How To Trim A Bonsai Tree – 2 Pruning Options

In this article, I will be showing you how to trim a bonsai tree.

Undoubtedly, the most effective means to train a  bonsai tree is by regular trimming.

Keep reading!

Pruning Bonsai: Trimming Options

There are two different techniques you can apply for this, these include –

Maintenance pruning: This is done to maintain and refine the shape of the tree.

Structural pruning: This involves more technical pruning to create a more formidable tree structure.

Before I go into the details of each technique, we need to first have a proper understanding of how trees grow. This understand will help you trim the Bonsai tree more effectively.

Trees tend to exhibit more growth at the top and to the outer parts of its limbs. This is called “apical dominance”.  This mechanism prompts the tree to grow higher so they don’t get shaded out by other trees.

Distribution of growth mainly to the top and outer branches means the tree’s lower placed and inner branches will lack foliage, this may cause the branches to be weak or die.

These effects are not suitable for the design of a Bonsai tree.

To counter the effects of apical dominance in a Bonsai tree, then the top has to be pruned more than the lower and inner branches. This will force the tree to share growth between the inner and outer branches.

What Is A Bonsai Tree?

It is originally a Japanese art of tree planting which involves special cultivation methods to grow small trees in small pots or containers, to resemble the scale of a full-sized tree.

There are other cultures that practice Bonsai tree planting, these include the Penza of China and the Hòn Non-Bộ culture of Vietnam. In Japan, the Bonsai tree-planting culture has existed for over 1,000 years.

The Japanese word “Bonsai” is now an umbrella term in the modern English language, which is used to describe various kinds of small, potted plants.

Bonsai simply means miniaturized, pot grown trees that follow the ancient Japanese art.

Part 1: Bonsai Maintenance Pruning

The main aim of Bonsai maintenance trimming is to preserve and refine the shape of a small tree.

As I mentioned earlier, trees will naturally concentrate its growth at the too and outer limbs, so it is important these growths are pruned regularly for there to be increased growth in the inner parts of the tree.

When To Prune Bonsai Trees?

You can carry out maintenance trimming all through the growing season. This is between March and September

Ways To Trim Bonsai Trees

Remember, the purpose of this type of prune is to maintain the tree’s shape. To do this you will need to trim the branches and shoots that have outgrown your preferred canopy size and shape. You can use twig shears or a regular cutter to achieve this.

This will prompt the tree to spread its growth to the inner branches. By doing so, the Bonsai tree will develop dense foliage.

Unlike deciduous trees, pine trees and conifers should be hand-picked. Using scissors to trim some species of conifers would result in dead or brownish foliage.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, take the tip of the shoot between your pointing fingers and your thumb, then gently snag it off. The shoot will break at its weak point and the browning of foliage be avoided.

Different species of Bonsai trees require different maintenance techniques as far as trimming and pinching are concerned. Some species can tolerate both techniques.

Defoliation is another technique of Bonsai tree pruning. This as may have already guessed, involves cutting the leaves of the deciduous trees during the summer season. This will prompt the tree to grow new leaves.

This method will cause a reduction in the size of the leaves.

Part 2: Structural Bonsai Pruning

To give a Bonsai tree its basic shape, trimming larger branches will be required.

Choosing the branches that will stay or go could be tricky since the action can’t be reversed once it’s done. The branches you decide to prune out will also influence the new shape of the tree.

When To Trim Bonsai Trees

As a rule of thumb, early in the spring or late autumn is the recommended time to prune a Bonsai tree structurally. This is just before or after the tree’s growing season.

The first thing to do when pruning is to cut off all the deadwood.

After that, take a close look at the tree and figure out which branches are not in line with your intended design. Cut off the ones that do not match your plans.

Trimming thick branches may leave a few ugly marks on your tree, but you can reduce the number of unwanted marks by using a special concave cutter.

If your Bonsai tree is healthy, then it can tolerate trimming of up to 1/3 of its foliage. Some experts suggest removing an even amount of roots after you have styled the tree.

These experts also suggest you carry out only one major maintenance procedure per year. This means that you can carry out a structure prune this spring, then wait with re-potting until the spring of the following year. By then, the Bonsai tree would have recovered from the previous season’s structure-prune.

An extra tip here is to close any large cut wounds with tree wound sealer (or paste). They are easy to find, as they are sold in many Bonsai tree shops.

The tree wound paste or sealer helps protect the open wounds from infections and it speeds up the healing process. Using the right Bonsai trimming tools will go a long way in helping make good cuts and reduce the occurrence of jagged scars on the tree.

If you must prune heavily, do so during the spring and summer seasons.

When Should Bonsai Trees Be Pruned?

Bonsai trees are very tolerant of pruning and can handle a trim at almost any period of the year. However, it is advised they are pruned during the spring and summer seasons.

At these periods, the tree is actively growing. This could fall between March and September, depending on your local of course.

How To Pot Your Bonsai Tree

When you buy a Bonsai tree, the first thing you need to do is carefully remove it from the pot it came in and gently clean off the roots before placing it in your desired spot.

You need to apply caution when doing this so you don’t accidentally damage the main stem of the tree.

I recommend using a potting shovel for this action. It can ply out the Bonsai tree from the old pot without hurting it.

Brush off all the dirt that might be stuck in-between or around the roots of the tree. Chopsticks can be used for this. You can also use root rakes to clear out the dirt.

Pruning the roots after it is removed from the old pot is also a good idea. If the growth of the root isn’t contained, then there’s a possibility it will outgrow the new pot.

To prune the roots, cut off the very thick parts you find. Also, trim any room that faces upwards and away from the main root system. When this is done, you will be left with long, thin roots that will sit close to the surface of the soil in the new pot.

Water is absorbed via the root’s tips so it is ideal for the tree to have more thin root strands than thick ones. The growth of the Bonsai tree will be better controlled this way.

Prepare the new pot where you want to plant your new Bonsai tree. Be sure to provide a base of fresh soil where the tree will be planted. The amount of soil I the pot should allow the tree-sit at the height you desire.

A great tip here is to add a layer of coarse grain soil to be used as a base, then add some fine medium soil on top of it.

The soil you add in the pot should be one that drains very well. By doing so, you will ensure that the roots of the Bonsai tree will not be drowned when you water the plant.

At the top of the container, ensure there is a small portion of space so you can seal the tree’s roots when it is put inside.

Don’t forget to position the Bonsai tree the way you want it to look when you pot it. When you are done with this, cover the roots with fine, well-draining soil so the tree can be firmly held.

For beauty sake, you can also throw in some rocks or moss to be used as the top layer. This will give the tree pot a nice aesthetic.

If there’s an issue with keeping the tree standing straight, you can run a wire through the base of the pot and make a knot around the roots for better balance.


There you go, that’s how to trim a bonsai tree. I hope the extra information provided regarding potting the tree has also been helpful.

Take care!

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