Bonsai Pruning: How To Trim Your Bonsai To Perfection

Bonsai are delicate, fragile miniature trees that require daily attention and regular maintenance.

Your aim for a perfect bonsai tree is a perfectly scaled artists representation of an ornamental tree or shrub. You will gently sculpt your bonsai tree over time to represent a full-sized and mature tree that would be found in nature. Growers must always have a long-term vision of their scaled tree.

As part of your long-term plan, you need to regularly prune your tree in preparation for training and for overall health.

There are two kinds of pruning that you need to consider:

Maintenance pruning keeps your bonsai healthy, trim and encourages health and the new growth to emulate a fully grown tree.

Structural pruning can be rigorous and is an art form that shapes your tree for aesthetic appeal. Structural pruning tends to be more drastic, and your tree will take a longer time to recuperate.

Whatever the reason for pruning your tree, you must have a critical eye and the right tools.

When you have pruned your bonsai tree correctly, and at the right time, you can start to train the tree into the desired shape through various wiring and guy rope techniques. It’s important that you are aware that when a branch is bent out of shape, you will affect the natural line of the sap flow, which could stunt the growth and cause further dwarfism.

Most trees have a natural propensity to grow with apical dominance.

In a nutshell, this means that the main central stem, or trunk, grows more dominantly than the side stems or branches. This allows the tree to grow upwards. The natural process encourages the tree to grow higher than its neighbouring trees. It prevents it from being in the shade and inhibiting growth.

Naturally, if the growth is distributed primarily to the top and outer edges, the inner and lower branches will die from lack of sun. The unbalanced growth pattern will cause the branches to grow out of proportion.

By practising bonsai pruning, you will ensure that your tree is perfectly balanced and healthy.

As you begin to understand the natural growth patterns of trees, you can start to use age-old pruning techniques that will counter the effect of apical dominance. You now know you must prune your tree’s top and outer portions to regenerate growth.

The tree will redistribute healthy growth to the inner and lowermost parts giving you overall control of the design.

Bonsai Pruning: Why It’s So Important

Bonsai pruning is essential for many reasons. Not only does it keep your tree healthy, but it is necessary so that you can give your tree aesthetic appeal and a unique nature-inspired shape. Regular pruning also helps you control the size of your tree. Your bonsai should reflect nature, but also the styling of the bonsai artist. Bonsai pruning doesn’t have any hard and fast rules.

As long as your tree is thriving and healthy, you can be as inventive as you like.

Pruning encourages new growth and helps preserve the physical condition of the tree.

  • o Remove dead branches and shoots
  • o Maintain the required shape of your bonsai
  • o A preventative measure to avoid the weakening or death of branches
  • o To improve ramification
  • o Manage apical dominance
  • o Maintain the required size of your tree
  • o Remove unsightly branches for aesthetic reasons
  • o Maintain overall design and appearance

Structual Pruning

You should carry out structural pruning when the tree is relatively young so that you can start training your tree to have the desired shape.

Structural pruning can often involve significant changes and complete removal of primary branches to create the preferred shape. It can therefore put your tree under immense stress. It’s vital that you carry out heavy pruning at the right time of the year not to risk its death.

Sap loss is detrimental to your tree, and your tree will need time to recover.

Heavy pruning should be carried out in the spring or autumn seasons.

Structural pruning requires thought and planning. It is an irreversible operation so you should carefully consider the branches that will stay and those that you will remove. It can sometimes be a difficult choice.

This type of pruning will define how your tree will look.

Maintenance Pruning

You can carry out maintenance pruning throughout the year. However, it’s best during the growing period so that the tree doesn’t deviate from the desired shape and design too dramatically. Maintenance pruning is essential to encourage new growth on the extremities of the tree and promote new blossoms.

Regular pruning will also boost growth in the tree’s inner parts, which is essential for overall balance.

If the tree needs aggressive maintenance, you should do this in the spring or autumn so that it has time to recover.

Minor refinements, however, can be carried out at any time.

