Bonsai Gardening Secrets

Bonsai Pruning

Copyright 2004
by Erik A. Olsen

One of the most important (yet often overlooked) aspect of this "hobby" (or for some of us -a life calling) is bonsai pruning . Necessary not just for the aesthetic aspects of a bonsai plant, pruning is also used for training, which can be done to create and maintain the tree’s shape.

Form Pruning

This type of bonsai pruning is performed on the larger branches. It helps define the form. Remember, the goal is to make your Bonsai appear old and natural. Therefore, branches that do not work toward this goal would need to be removed. In the spring, which is the best time to do your bonsai pruning, you will have more buds, making it easier to perform the pruning. Just be sure you never remove any large branches if the temperatures still have a chance of dipping below zero.

Unfortunately, pruning does put the branch at risk for big, unattractive wounds. For this reason, you should use a concave cutter, which creates a hollow around the wound, which heals much quicker and cleaner. Instead of becoming over eager at pruning, you will typically prune lightly, just enough to help give definition to the main branch structure.

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Additionally, any branches that have green leaves or needles should never have more than half removed. The reason is that the wounds on this type of branch require much more of the tree’s energy. To help your Bonsai heal quicker, you can buy a type of paste for the wound that actually works to seal it.

Maintenance Pruning

With this type of bonsai pruning, the tree’s primary structure has already been defined. Therefore, you will no longer remove any of the larger branches. However, you will need to keep the smaller branches cut back regularly, which helps maintain the shape of the tree. Unlike form pruning that should only be done in the springtime, maintenance pruning can be done throughout the year.


This is a different type of method for pruning your Bonsai. In this case, only pine trees can be plucked while deciduous trees would still need to be pruned. Additionally, with plucking, you can do this anytime throughout the year.


In the summertime, there are some trees used for Bonsai that need to be defoliated, which means removing a large portion or all of the leaves to help the tree produce new ones. This is typically done for a number of reasons. First, it will help stop certain branches from growing and second, it will help the tree produce more branches as well as leaves.

This particular method should only be done if your Bonsai is healthy. Otherwise, part or all of it will die. While there is no set schedule for defoliating your Bonsai, you want to remove the leaves as soon as you see new buds appear. You can usually tell when the tree needs to be defoliated in that one branch will developer faster or slower than the rest on the tree.

Jin and Shari

These two methods help make the Bonsai appear older and is generally used to enhance the tree’s natural appearance and character. The word Jin means, “baring and bleaching a branch” and Shari means, “baring and bleaching a part of the trunk.”

The process is where the tree’s bark is completely removed to help give the tree a more rugged appearance and best done in the summertime, which is the same for both Jin and Shari. Start by choosing your branch, making sure it is as thick as a pencil or larger. Then remove the bark with a flat knife, often referred to as a “Jin knife.” Next, use a Jin Fluid, which will fasten the bleach to the tree.

For the Shari portion of the method, you will remove the trunk’s bark, which helps create a little drama. Starting at the ground surface, you want the bare part of the trunk to become smaller, as it moves higher up. Make sure too much bark is not removed at once in that this could cause all or a part of the tree to die.

If you need to mark the area on the trunk where you want to remove the bark, you can use a piece of white chalk. Then with a sharp, flat knife, carefully begin pulling the bark off. Once this is complete, you can take the concave cutter to hollow the trunk slightly to give it the aged and natural look. Then, again use the Jin Fluid to apply the bleach.



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