Once you have completed the work of tapering (kokejun), initial rise
(tachiagari), and wiring, you can begin the final shaping of the plant. Pruning your bonsai tree
Pruning reduces the volume of the tree in order to achieve the goal of
“keisho-sodai”, literally small size-great similarity. You need to prune the
branches, the buds, and the leaves.
Naturally growing plants tend to be large and thick and inevitably have
disorderly shapes. In order to remove the disappointing and unaesthetic
parts of a bonsai plant, you need to prune its branches, buds, and leaves.
Pruning lets you achieve diverse effects in bonsai plants. After each pruning, new branches and leaves will grow out of the lateral buds and so will more smaller branches and leaves emerge.
In addition, pruning the branches and leaves on the outer side of the bonsai tree stimulates the growth of those on the inner side of the tree, where the branches, buds, and leaves tend to wither due to insufficient sunshine and poor ventilation.
Moreover, pruning the exterior branches and leaves makes the interior ones more visible. This brings out a sharper view of the entire bonsai. It also facilitates branch pruning and wiring.
The effect of pruning and the damage thereof to the tree are in general
directly proportional to the frequency and the intensiveness of pruning. For
example, the effect and the damage due to leaf pruning are directly
proportional the total amount of leaves cut off and how much is cut from
each leaf. The effect of bud pruning is proportional to the number and
lengths of the buds that are pruned.
The exact amount and method of pruning depends on factors such as the
tree species, the growth condition of the tree, and the desired effect. For
example, leaf pruning is mainly done on deciduous trees, whereas bud
pruning is mainly done on conifer trees and certain species of deciduous
trees. You should make integrated considerations before deciding on pruning.
Branches pruning prevents the excessive development of branches when
the tree is growing. It has three main components. The first is to prune the
branch tips, i.e. the apical buds, to prevent the growth of the branches. The
other two are that you should prune the protruding branches and the
Although pruning is simple in itself, there is no common rule to when or
which part is the most appropriate to prune a tree. The answer really
depends on your goal.
In general, the upper part of a tree grows more actively than the lower
part. On a single shoot the most active growth occurs at the apical bud for it
absorbs the most nutrients and water, which then inhibits the growth of
lateral branches and lateral buds. In this way the outer part of a tree grows
most actively. It is also possible that over the entire tree some specific shoots
may stick out. If they are left untended, then the tree will only develop into a
The goal of pruning is to cut off the tree parts that disturb the plant’s
shape so as to reduce the tree’s overall size and to improve its appearance.
The most important part of pruning is to ensure there are lateral buds and
lateral branches on the pruned branches and the inner side of the tree. In
order to realize the concept of “small size great similarity” (“keisho-sodai”), it
is not enough to cut off branches or to merely reduce a tree’s size. You also
need the smaller branches and leaves to develop fully. If you prune part of a
branch, then new buds will grow out of the lateral bud of what remains and
they develop into new branches. In this way branch pruning adds new
branches and leaves to the tree.
When pruning branches, you should check if there are lateral buds on the
inside of the parts to be pruned. You should predict the direction and angle
of the growing branches and leave space for their growth accordingly.
Then you need to prune the branches near your side. In case some lateral buds have new branches in undesired locations or pointing in undesired directions, you should discard these lateral buds. On the other hand, if a branch has no lateral bud, then you can cut it off from its end.
This is called “kiri modoshi” (cutting back) or “oi komi” (shortening back close to the trunk).
When a branch is too large or too thick, this is incompatible with the
concept of “small size great similarity” (“keisho-sodai”). So you should prune
Similarly, you should prune a branch if its shape is not good
enough. This allows new branches to grow from the remaining lateral buds
and lateral branches. In this way you can change the direction of the
branches and the trunk according to your will, and develop tapers and various beautiful shapes. This method is called “tate-kae” (reshaping the trunk or
branches by cutting back).
For reasons mentioned above, buds are very precious to bonsai making.
However, if these precious buds appear on the inner side of the tree, they are
blocked by the outer branches and leaves. So they cannot receive sufficient
sunshine or ventilation. These buds will not grow well and they may even
wither. Pruning can improve the sunshine and ventilation for the inner side of
the tree and thereby promote the growth of the buds.
You can conduct branch pruning at any time other than summer or winter.
In summer strong sunlight will damage the cuts, whereas in winter the cuts
are easily frozen. You need to have a clear vision and devote meticulous work
in order to make excellent bonsai. The best period for pruning is when it
brings minimal damage to the tree. Generally speaking, for deciduous trees it
is just after their leaves fall, and for conifer trees it is in the end of the tree’s
dormancy. For certain species of trees, if you prune in winter, then in the
following spring or later the branches may develop overlong internodes and
the large leaves will grow very dense.
Node is where the lateral bud grows, and the space between nodes is called internode. If stem and branches grow actively, the internode will become too long. A bonsai tree must have small size, so you need to cut off branches on the lateral buds near your side.