Maintenance Pruning Guide 


There are two important reasons to prune your bonsai trees. The first is the most vital: Health.There are numerous ways to keep your bonsai in prime health, including placement, watering, fertilising, repotting, disease prevention and regular pruning.

There is a lot of care that goes into maintaining a healthy tree, and you cannot rush the process.

Caring for a bonsai tree has been likened to a form of meditation and learning the art of patience.

As with any long-term project, you need a plan of action.

From your first effort at structural pruning, you will need to be very clear about the outcome you would like to achieve. You should think about how you would like your bonsai to look now and into the future. This will dictate the parts of the tree you would like to prune for your desired aesthetic and how you will manage future maintenance pruning to sustain the design.

Maintaining your tree is a regular practice. You’ll be able to improve and encourage the shape of your tree in little steps.

With regular cutting, ramification improves, which affords dense, beautiful fine branching because of the new shoots. Leaf size begins to reduce to give more scale to the tree.

Regular maintenance gets closer to your ideal, healthy specimen.

Various techniques are used during routine maintenance of your tree and include twig pruning, leaf pruning and pinching. In order to create a balanced tree and for lower and inner limbs to receive more light, you will need to prune the heavy top and outer foliage to keep the tree healthy.

By cutting away excessively large leaves, you will encourage your bonsai to replace them with much smaller, in-scale ones. Beginners will be interested to know that leaves grow on deciduous trees in pairs, and you can prune one from each of these pairs.


It is important that you interfere as little as possible with your bonsai’s biological activity. Causing unnecessary stress can slow down the development of your tree. It is important only to work on healthy specimens; if a plant is weak or sick, you can cause irreparable damage and possibly even death.

If you are unsure or have concerns, retain leaves and branches in the weaker areas to promote new growth.

You must regularly fertilise your tree to ensure that it has enough nutrients for each growing season.

Regular pruning means that you have more minor injuries that are repaired quickly by the tree during the growing season. You can apply cut paste to seal and protect these wounds.

Your tree goes through various phases each year; you need to understand when they take place.

  • o winter dormancy
  • o revival and flowering
  • o producing new growth and fruit
  • o summer dormancy
  • o firming up new growth
  • o preparation for winter dormancy

These periods will depend on the climate and the circadian rhythm in your country.

To confuse matters more, each type of tree has different timings.

For example, a Japanese larch will have a different growing season to a dawn redwood and an oak.


You will perform maintenance pruning to maintain your tree’s shape.

With sharp, clean twig shears or cutters, prune the branches and shoots that have outgrown the intended shape of the tree. You must regularly prune to force the tree to distribute growth evenly and develop dense foliage.

Different species of bonsai need slightly different care.

It is good practice always to treat wound areas with cut paste or aluminium tape so that the tree doesn’t become infected from bacteria, insects and microorganisms. Maintaining a good level of humidity will also encourage healing.

Structual Pruning Guide


You should practise structural pruning on young bonsai trees so that you can begin the training process early. This pruning technique is often quite forceful and intense because you are removing primary branches, which can cause shock.

You must keep in mind your original aesthetic desires.

Many traditions surround structural pruning, including the removal of forward-facing branches. In Japanese culture, it is insulting to point; hence any branch growing at a forwards angle will be removed to be in line with their impeccable manners.

If you are a beginner, it’s often a good idea to practise maintenance pruning for a little while until you have a better appreciation and understanding of your tree before you attempt structural pruning.


Bonsai trees and trees, in general, are very sensitive to touch, damage and external stimulants. They can become distressed if something interferes with their natural growth and movement patterns. Choosing the right time to structurally prune your tree is of paramount importance to ensure optimal health.

As with maintenance pruning, you need to understand the growth period of your tree.

Most bonsai trees are dormant during the winter and a short period in the summer, and their growth period is in the spring.

The optimal time to structurally prune your bonsai is in the late winter, about a week before the start of spring. Your tree will be able to handle better the hard pruning just before its growing period and have a much better recovery time.


