Pruning and Trimming

Most of the bonsai trees that you see did not grow into perfect miniatures on their own. More likely than not, the pleasing aesthetics that we witness in a bonsai is a result of years of carefully planned trimming and pruning regimens.

Regardless of the type of tree that you have planted, a ‘bonsai seed’ will become nothing more than a messy bush if gone without pruning and trimming.

Pruned Bonsai
Freshly Pruned Bonsai by Samuel Souza [CC0]
For beginners, it is best to get your hands on a good set of bonsai trimming tools. You should have at least two pairs of sears (one for bigger branches and one for smaller ones) and a pair tweezers for removing leaves and buds.

The next step would be to plan on the shape that you wish to create. It is recommended that you draw the desired design on a piece of paper so that you will have a good visual of the areas that needs to be pruned.

Do take your time do decide on they style that you want to create because once you start pruning for a particular style, it will be quite difficult for you to change the plant design halfway.

Once you have decided on your design, you will need to focus your attention first on the main branches of your plant. Are the branches currently growing in the right direction? Are there any main branches that needs to be pruned?

If you wish for a particular branch to be grown in a particular direction and to a particular size, you should be careful so as to not accidentally break or cut those branches during the pruning process.

Ironwood Bonsai
Nicely Trimmed Ironwood Bonsai by Sage Ross [CC BY-SA 3.0]
After configuring the larger branches, you now move on to the smaller ones. Smaller branches and leaves can be trimmed using fine sears to create clean incisions. Some seasoned bonsai gardeners trim off leaves by using their fingers. This is done through a quick twisting motion that breaks off twigs and leaves.

It is recommended that you practice this motion on some other plants first before you try it on your bonsai. The trick is to break of the leaving without exerting too much pressure on the main branch. If done wrongly, you may accidentally break some branches in the process.

It is best to draw up a simple schedule for your pruning and shaping endeavor. Depending on the growth rate of the tree species, it is generally not a good idea to prune your bonsai too often. Excessive and vigorous pruning will weaken the plant and make susceptible to infections and diseases.

Leaves and small branches should be pruned one or (at most) twice a week. Major branches and roots should be pruned about two to three times a year depending on the tree species.

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