Vol#9 Pruning Bonsai
Vol #9 Written by Yusuke Ogawa
This time, I would like to explain the importance of pruning your bonsai.
■To keep the trees healthy
In general, most of the plants grow on their own if left alone, so why should pruning be necessary when it comes to enjoying bonsai?
First, and most important, is to keep the bonsai tree healthy and to extend its life span.
Bonsai trees are planted in pots which limits their root growth. Consequently, if nonessential branches and leaves are not removed, the tree will weaken over time because the nutrients absorbed by its roots will not be distributed evenly.
Furthermore, pruning the nonessential branches and leaves will improve ventilation and sunlight, which in turn, helps to keep the remaining branches and leaves healthy.
The most common method to identify what constitutes as ‘nonessential’, is to cut off any overgrown branches and leaves to maintain the bonsai tree’s overall shape.
On the other hand, using this method alone will slow down the tree’s growth process, which may make it difficult to move on to the shaping step I will introduce below.
■To give the bonsai tree a beautiful shape and appearance
Second, in addition to keeping the tree healthy, another purpose of pruning is to shape the tree into a desirable form. Originally, bonsai were designed to be enjoyed indoors, hence their small size. You may hear such comments in the professional world of bonsai:
“You cannot say you provide proper care for your bonsai unless it is small.”
“Anyone can grow it bigger. You can only call it a bonsai if you manage to keep it small.”
Pruning large parts of your bonsai tree feels like a daunting task for most, and you may worry that it will lose its shape or die, until you get used to it.
I personally spent a long time overthinking when pruning my first bonsai. I even requested a more experienced colleague to redo a tree that I had just finished pruning, from the beginning. I still remember the encouraging words they told me back then.
“The branches will not come back if you cut them, but the buds will grow back.”
Of course, it may depend on the species, age, and cultivation of the tree, however, most bonsai will still sprout, even after pruning.
This is a step that helps you accumulate more experience as a bonsai artist and improve your aesthetic sense. Until you become familiar with it, practice pruning an overgrown tree with the simple intention of keeping it small.
Bonsai care is a slow but rewarding process that does not produce immediate results. Always be mindful of your actions, and of the purpose behind them. Attempt bonsai tree cultivation with the mindset of ‘one step forward and two steps back’, and above all, remember to enjoy yourself!
Until next time,
ReBonsai Yusuke Ogawa