Structural pruning takes lots of consideration. You’ll have an overall vision of how you would like your tree to appear. But first, remove any weak or unhealthy-looking branches to retain the health of your tree. Many enthusiasts will remove branches that cross the trunk or each other or grow vertically.

Your bonsai takes nutrients from the soil so consider removing any questionable branches from the bottom of your trunk so that these branches do not deplete any nutrients.

Try to make the cuts diagonal so that they look inconspicuous when fully healed.

Your bonsai should have a tapered trunk that is thicker at the bottom and finer at the top. The canopy should be evenly spread, and there should be no branches close to the base of the tree. If your tree has low hanging branches, you have two remedial options. You can either carefully cut off the branches, but this can leave scarring, or you can train it upwards.

Ensure that the branches are relatively pliable so that you don’t snap them.

Dead or twisted branches are unsightly and can be detrimental to the tree.

Removing these branches may cause suckers to appear; these are tiny twigs that start growing from the trunk. It’s important to remove these suckers early to give your tree a clean look.

Various branches can make your bonsai look out of sorts and should be removed to protect the overall appeal. Parallel branches tend to grow side by side and make the tree appear lopsided; the same applies to branches that grow on a similar height path.

Your tree should look balanced; if you have branches that have a particularly thick base, then these should be removed early on.

Certain trees like the ficus have aerial roots; make sure that you consider these in the overall appeal.

Bonsai Pruning: Your Top Questions Answered

What Equipment Should I Use When Pruning?

Investing in the right equipment is essential when pruning and training your bonsai.

To mitigate damage and shock, you must use shart and clean tools. The beginner’s armoury should include a quality concave cutter and shears. As you progress, you can add more tools. Japanese knives are well-known for their exceptional quality, but they come at a price. The tools tend to be made from stainless or black steel.

Black steel tends to rust; you will need to apply oil to it after every pruning.

You can use concave cutters for removing branches from the trunk and create deepened cuts that don’t leave unsightly swollen scars. Use shears for twigs, small branches, roots and leaves.

Various designs and shapes will ensure best practices for individual trees.

How Do I Keep My Pruning Tools Clean?

After each pruning, inspect your tools to make sure that they have not been damaged.

Looking after your tools properly will make sure that they last as long as the tree!

Always be very careful when cleaning your tools; the blades are very sharp. After each use, wipe clean the blades with a damp cloth and ensure you remove all of the sap. If removal is difficult, use warm soapy water. If any stains remain, use a bamboo or wooden spatula and a cleaning oil to remove them.

To prevent rust and corrosion, spray the blades with oil. Store your tools in a dry place.

Before use, wife the blades again with rubbing alcohol or an antiseptic wipe.

Do I Need To Put Anything On The Pruning Wound?

Seal large wounds with cut paste or aluminium tape to protect wounds from bacteria, insects, and microorganisms. Maintaining a good level of humidity will also encourage healing.

Can I Prune My Bonsai With Sciccors?

You can use bonsai scissors or shears to maintenance prune your tree throughout the growing season. Use scissors to refine the shape of the tree and to encourage bushier growth. Scissors are used for stems, twigs and buds but not for foliage because you can make the tree look unkempt, and the leaves will turn brown along the cut edges.

When Do I Start To Train My Bonsai?

Structural pruning prepares your tree for training and shaping. Wire and guy ropes are used to bend the trunk and branches in order to give the desired artistic appeal.

Typically, bonsai’s mimic full-sized trees in nature.

Perhaps it is upright and formal that you might find in a redwood forest; the windswept look synonymous with blustery coastal regions or cascading styles that wouldn’t look out of place on the banks of a river or lake.

Should I Put My Bonsai In The Sun After Pruning?

Your bonsai will be weak, particularly after structural pruning. You will need to ensure that it has enough light but not direct sunlight until it recovers. Slowly you will give it a little morning or late evening sunshine to encourage further growth.

Treat your bonsai with complete care and avoid giving it additional interference to avoid shock.

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