Cutting Bonsai Guide: Why, When And How

In Japan, the bonsai was considered a symbol of prestige and honor and was worth a lot of money. Through travelers, the miniature trees reached Europe in the 19th century. Today, the bonsai can be found in many households. All over the world people now enjoy the small trees and make even the city a small forest. Unfortunately, there is a lot to consider when caring for and especially cutting bonsai. We have of course summarized everything important for you in this article.

Why should you cut your bonsai?


Pruning your bonsai is essential, so the trees stay small and maintain their beautiful shape. With the right pruning technique, the bonsai is kept vigorous but still very flat. In order for the roots to become thicker on the surface and thus form the nebari (thick root attachments), these should also be cut back regularly. Targeted pruning of branches and the trunk can help the bonsai with proper care.

The right time to prune bonsai


Since they are usually houseplants, depending on the type of pruning, the tree can be pruned throughout the growing season. The main growing season here is spring and summer, making it the perfect time to prune your bonsai.

Bonsai pine pruning


To keep the needles short, cut off all too long shoots in July-August, either completely or down to 1 cm. Buds will form in these places, which will sprout shorter needles the following year. Also remove old biennial needles, this causes light penetration and bud formation. Between September and November, prune out buds that are not very pretty. Vigorous pruning of branches on pine is better done in winter, as less resin will come out and thus the cut will grow faster.

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Maple bonsai pruning


The best time to prune maple is when the branches are clearly visible. That is, in the fall, early spring and after a leaf pruning. In spring, the maple sprouts very quickly, during this time you should constantly monitor the growth of your bonsai.

Pruning Ficus Bonsai


The various species of Ficus can be kept not only as normal houseplants, but also grown as bonsai. The Ficus is very suitable for beginners, because it is very cut-tolerant. It is pruned from May to September about every 6 weeks. Not all new shoots should be removed at once. If 5-7 new leaves have formed, they are cut back to 2-3.

Juniper bonsai pruning


For the juniper, cut off all long shoots that stick out from the overall appearance. The right time here is throughout the growing season.

Tip: Do not prune juniper bonsai like a hedge, as removing the growing tips can weaken the tree and cause the cuts to turn brown.

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So easy you succeed in cutting bonsai?
Now the little tree is at home and you want to start with your first cut. We have here for you a step by step guide to the correct bonsai cutting.

Step 1: The right tool


Bonsai pruning requires a delicate touch and, of course, the right tools. If you use tools that are too big for fine branches and roots, you will not be able to cut as filigree as the bonsai needs. For this you can buy a special bonsai scissors.

To be able to cut thick branches, you should first buy a high-quality concave pliers. The deep cuts of these pliers heal much better than the cuts of normal pliers.

Always make sure that the tool is sharp and clean. Before each cutting operation, and even if several trees are cut in succession, you should treat your tool with disinfectant from the garden center or with pure alcohol (available at the pharmacy). This is the only way to avoid the risk of bacteria and fungi entering through the cut.

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Step 2: The right pruning


Topiary pruning: This pruning is important if your bonsai has become a bit too big and has lost its original shape. But even if you are pruning for the first time, all branches should be shortened so that the overall appearance is that of a bonsai.

Pruning is always done at an angle to the desired direction of growth, just above a node that points in the desired direction of growth. Unwanted branches coming directly out of the trunk should be cut off completely with concave pliers. Topiary should be done every 2 years.

Maintenance Pruning/Leaf Pruning: Leaf pruning involves cutting down needles or leaves in the summer so that small leaves will form on the next shoot. Shoots that interfere with the overall appearance of the bonsai are removed with the help of maintenance pruning. This applies, for example, to unwanted new shoots on the trunk, shoots that grow vertically upwards, shoots that grow crosswise, shoots that grow too densely and shoots that grow too far down the trunk.

It is better to prune your bonsai once generously than several times a little, otherwise the growth will not be stimulated strongly enough. If you remove old branches, “dormant” nodes can be stimulated and sprout new ones.

Pruning: If the bonsai has just moved in with you, this is the first cut you should make. It is crucial for the later appearance. Place your bonsai at eye level and remove all dry and dead branches, as well as withered leaves.

If you have 2 branches at the same height on the same trunk, you should remove one of them. Cut thick, vertically growing branches and branches with unnatural curves or twists. Always work with concave pliers so that the wound grows closed inconspicuously afterwards. You should perform the design pruning before or after the growing season, i.e. in late winter or fall.

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Tip: When pruning your pine, it is important that you do not necessarily use tools. New shoots or candles that need to be removed must be snipped off directly with your fingers for conifers.

Step 3: Cut the roots


If you keep your tree as an indoor bonsai, you should repot it regularly. Repotting your bonsai is also the right time to cut the roots. Root pruning is necessary to contain the growth of the tree. Carefully free the roots from the soil. Large, vertically growing roots need to be removed to encourage growth of the lateral roots and for a nice nebari (root base) to form. The lateral roots should also be shortened to 1-2 finger widths.

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  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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