How to Prune a Bonsai Tree: Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome! We are so glad you have taken up the art of bonsai. Maybe you are unsure how to train your tree species to grow in that small shallow pot. You have arrived at the right place because pruning bonsai is an essential part of its training to create a stylish masterpiece.

Plantly will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to prune your little, cute friend.

Why is Bonsai Trees Pruning Important?

bonsai tree growth

Before we get to the techniques of pruning bonsai, it helps to know how your tree grows. Then, by learning, you’ll understand how you can prune your bonsai tree species efficiently.

One natural tendency most trees have is that they have an apical dominance growth. So, the central stem grows dominantly compared to the side stems. So, for example, when you look at a branch’s main stem, it is dominant compared to the side twigs.

Hence, it allows the tree to grow higher and does not need to compete against other trees for light. The lower branches die as the tree grows to the top and outer edges. As a result, the top ones start growing out of proportion. You end up with undesirable traits of your bonsai tree.

With this knowledge, you know how you can use your pruning to help counter those effects of apical dominance. The reason is that the dominant growth happens on the main stem and you need to prune the outer and top portions thoroughly.

Doing this forces the tree to start redistributing growth to the lower and inner parts giving you control over the growth and design of the tree.

Different Types of Bonsai Pruning

pruning bonsai

Some maintenance pruning helps to refine the shape of the tree. While structural pruning is more rigorous to give your outdoor plants their unique shape.

Bonsai Maintenance: Pruning Deciduous Trees

bonsai pruning maintenance

Doing maintenance like bonsai pruning helps form the shape of your tree. Trees concentrate most of the growth at the top and outer portions of the trunk. Hence, it is best to remove these areas to stimulate growth closer to the internal stems of the plant.

You can do this throughout the growing season for your outdoor bonsai and year-round for indoor plants. You want to maintain the shape and best prune the branches and shoot outgrowing the canopy shape with a pair of twig shears or cutters.

You can regularly prune to force and distribute growth evenly to develop dense foliage. If you have bonsai pine trees, then do pinching with your hand. The reason is that some conifers will develop brown dead foliage when using cutters, shears, or scissors.

Alternatively, you can hold the tips of the shoots between your pointing finger and thumb to pull it away. The offshoot snaps at the weak point and avoids dead and brown ends. You may find that some tree species need a combination of both.

Another method to shape the branches of your tree is defoliation. The technique applies to deciduous bonsai by removing worn leaves in summer, forcing them to grow new leaves. Using this method reduces the size of your tree and helps increase ramifications.

Structural Bonsai Pruning

structural pruning

To give your tree a distinctive shape, you need to prune the large branches. It is best to decide which branches you want to keep and what you want to remove. While choosing is not easy, the action is irreversible but does help define the look.

The best time to do structural pruning is in early spring or late fall before the growing season starts. Furthermore, trimming differs from one tree to another. For example, the trim differs from the ficus bonsai and juniper bonsai.

To prune your tree’s structure, you need to place it on a table at eye level. Start removing all the dead branches, and then look closely at the plant to see what branches you want to remove to get the desired effect.

Pruning a Bonsai Tree for the First Time

Okay, it is the first time you will prune your miniature tree, and yes, you feel nervous. But mind you, there is no need to feel stressed. You can easily get your maintenance pruning done by following the four steps here.

First Choose The Right Tree

ficus bonsai for beginners

So, how do you know what tree is best for you when it comes to the art of bonsai? We recommend choosing a beginner-friendly indoor bonsai plant like the ficus bonsai. You can invest in a starter tree for bonsai instead of starting from scratch.

Start Preparing Your Tools

bonsai tools

Now that you have your bonsai tree, you need to prepare yourself for action using a proper pruning bonsai kit. So, do not go and grab your scissors or nail clippers. The best pruning bonsai tools are a concave cutter and twig shears. Still, even if you have an oopsie, you can fix it with some cut paste known as Bonsai Bandaid to cover the wounds.

Determine Where to Remove Branches

Great, as an example, we will use the ficus tree that has grown out of shape.

  1. With your twig shears, you will prune the long shoots and can remove up to 20% of the leaves, depending on how it has grown.

  2. But if the branches are more extensive, we recommend using your concave cutter instead. The reason is that the blades leave a hollow wound that can heal faster than a flat wound.

  3. Before you cut, create some space for the cut by pruning the majority of the branch.

  4. Once you remove the bulk, you have more room to make clean cuts where you want them.

  5. Next, cover the wounds with your cut paste to help them heal faster.

Removing the Crossing Shoots

Once you cut back and remove everything, you have a basic shape but can still find some branches that grow into one another. Sometimes you can use a bit of wire to get rid of the issue or do some directional pruning.

When you have two branches crossing, you may need to remove the one growing inwards or crossing over the trunk and branches. You can spot these branches easily when you look at the whole tree design.

The main design of the tree should flow outwards from the tree trunk, and it should not have inward growth. So, if you notice any crossing branches, use your concave cutters to remove them.

Use your twig shears to remove new shoots from the main root that gives an undesired look.

Pruning Tips for Established Bonsai Tree

You should not have any problems pruning up to 1/3 of the foliage on a healthy tree. Many botanical boutique specialists recommend removing an equal percentage of the root system after stylish your tree.

While another plant specialist will recommend only performing maintenance pruning once a year. If you decide to do structural pruning in spring, wait for your re-potting and root cutting until the following spring.

Doing this helps your bonsai tree recover from the pruning.

Bonsai Pruning Common Mistakes

dead bonsai

When it comes to bonsai trees, we have all made mistakes, and yes, we end up with a dead tree. Still, if you know your mistakes, you can rectify them regarding bonsai care.

The Biggest Mistake is Over-Pruning Bonsai

Yes, pruning is relaxing and very meditative as it allows you to connect with your trees. Still, please do not get carried away and take it slow. We recommend removing broken to diseased branches first. Do a thorough pruning in the right season at the right time and leave your plant to recover after pruning.

Do The Root Work at The Right Time

bonsai root pruning

Do all your root pruning at the start or end of winter. While your trees top growth is dormant, the roots are always willing to grow. Hence, it is best to trim them when they do not need to support the inactive top parts.

Cutting/Pinching Tips

pinching tips

A juniper tree gets most of its energy from the foliage. In spring, you will see your tree is healthier as it has bright green tips. So, please do not remove them, or you may weaken your tree. You can give your juniper tree pruning but do not cut off the tips.

It’s a big no-no to use sharp scissors to remove the tips. Instead, use your pointing finger and thumb to pinch off the tips.

Frequently Asked Questions

For maintenance pruning, you can do it year-round. But structural pruning bonsai trees only need to be done once a year in spring or fall.

You can prune a bonsai tree year-round, but most of the pruning you do is when the plant grows actively in spring and summer.

Yes, it can happen that you over prune your bonsai as you get carried away. The best is to remove the larger branches, dead thin branches, and if you find too thick branches, you can also remove them to shape your tree. Still, remember to do this at the right time of the year

Plantly offers wide variety of bonsai trees, whether indoor or outdoors.

Whether you want to buy, sell or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

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