How To Prune a Bonsai Tree | Love The Garden

How to Prune a Bonsai Tree Like Mr Miyagi

Paul Walshe's picture
By Paul Walshe, Gardening Enthusiast
Mr Miyagi passing over a bonsai tree

When watching the karate kid films in the 80’s, I think you would agree that one of the key things to take away from the film was Mr Miyagi’s love and attention to detail when maintaining his bonsai tree! Mr Miyagi would try and impart life advice through applying characteristics of the bonsai tree to daily life. But, let’s be honest here, we were all pretty jealous of how beautifully his bonsai tree was maintained! Well, we will give you some tips here as to how to prune your very own bonsai tree.

The bonsai tree is similar to every other plant in that it needs particular care and maintenance. The pruning of a bonsai tree is slightly different to that of a normal house or outdoor plant. Depending on the particular bonsai you have, will depend on how much maintenance and pruning you will need to do to look after your tree.

Types of Bonsai Tree

There are 3 main types of bonsai trees that you can own;

  • Deciduous- of which there are 17 species
  • Coniferous/Pines- there are 7 species of this tree
  • Tropical/Sub-Tropical- another 35 different species

Your bonsai tree will have a number of different features which will determine what type of tree it is.  These vary from being broad-leafed, in which most are in the deciduous category of tree. Coniferous, which will possess needle like or scale like foliage, or the various different characteristics of a tropical/sub-tropical bonsai tree.

The key thing to note with the Deciduous and Coniferous tree is that these bonsai trees are outdoor plants and should not be kept inside. Your outdoor bonsai trees are resilient trees that can tolerate even our toughest winters, so you should not worry if you are thinking that all bonsai trees need to live in a warm climate.

A well maintained healthy bonsai tree

Image credit: Plants and Trees Online

Tropical and sub-tropical bonsai trees need to be kept indoors though. These trees prefer humid conditions with the key being of course, in the name! These trees need to be kept in an area of the house which has sunlight exposure and is at a consistent temperature between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. Mr Miyagi would have owned a tropical/sub-tropical bonsai tree as he was generally seen to be pruning his bonsai tree indoors.

Pruning Bonsai Trees

Like I said earlier, pruning is very important for general maintenance of your plants. Bonsai trees are no different in that respect. You will need to prune the branches, the buds and the leaves of your tree to shape it in the correct way. The reason the branches of your tree will grow unevenly is because the branches of the tree will grow to compete for sunlight and this is known as ‘Apical Dominance’. Pruning needs to be done to counteract this.

You will need to make sure that you remove weeds in the plant as they will be a common growth in your new bonsai tree. Make sure you remove them without upsetting the buds or existing leaves of your tree.

You can also pinch the new shoots to allow growth in the bud further back. This involves using the thumb and forefinger to ‘pinch’ the new shoot and should be done alongside pruning. Of course, if you are Mr Miyagi, then you would use chopsticks, as he did in Karate Kid 1. 

A small well pruned bonsai tree

Image credit: NI Bonsai

You will need to prune a mixture of leaves and buds to decide on the overall shape of the tree canopy. By deciding this you will need to leaves of the shoots that are inconsistent with the overall shape of your tree. You can use twig shears for this and do not worry about disturbing the leaves at the top as this will encourage consistent growth. Make sure you are cutting discoloured (old) branches, leaves and dead stubs.

 

You should try to encourage lateral buds and leaves to grow and should try to predict the growth route of your buds and make sure you have left sufficient space for these buds to grow. Also you will need to make sure that the branches and leaves at the bottom of the plant are not being neglected as they will not receive as much sun exposure as the top of the plant.

Thick potted bonsai tree

To determine where to prune and cut back is important. When looking at branches that are hindering new growth, make sure you are cutting above the ‘nobbly’ bit of a plant, as this will be where a new shoot will grow. Again make sure you predict its route and it is in-keeping with the overall shape of your plant. Make sure all cuts are made in a horizontal fashion. Look to cut back with twig shears any thick looking branches that are not in keeping with the overall shape of your tree. Make sure you prune your bonsai tree before the summer season. I would suggest that you prune your tree around late April or early May.

Do you have a bonsai tree that you have pruned to perfection? If so we would love to see it. Send us your bonsai masterpiece @LoveTheGarden.

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