Bonsai Techniques

When you choose a style for your Bonsai, you will need to decide which bonsai techniques to use, i.e. how to accomplish that style.

Working with Bonsai is a learning experience. You will be successful if you keep in mind that you are working with a living plant. Of course, it is possible to design a realistic and beautiful looking of your Bonsai without knowing the names of styles.

Before shaping a plant into a bonsai, decide whether the best attitude of the tree is upright, slanted, cascaded, or semi-cascaded.

Examine the general form of the tree and note whether it is straight or twisted. Match the potential of a tree to the style that fits it best.

Decide whether the base will rise from the soil level or whether you will expose bare roots.

Three basic operations are necessary to establish the basic form in bonsai culture: pruning, nipping, and wiring.

You will need the following basic tools: a pair of sharp hook-and-blade pruning shears; a garden trowel; blunt sticks; a pair of sturdy wire cutters; copper wire of various lengths; and a sprinkling can.

Also useful are scissors for trimming leaves, tweezers for nipping, and brushes for cleaning topsoil.


The first of three basic bonsai techniques is pruning. Through pruning, you control growth and form by removing excess foliage and ugly limbs. When pruning, keep branches growing toward an open space instead of toward each other or the trunk. Shearing makes the plant look artificial.

Make all cuts above a bud, a side branch or a main fork of the tree. Remove all buds except those on the outside of the trunk to force the growth outward and upward.

Leave stubs flush with the stem; long stubs serve as an entry for insects.

If you want to slant a tree that has been growing in an upright position and insure that branches take a natural shape, prune it in an upright attitude, and then tip it to where it should be and work on it that way.


The second of three basic bonsai techniques is nipping. A tree usually requires one heavy pruning in its life to establish its basic form. After this initial pruning, shaping is done by nipping. Nipping, or pinching back, is done to shape and develop the trunk and to control the overall size of the plant. Nipping controls new growth before it becomes so dense that it must be pruned.

Nipping is done not only to shape a plant but also to develop more luxuriant foliage. As the new growth tips show up, nip them with your fingers, twisting rather than pulling. Also nip off tiny spurs that appear on the trunk or along heavy branches.

After the top of a bonsai is pruned, trim the roots. Try to keep all fibrous roots and maintain a balance, if possible, of one branch for one root. Remove any roots that were damaged in digging.


The third of three basic bonsai techniques is wiring. The wiring and bending of branches that give bonsai its shape is unique to the art. Wiring is done after pruning when the tree has been thinned to essential branches.

Copper wire is usually used for shaping bonsai because it is flexible. Wiring and shaping should begin at the lowest point of the tree, working upward.

Wire evergreen trees only during their dormant period when the branches can be shaped without damaging growth. Wire deciduous trees only during their growing season.

The day before you wire a plant do not water it; this will make the branches more flexible. Once a branch has taken on its trained form, remove the wire, straighten out its twists, and flatten it with a mallet for reuse.

Branches sometimes snap, even when carefully wired and bent. If the branch is not completely broken, rejoin the broken ends, and wind some garden tape around the break. These fractures often heal quickly. If a branch snaps off, prune back cleanly at the first side branch.

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