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How to Prune and Train Your Bonsai

You’ve chosen your tree and your shape and now it’s time to learn how to make it happen! Pruning can seem intimidating but once you know what to look for and how to systematically execute the process, it will seem much easier.

There are two kinds of pruning – style pruning, and maintenance. When you first get your tree (or your seed grows large enough to style) you will want to begin shaping it into the bonsai of your dreams. Rather than just cutting willy nilly all over the place, there are certain steps you’ll want to follow in style pruning:

  • Normally it’s best to prune in spring or fall (before or after growing season) but you’ll want to look up information on timing for your specific species.
  • Place your tree on a solid surface, at eye level.
  • Remove any dead foliage or wood.
  • Cut away thick, vertical branches that aren’t bendable.
  • Cut away any branches that conceal the front of your plant’s trunk.
  • Even out the branches in order of thickest toward the bottom of the tree, to thinnest at the top.
  • Apply cut paste to places where larger branches were removed.
  • Do not remove more than a third of your tree’s foliage.

Maintenance pruning is just as it sounds – follow the same basic procedures as for style pruning, but only cutting away the extra growth that is compromising the look and shape you want the bonsai to have.

How to Wire Train the Branches

Wiring is an essential part of training your branches into the growing pattern you want them to follow. There are different kinds of wire but it is usually recommended that beginners use anodized aluminum. This comes in diameters of 1-6mm. You won’t need them all, a variety in sizes 1-4mm should probably suffice.

Begin with wire that’s about a third the size of the branch you’re wiring. Wrap the wire around the truck at least two times, then continue up the branch, wrapping at about a 45 degree angle. If you intend to bend the branch downward, the wire should be wrapped up around it from the bottom. Likewise if bending upward, the wire should be wrapped around from top of the branch to bottom. Continue wrapping to the end of the branch.

Now for the tricky part – bending. Brace the outer part of the branch (meaning the side that is going to curve outward) with your fingers, stabilizing it as you gently bend the inner curve with your thumbs. This helps to protect the branch from breakage. Once the curve is the way you want it, stop bending – moving it around too much may break it.

It is also important to remember that thick branches may become scarred by wire as the branches grow, so check the wire often. You can also wrap the branch in raffia to help protect it.

You’re on your way to a custom-created bonsai, invented by your imagination!

Styling The Juniper Procumbens – Part 6 of 6 – Juniper #6

Okay so here we are finally at tree # 6. I’ll have to admit that this was the hardest one to style, simply because I didn’t want to take the easy way out and make another cascade bonsai out of it.

Juniper #6

Looking at the above picture shows what I mean. You can see the branch on the right flowing down nice and easy.

Opening up the little guy and you can see the two trunks splitting away from each other.

All I would have to do is chop it off and repot what is left into a tall pot and I would have me a cascade bonsai. But remember what I said back in the beginning that If you had the eye you might be able to something more than just another cascade tree in there.

So taking that branch that wants to be a cascade and lifting it up I notice some nice movement in it.

Before I wire up that main trunk I’ll repot it in my oversize pot so as not to take off too many roots at this time.

Looking at this picture though, how many times have you seen this same exact looking juniper for sale by the side of the road or at your local big box store? Again this is where your trained eye comes into play and give the little guy a new look.

Now that the trunk is wired up I can begin to give it some shape.

After that, all that is left is to clean up the foliage a bit.

And this is what I ended up with.
Juniper #6 After Shaping

It doesn’t look like much now but then most bonsai after their initial styling usually don’t. In time and especially after next years repotting when it should be put into a much smaller size pot, it will start to take on it’s new life as a bonsai and not as a ground level shrub.

See you next time with a formal display of these six procumbens junipers. :-)
Thomas J.

Styling The Juniper Procumbens – Part 5 of 6 – Juniper #5

We’re moving right along so let’s just jump right into juniper #5. As you can see this one is almost a carbon copy of the other four at this stage.

Juniper #5

After cutting away part of the nursery pot I can see what’s in there and make my choice as to where I want to go with this one.

Cutting away the pot

Unless you have a little imagination, all of these since they are laying low and have long extended main trunks, want to be considered by most to be styled into a cascade bonsai. So putting my imagination to work here’s what I decided with this one.

Decision Time!

After applying the wire I give it the shape I desire and from there I can start working the foliage,

Beginning work

I also cut off the second leader that was going in the opposite direction.

More trimming

Working the outside of the foliage I will both pinch and cut some of the buds.

More Shaping

I will also work the inside foliage by going deep inside with my scissors in order to open the tree up and try expose what little branching there is so as to try and maintain somewhat of a tree look rather than a shrub look.


And the final result after the main work is done.

