How to Prune Bonsai Plants


Caring for a bonsai is an art form. It is an attempt to grow and train a plant in a container to look like an old tree that has been shaped by time and the elements. The process takes time and patience. Bonsais need special care to keep a shape and form that aims for the proper look. Most bonsais are hardy and like being outside during the growing season. They need to be placed in a sheltered area with bright indirect light.

Top Pruning

Step 1

Examine your plant and decide on the shape that you want to train it into. It may help to look at similar trees pictured in nature.

Step 2

Cut branches that are rubbing, crossing or damaged. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to prevent damaging your bonsai.

Step 3

Pinch off new unwanted growth throughout the growing season. This will keep your bonsai in shape.

Root Pruning

Step 1

Remove your bonsai from its container every 4 to 5 years before the spring growth starts. Let the roots dry out a little.

Step 2

Gently loosen the roots away from the soil. Only work on the outer third of the rootball.

Step 3

Prune the roots in the outer third of the rootball. Remove about half of the roots in this section by thinning the amount of roots.

Step 4

Replant the bonsai and resume your normal care of your bonsai.

Tips and Warnings

  • Pruning back the roots is necessary to prevent an imbalance between the top of the plant and the roots. A root-heavy plant will have uncontrollable growth spurts. Exposure to windy conditions outside can knock over a bonsai and cause damage that may take months of retraining to fix. Do not let your bonsai dry out. Bonsais are grown in shallow containers and tend to dry out quickly in hot weather. Keep the soil evenly moist.

Things You'll Need

  • Plant
  • Pruning shears


  • The Practical Gardener's Encyclopedia; Geoffrey Burnie; 2000

Who Can Help

  • Bonsai Gardener: How to Prune a Bonsai Tree
Keywords: bonsai plants, root thinning, pruning

About this Author

Karen Carter spent three years as a technology specialist in the public school system and her writing has appeared in the "Willapa Harbor Herald" and the "Rogue College Byline." She has an Associate of Arts from Rogue Community College with a certificate in computer information systems.