the Bonsai goes through its growth period, it has more of a structure to grow into, so once Winter comes around and even early Spring, it is time to structural prune!

Basic Structural Pruning Order:

  1. This is the time to cut back any large branches and branches that do not fit into the aesthetic you are going for with your tree. Using the branch cutters, try and cut just above a node and be sure to balance out any cuts you do make.
  2. Then it is time to thin out the canopy. The key to doing the most effective job is to position your Bonsai so the light is filtering through, that way you can see just how thick the canopy is and where to thin it out. Any overgrown branches or shoots, along with any higher branches or twigs that do not add to the desired look can be cut.
  3. If you look closely at the tree, you will see small offshoots around the branches or base of the tree. These are called suckers, and they should also be removed. Be delicate with these and use your fingers instead of the cutters. You can also use your fingers to twist off any buds that you do not want.
  4. Now the last step is one that should be done with extreme care and is why it is important to do structural pruning during the dormant season. Defoliation is where you cut each leaf at the base, leaving just the stalk, leaving new leaves to grow. If done at the wrong time- it may mean your leaves might not grow back, so be mindful when you do this.

Last Tips To Remember

Now that you know what to do, here are some things to remember:

  • Having the right tools for your Bonsai pruning is important, as these trees are very delicate. It also makes the process a lot easier!
  • After pruning, always give your Bonsai a good water as well. The ideal amount of water is one that gets the soil moist, but not soggy and you should continue to water your plant once a day.
  • Give your Bonsai the right food to grow too, by using the right fertilizer during the growing periods.

Your Bonsai will love you for it and reward you for all your efforts with beautiful growth.