Winter Bonsai – What to do for your Bonsai in Winter

For most bonsai enthusiasts winter is the time to slow down with our trees, mainly because they have slowed down. It is the time when we think of them as asleep, and we ourselves take a much needed rest also from the constant care of daily watering, sometimes two and three times a day in the hot relentless dog days of summer. And of course along with all the constant pruning and pinching, there’s always the need to be on the lookout for insect pests or some other disease that might make your life miserable as you try to just have fun doing bonsai.

As the trees go bare and the North winds start howling, we start thinking of winter care and the needs of the trees in this time of the year.

Depending upon where you live and how severe the winters are, will dictate the type of care needed. Those of you who live farther up North will have to find some kind of way to protect your trees from the severe cold, usually by burying them in the ground. For others whose winters aren’t so severe, maybe an unheated garage will suffice allowing you to still spend some time with your trees as they will be able to still be portable, meaning you will be able to move them around and not have to dig them up to spend some time with them every now and then.

That’s what this article is about. Rather than doing bonsai only eight or nine months out of the year, and then going crazy waiting for Spring so you can get back at it, why not do bonsai all year and enjoy it just as much. Again I understand there are some who just won’t be able to do this because of their location and their winters being so extreme, that this wouldn’t be practical. For those of you who have somewhat mild winters though, I hope you would try this.

What I’m getting at is looking at your trees without leaves and enjoying their beauty just as much and possibly even more. The best time to prune your trees and get rid of unneeded branches is in the winter. While doing this you can also style your trees to reflect their inner beauty, something you can’t see for most of the year because of the leaves.

One thing you will probably have to decide on though, is will this tree look better with leaves on or off. Most trees won’t look good both ways and you may have to decide which way you prefer. If you decide on a particular tree for the winter look, you will have to keep this in mind throughout the growing season, watching how much new growth is being added to the tree and keeping it in check. For the most part, your winter tree might not look so enticing in the summer because of your keeping the growth to a minimum. But if your like me you will be anticipating winter so you can enjoy its beauty in a different way than your other trees.

Take for instance this Chinese elm. This tree is grown for its winter look rather than the summer look. When it is in full leaf it can still be enjoyed, but whenever its leaves are pinched during the growing season, or if it’s in need of a little pruning, it will be done to a minimum, keeping in mind that it will be pruned more severly in the winter months to keep with the design of that season.

Now look at this trident maple.

The difference between the summer look and the winter look is almost like night and day. As much as I like the tree in full leaf, I like it even more though when it’s bare. There’s just something about a bonsai that has been trained for years and is finally showing off what it has to offer, not just in leaf but out of leaf also. It will show that you take the art of bonsai seriously because it will be your creation and your creation alone.

Here is another trident maple standing tall and looking good both ways.

I seriously thought about selling this Chinese elm before I did some major pruning during the winter break one year.

It was one of those trees that didn’t look too bad during the summer, but was somewhat unsightly during the winter because of its mass of branches supporting all those leaves. After spending some quality time with this tree and really cleaning it up, I decided this would also be one of those trees that I would prefer in the winter look.

The same goes for this Chinese elm. I was getting rather tired of its look and was debating whether or not I should get rid of it.

I always liked the look of the Chinese Penjing, especially their winter look. To me, they conjure up my imagination when I’m looking at pictures of them this way. I decided to try and make this tree into something that would make someone elses imagination run wild. I really like the way this one came out in the Penjing look.

The summer look isn’t too bad either, but not as good as the winter look.

So there you have it, another way to stay busy with your bonsai during the slow times, and another way to work on your styling.

I bet there will be quite a few of you who will really adapt to the winter look and will be looking forward to this time of the year just as much
as you look forward to Spring. Good luck.

Note: For those of you who asked, there will be an article on the Chinese Elm coming in the near future.

About Thomas J.

I started doing bonsai in 1991 after buying my first Chine Elm from Dallas Bonsai, who at the time was selling trees and supplies at a local mall.

At the time I was mostly interested in deciduous trees but after a few years moved up to working on junipers. My last holdout was the Japanese Black Pine which I began to work with in 2007 after acquiring a specimen from a friend.

I've had a few of my trees published in the "Gold Awarded Penjing of the World". Some call bonsai an art and some call it a craft, but for me it's a little of both with some high anxiety thrown in, at others times a world of peace and beauty right outside my backdoor.

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