Caring For And Shaping Bonsais

Caring for and shaping bonsais isn't simply a matter of watering. There is a lot involved in the care of these

When you look at a well shaped-bonsai, you should see a flowing form that captures the eye. To obtain this form, you don't simply begin pruning and snipping away with no plan in mind. You need to have a plan and a clear understanding of your bonsai. This is where the "Rule of Thirds" comes into play. Simply put, the Rule of Thirds is an aid in designing the shape of your bonsai. Take the total space of your plant and its container and divide it into thirds both horizontally and vertically. This gives you the proper "division of space" before you prune and allows you to get the results you desire: a properly shaped miniature tree. You always want to look at the front, back, and sides of your bonsai before touching it. Also, look at its roots so you can connect them with the areas of the tree's growth.

There are three basic elements to shaping your bonsai. They are pruning, nipping, and wiring. You will need a good pair of sharp pruning shears, a pair of wire cutters, copper wire, and scissors.


Pruning controls the bonsai's growth and form by eliminating foliage and limbs. Make all your cuts above a bud and a main fork of the tree. When removing buds, remove all of them except for the ones on the outside of the trunk. This forces the growth of the bonsai upward and outward. Don't cut too far back because you will weaken the branches. Stubs on the tree should be flush with the stem. Long stubs attract insects, and you don't want that. You want to keep branches growing toward the open, not toward each other. As you look at your bonsai, remove all of the crossed branches and dead ones. If the form is still not what you desire, thin the remaining branches until it has the form you want.

If you've removed heavy wood from thick branches or from the trunk, make sure it is cut as close to the trunk as possible. Scoop out the area with a chisel. This will allow the wound to heal without detracting from the look of your bonsai. Protect the area with some grafting compound because bark will not grow over these areas for quite a few years. If you take the extra time to treat these wounds, they will be undetectable after they heal.


You don't prune your bonsai all the time. Actually, after you have the desired shape after its initial pruning, you shouldn't do it again. Nipping (also known as pinching back)maintains the shape of your bonsai. You nip your bonsai to control new growth so that your mini-tree doesn't become so dense that it has to be pruned again.

If your bonsai looks too thin, or "twiggy," you want to nip it to make it more dense. When you nip, or pinch off buds on a branch, it allows side shoots to grow, giving your bonsai a thicker appearance.

Nipping also helps to grow better foliage. When new growth tips appear, nip them with your fingers by twisting them. Nip any growth that appears on the trunk and branches. This growth will turn into what are called "suckers," which leave scars when you remove them. Suckers can best be described as growth that is too heavy on the trunk or branches.


Wiring is really the art of bonsai. It is bending and twisting the branches to give the bonsai its wonderful shape. You do this after you've pruned, nipped, etc., and the essential branches remain. Copper wire is flexible and comes in many sizes. The lower the number is, the heavier the copper wire. The most commonly used sizes are 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 (very thin). Wire an evergreen, such as a juniper, only when it's dormant. If you do it during its growing period, you can damage the tree.

When you wire, begin at the lowest part of the tree and work your way up. To begin, push the wire into the soil at the base of the tree. This anchors it. Go from the trunk to the main branch of the tree, spiraling upward. Don't wire too tightly. You may damage the trunk and branches. After wiring, shape the branch by hand, gently bending the branch in the direction you want it to grow. If a branch breaks completely, prune it back; don't just leave it as is. Sometimes, a branch breaks, but not completely. In this case, you can actually rejoin the broken ends, putting some garden tape around them, and it will heal. Don't keep the wire on your bonsai for more than a year. If you find that the wire is becoming too tight around the bonsai due to growth, remove it because it will leave grooves in the tree that won't go away. When you remove the wire, start at the ends of the branches and work your way down. Be careful when you do this so that you don't harm any of the growth or branches of your mini-tree.

Some Additional Tips

1. Water your bonsai 2-3 times a week. Check the moss every day to see if it's dry. If it is, submerge in water to the base of the trunk.

2. Mist while you water.

3. Bonsais require moderate light.

4. A humidity tray is important in maintaining optimum moisture.

5. During growing season, fertilize every 2-3 weeks.

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