How To Train A Bonsai Tree

Posted by Nursery Tree Wholesalers on

Wait, you can train a tree? What do you mean?

So you have purchased a bonsai tree from our wholesale nursery - now what? Can you train a bonsai and "bend" it to your will? You can! By training a bonsai tree, we are referring to the regular maintenance of a tree that shapes and bends, or trains, the tree overtime to conform with your design (the way you want the tree to look). Primarily, bonsai trees are trained through pruning which can be done either as part of your regular maintenance, or a more extensive prune to style the tree.

First, you need to understand how trees grow - Trees in nature, and therefore bonsai trees, will almost always distribute the growth of the leaves and new branches to the top of the tree, where the sunlight is. This growth pattern will cause the tree to grow taller to “beat out” the other competing trees for sunlight, and eventually the lower branches of the tree will die due to lack of sunlight and distribution of nutrients. Meanwhile, the top branches will continue to grow higher and higher. Generally in bonsai, it is considered undesirable for the lower branches to die and have out of proportion large upper branches. By pruning, you can change the shape of the tree while at the same distributing the growth to the lower and inner branches of the tree.

What is maintenance pruning?

Maintenance pruning is a technique where you prune the tree regularly as it grows, which will help keep and refine the desired shape. Be careful not to fiddle, as this is an easy trap to fall into for beginners. Maintenance pruning, if done correctly, will help encourage the growth to concentrate more on the inner and lower branches.

When should you perform maintenance pruning?

You should perform maintenance pruning throughout the growing season, which is typically spring to late summer/early fall.

The Most Important – How To Prune

To perform maintenance pruning with deciduous trees, you simply trim (using pruning shears) away undesired branches or shoots to help “maintain” the shape you are aiming for. If you prune regularly, it will force the tree to distribute its growth more evenly throughout the tree and will encourage the developments of dense foliage. If you have a pine tree or a confiner, you are “pinch” away the unwanted growth with your thumb and pointer finger. Simply pinch the tip of the new shoot and pull away from the tree. Easy enough right?

What is defoliation?

Defoliation is a method of bonsai pruning and styling that should only be done with deciduous trees. This method involves removing all of the leaves from the bonsai during the summer, which will force the tree to rapidly grow more, new leaves in their place. If done correctly, the leaves will grow back smaller and more dense, which is exactly what you want in bonsai when attempting to create a miniature tree.

 What are the bonsai styles?

How exactly do you want your tree to look? What style is best suited for your specific tree? We recommend that you read our common bonsai style blog and make sure you are familiar with them. Before you start pruning away at your tree, make sure you have a clear picture of what style you want the tree to look like. If you start removing branches without an ultimate goal, then you will probably cause some irreversible “shape issues” with your tree by fiddling with the branches. So again, before you began, make sure you know where you are headed so you don’t remove anything essential to the style of the tree.

When and how should you preform major pruning

Generally, the best time for major pruning is once a year in the early spring, just as growing season is underway. This is when the trees nutrients are pumping through the branches, and the tree will be better able to recover from the loss of any major branches.

 The first step in major pruning is to set the tree on a table that is relatively eye level, so you have a clear view of the entire tree. You should trim away the dead wood/growth. As started above, have a clear picture of the shape you want to achieve in front of you and carefully decide which branches you need to remove. You can even draw it out on a piece of paper if you have trouble imagining it! Don’t rush this process as it is crucial to the overall look of the tree! You will regret it if you end up removing the wrong branch!

Here are a few guidelines that will help get you started:

  • When two branches are growing at the same height on the tree, remove one and keep the other
  • Remove any branches that are growing vertical which are too thick to bend
  • If any branches have “unnatural” looking twists and turn, remove them
  • If there are branches that are concealing the front of the trunk, say bye to those guys
  • You want the thicker, longer branches to be near the base of the tree, so remove any growth towards the top of the tree that is disproportionate

Remember, the goal is to replicate a tree found in nature. If something looks unnatural about the way your bonsai is growing, train it to look like a natural tree!

 When you prune, there will be scars on the trunk and branches as a result of your cuts. If the tree is healthy, it should have no problem recovering from up to 1/3 of foliage being trimmed away. It is our recommendation that you do not repot the tree until it has fully recovered from the major pruning.

Healing Time

After any major pruning, you should put your bonsai in a shaded area and apply fertilizer to help replenish any lost nutrients in the branches that were cut away. Within a few months, the tree will be fully recovered. Now good luck and check out our entire selection of bonsai trees through our online nursery!

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