Bonsai trees have a history that dates back centuries, although it is only recently that they have become more common in the West. These mysterious miniature trees are tiny works of living art. More than a simple houseplant, they require some care to keep healthy and thriving.
If you have recently purchased a bonsai, are looking to add one to your home, or have been given one as a gift, it is important to learn how to properly care for it. Fortunately, bonsai trees do not require a great deal of work to keep them happy and healthy. Occasional watering, some sunshine, and a bit of fertilizer occasionally and your bonsai will live for many years.
One thing that often confuses bonsai owners is pruning. While a bonsai tree often comes already shaped and pruned artistically, the plant is alive and therefore will continue to grow and produce foliage. This is a good thing! However, it will mean learning how to keep it looking beautiful and shapely. Pruning a bonsai tree is fairly simple, and will only require a few minutes of your time to maintain unless the plant has already become overgrown. If overgrown, a good trim will require an hour or more, but once done, will need only minimal maintenance to prevent it from happening again.
Pruning a bonsai tree should be done frequently if you want your bonsai to maintain its shape. The growing season for most bonsai trees is between March and September, after which they tend to go dormant and will not require further pruning. While the shaping process is the same, how you perform the pruning depends on the type of tree you have. Deciduous trees (those with leaves) should be trimmed with sharp shears or scissors. Pine and conifer trees (those with needles instead of leaves) should be trimmed by hand. Simply pinch the clump of needles near the base and twist lightly to remove.
First, take a good look at your bonsai and take note of areas where the plant has produced new growth or shoots. Trim back leaves that have outgrown the desired shape of the tree’s canopy. Next, examine the trunk. New shoots should be trimmed back, except in areas where growth is desired. For example, if you want a denser tree without height, trim the top while leaving some of the new growth within the branches. If you are happy with the density but want your tree to get slightly bigger, allow some of the top growth to remain, along with some of the growth on the outer edges of the branches, trimming only the bottom of the tree and the areas closest to the trunk.
Pruning bonsai is a form of art, so there is no one right or wrong way to do it. The key is to move slowly, taking a good look at the tree as a whole after you trim each branch. You can always prune more, but it is impossible to put back growth that was trimmed in error. With proper maintenance, it won’t require much trimming at each session. Don’t be surprised if you only have to make one or two snips each time. Just a few minutes of your time will result in a happy and healthy bonsai that continues to grow and look amazing.