Bonsai Growing Tips: How to Prune a Bonsai

The art of growing trees and shrubs in miniature form, in containers, is called bonsai. Bonsai actually means dwarfed trees. In order to create bonsai, tree or shrub species are tapered by wire on the roots, stem, and branches, and pruned frequently to give them a smaller appearance. You can create a bonsai only when you know the technique of dwarfing a tree. Even if you buy a bonsai, you need to know the techniques of bonsai maintenance. When you master the art of dwarfing, you can create bonsai from any tree or shrub species, which normally grow very large in the natural environment. The art of bonsai is not only about creating a dwarf plant but also regularly pruning, tapering, and giving it the desired shape. The art of bonsai is also about caring for your dwarfed plant. Taking care of bonsai is very satisfying, it helps you to relax the mind and manage stress.

Why prune a bonsai?

  • To maintain the shape and size
  • To prompt strong growth
  • To provide nourishment
  • To help a bonsai remain dwarfed
  • To encourage development
  • To give a beautiful style

How to Prune a Bonsai Tree

Bonsai is a dwarfed tree. You can dwarf a tree only when you know how to prune the plant. In order to perfect the art of bonsai, you need to know how to prune the plant how to wire the plant to give it a perfect orientation and style, how to angle the plant in a certain direction, etc. If you prune your bonsai in regular intervals, it will become beautiful and strong.

There are two types of bonsai pruning.

Maintenance pruning

Structural pruning

Maintenance pruning is done to keep bonsai in miniature size and encourage shoot growth. Maintenance pruning can be done all through the year. If the bonsai is a flowering or fruit bearing plant, maintenance pruning helps bonsai to blossom with more flowers or bear more fruits. In the case of non-flowering bonsai, maintenance pruning prompts healthy growth.

Structural pruning is done to give a definite shape and inclination to the bonsai. Structural pruning is necessary for styling bonsai. While doing structural pruning, you have to prune unnecessary branches to help the trunk become thick. Pinch small buds and pare large branches, so that in the next growing season small branches become secondary branches.

Maintenance pruning

Leaf and branch pruning is necessary for bonsai growth and maintains beauty. If you don’t prune shoots, bonsai will lose its elegance by growing rapidly. Leaf and shoots must be pruned in the growing season.

Prune old and big leaf to encourage growth of new leaf. If your bonsai has heavy foliage on the apex, you have to prune it. Heavy foliage on the apex obstructs light and airflow to the lower branches, trunk and root. You have to thin leaves on the apex to help light and air pass down to the bottom. Remember, too much leaf pruning can damage the bonsai.

Prune the branches diagonally. Don’t forget to remove old stubs from last season pruning. Be careful while pruning branches on the apex, you might cut the wrong branch. Remove only those branches, which will not affect the overall bonsai structure.

You can use clippers, however, you have to hand pinch coniferous bonsai. Using shears to prune conifers will damage the foliage. Coniferous species of bonsai need regular pinching on the tips. If budding is unchecked, coniferous bonsai will soon lose its shape. Regular pinching of the cones will help branch development.

Use plant sealant after pruning branches. I prefer to make my own plant sealant by mixing fresh cow dung with sawdust. You can dab wood ash on the fresh wound. Dry ash works as an excellent plant sealant.

Structural Pruning (Style Pruning)

Maintenance pruning helps bonsai grow healthily while remaining in miniature size, whereas structural pruning is necessary to give a definite shape, angling, and inclination. Structural pruning varies species to species and it should be done when the plant is dormant. Structural pruning affects the overall shape of bonsai. Normally, before and after the growing season is the right time for structural pruning, i.e., early spring and late autumn.

Trees have apical dominance, which means they grow higher and become bigger on the top, while lower branches become thinner or die. To dwarf a plant, it is necessary to restrict apical dominance. When you stop growth on the apex, the trunk becomes thick.

Keep the bonsai at the eye-level and begin structural pruning by cutting dead twigs and removing stubs. Visualize the shape you want, mark the parts that you want to prune. Prune the branches that are growing vertically. When there are two similar branches growing in the same direction, remove one of the branches. Cut thick branches from the top.

It is necessary to prune outer parts to prompt inner growth. Prune unnecessary leaves and branches. Remember to remove bigger and older leaves from deciduous bonsai species while pruning. This will encourage the growth of a new leaf.

Observe the leaves closely to see if your plant is healthy. Diseased leaf looks different from the normal leaf. Cut the diseased leaf immediately.

Pruning a Bonsai: Points to Remember

Heavy pruning should be done in summer.

Minor pruning should be done in autumn or early winter.

Don’t prune the bonsai if it is in bad health.

Fertilizing and watering is necessary after pruning.

Prune the roots while repotting the bonsai. Remove minor roots but don’t cut taproot.

Repotting should be done only when the bonsai has recovered from structural and maintenance pruning.

If the foliage is dense, thin it.

Use clippers to prune the bonsai. While pruning branches, don’t prune deep into the trunk.

Remove dried branches

Water the bonsai after pruning, and spray water all over the plant.

Fertilize the bonsai every time you prune.

With proper care, bonsai can live for a century or more.

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