You use scissors to cut off the undesired branches that affect the aesthetics
of a bonsai tree. This may not sound difficult, but in practice it is a great
challenge to the beginners to figure out where to cut and how to cut.
Branch pruning is unnecessary for young trees.
It only applies to the trees that have developed basic shapes and have obvious undesirable branches in need of pruning. Nevertheless, it is possible that some branches that were thought undesirable are in fact very important. So you must exercise caution during branch pruning.
You should only prune the undesirable branches after the tree has fully
grown, that is after the trunk, “ichi-no-eda” (the first branch), “ni-no-eda”
(the second branch), “san-no-eda” (the third branch) as well as the basic
shape of the tree have all been established.
An undesirable branch can be the long branch on an internode growing outwards from the tree. Or it can be any branch with unattractive shape, such as “imi-eda” (the dredful branches) in traditional bonsai.
Imi-Eda (Dreadful branches)
Imi-Eda (Dreadful branches)
When you cut off a thick branch from its end, you should use a concave
branch cutter to hollow it out a little at the branch end so not to leave scar.
If you want neat cuts, then you should use a sharp concave branch cutter or
pruning shears. In addition, you should not let the cut wound be in direct
contact with air or water.
You should insulate the cut wound from air and water with cut-paste or wound sealant. If the bonsai plant has flowers or fruits, then pruning the flower buds will inhibit flowers and fruits from growing. Thus, if you want to view the flowers and fruits, you should keep the flower buds during pruning.
Generally, the best time to prune the thick branches of deciduous trees is in spring before the buds sprout. Whereas the best time for conifer trees is between autumn and the end of their dormancy except freeze-up.
How to prune a branch and sealing the wound. Chinese elm.
1. Use suitable cutters or a small tooth saw to remove unwanted branches.
2. Keep cuts as small as possible but the priority is to ensure wounds can heal in an attractive way.
By making a slightly larger cut flush to the trunk this scar will become almost invisible in the future.
3. Shave off the rough edges of the wound using a sharp, sterile knife and shape so that is completely flush to the trunk.
This speeds up the callusing process and ensures the final scar is less obvious.
4. When the cut stopped bleeding, apply a thin layer of suitable wound sealant such as paste containing antifungal and antibacterial agents.
Use it sparingly: a thick layer can actually inhibit healing.
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5.Allow the sealant to dry. The seal will stay on the tree for several years until a callous forms naturally underneath.
Don’t be tempted to remove the sealant to see what is happening beneath it.
6. for larger wounds especially on species that are very slow to callous you may want to apply sticky-backed aluminium tape over the top of the wound to promote rapid healing.
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Bud Pruning (pinching)
Bud pruning (pinching) and leaf pruning both aim to develop small
branches and leaves. These methods have the same effect as branch
They are applicable when branch pruning may not apply, such as when the bonsai trees have completed shapes, or when you only want to suppress the overlong branches on the tree without pruning them.
For example, you can apply these methods to deciduous trees that have beautiful branches and leaves, such as Acer (Maple), Zelkova, Beech, and Hornbeam.
In addition, bud pruning is applied to trees whose branches have been
pruned but their lateral buds are not growing well.
Bud pruning in pines
Bud pruning is also used for conifer trees such as pine trees because leaf pruning may damage the plant and cause it to wither or tend to develop leaves of poor shapes.
Bud pruning (pinching) is to pinch by hand (Me Tsumi) or to prune with
scissors (Me Kiri) the apical buds that grow out one after another.
The overgrown apical buds disturb the healthy development of a bonsai tree’s
shape. You can prune the apical buds with scissors or pinch them by hand
before they grow out.
For some tree species, such as the Japanese black pine, pruning with scissors could cause the pruned parts to wither.
Bud pruning must be done immediately after the new buds appear. The
key to this work is to find time to carefully pinch every new bud. You only
need to pinch the apical buds to stop or slow the growth of the branches.
In doing so you can also add small branches and evenly growing leaves. The
details of bud pruning are similar to other kinds of pruning. You need to
prune the well developed parts of the tree such as the upper portion, and
you should not prune the less developed lower part so much.
You should also keep an eye on the length of the entire tree and make sure the leaves grow in consistent size. In general, for conifer trees such as the Japanese black pine, you should not prune the well developed buds altogether lest the tree will wither.
Bud pruning can damage the tree, so you must provide the tree with plenty fertilizer and water before and after bud pruning.
You should monitor the tree’s health and make adjustments accordingly in the extent of pruning.
In particular, if the plant appears to be weak just like what would be observed
after repotting, then the buds are not growing healthily and you should keep
away from bud pruning.
In case you want the branches and the trunk to grow thicker, you should exercise control in bud pruning.
Almost all trees bud in spring, so bud pruning is generally conducted during this season. However, plants such as Zelkova, Acer (Maple), Shimpaku Juniper, Needle Juniper, and Cedar will continue to bud until autumn, so you should pay special attention to the budding of these plants in this period.