Almost done

Now it’s off to get a repotting into one of the oversize bonsai pots since we don’t want to remove too much root or soil at this time. After wiring the tree into the pot, this is where it will stay now until next years repotting when it will be put into a more appropiate size pot.

Juniper #5 - Complete

I must admit that in my opinion this is the second best tree out of the six. Of course not everyone might agree though. :-)

See you next time with tree #6, our last in the series.

Update: Continue to Part 6

Thomas J.

Styling The Juniper Procumbens – Part 4 of 6 – Juniper #4

So here we are now at juniper #4, and in my opinion the best of the six junipers. I’ll explain as we go through this. First up is the tree before any work has started,

Juniper #4

As I separate the foliage to see what’s inside, I notice that there is a fork in the trunk, meaning I’ll have to make a choice as which one to save and which one to cut off.

Fork in the trunk

But there is still hope, I also notice that one of the trunks has some nice movement, and better yet, it also has one of the distinguishing traits for a really nice cascade bonsai.

Photo 3

From this angle here you can kind of see what I mean.

Pic 4

From this angle you can see more. As with the last tree, I used the same type of plastic pot because it worked out perfectly for this tree also.

Picture 5

If you remember on tree # 2 I told you that I styled the tree into a cascade because that’s probably what most people would have done because of the way the trunk had a somewhat of a tendency to want to go that way. I also said that for my opinion I probably wouldn’t go that way with it simply because it looked phoney in the way the trunk was just sharply bent over and more or less taking the easy way out and styling it that way.

With this tree though the trunk wants to grow up but it looks like something is preventing it from doing so. In Nature cascade trees are forced by the constant winds to bend ever so graciously downward giving in to natures stronger force and giving it a beauty it never knew it could get.

Picture 6

Now with wire attached to the trunk and an eye for styling, I try and give it the beauty that nature would

Juniper Photo 7

Now all I have to do is some refinement in cleaning up some of the bushy foliage.

Photo 8

More foliage removal and a wire on one of the branches.

Photo 9

And finally we’re there.


Now it’s time to sit back and admire our work and plan for the future by picking a new cascade pot for next years repotting, and to keep an eye on the foliage so as not to let it get overgrown again. I hope you can see the difference between a natural looking cascade and a forced one as in tree # 2, and to make your decisions wisely when deciding on whether or not to style a tree into a cascade bonsai. :-)

Update: Continue to Part 5

See you next time
Thomas J.

Styling The Juniper Procumbens – Part 3 of 6 – Juniper #3

Half way there at tree # 3 and nothing different or unusual about this juniper either.

Juniper 3 - Before

I took the liberty to remove some the foliage so you could see that the trunk is a bit interesting in that it has a slight bend to it and with that we’ll begin our styling from there.

I just wonder by looking at this next pic how many would automatically want to do a cascade as I did with the last tree.

Juniper 3 - Cascade style?

Not this time though. Too many beginners would either do that or just leave it as it is and think they have wonderful bonsai. They wouldn’t put their creative power to work here and think that maybe there is something more for this juniper. Let me show you what I mean. First we need to start removing some of the under hanging foliage just like we did with the last two and which we’ll do with all the rest of them.

Removing underhanging foliage

The next thing we’ll do and this is the critical part that most beginners overlook, as they are too enamored with their new found friend that they forget to give it some beauty, and the way you do that is by opening it up a bit. You need to go inside the foliage and start removing small pieces that are quite useless to the overall design.

Opening up the foliage

By doing this you are allowing the juniper to start looking something like a tree by exposing what little branch system there is. As I have been saying with many articles I have written, that this is probably one of the most important elements in styling a bonsai. Now the branch system on a young juniper such as this is almost nothing, but by doing this you are starting the training process immediately. It may take up to five years as I mentioned with one of mine, before the wood hardens up and allows you to expose a nice interior. Too many people just look at the outside and forget that the inside is there also and needs to be kept up properly too.

This next pic shows what you should be looking for as far as good styling work is concerned.

More Progress

Open the tree up and you will notice the difference on a huge scale. It will also do a lot for your confidence in styling when you see what you have accomplished simply by just removing some interior foliage.

Removing interior foliage

So now we have the general shape of the tree and now we’re ready for a pot

Ready to be potted

For this one I chose to go with a standard round plastic garden type nursery pot since I couldn’t find a cheap round bonsai pot. A square bonsai pot one would have been out of the question, and it had to be large enough to contain the amount of roots I had left and this one worked out perfectly. Next repotting the tree will be able to be put into a smaller round bonsai pot where it will spend the rest of its years being trained and loved by its new owner. :-)

See you next time with tree #4, my favorite of the six junipers.

Update: Continue to Part 4

Thomas J.

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