How to Train a Bonsai Plant

Overview

Bonsai is the ancient art of creating miniature trees that mimic nature. There are many different styles of bonsai. Bonsai originated in China, with historical references dating back between 1,000 and 2,000 years. Bonsai was introduced to Japan with Buddhism. Early Japanese bonsai masters grew trees in the Chinese style. Although the Japanese styles are the best known styles in the west, they are a product of 20th-century developments in Japanese bonsai culture.

Pruning

Step 1

Prune away any part of the tree not necessary for the style. Bonsai is strongly based in Zen (Japanese) and Chan (Chinese) Buddhism. The idea is beauty through simplicity. Most bonsais are very resilient and will bounce back from a severe initial pruning.

Step 2

Trim larger branches with a concave branch cutter, bonsai pruner, or a sharp pair of scissors. On larger branches, leave a tiny stub of the branch. As you consider removing larger branches, consider creating a jin, or broken branch effect. If you decide to create a jin, leave the branch in place until the roots have recovered from any recent root trims.

Step 3

Pinch off leaves and tender shoots with your finger. Reducing the number of leaves will help to create smaller leaves on many bonsai trees.

Step 4

Do major prunings, like initial stylings, when the tree is dormant, if possible. Late fall through early spring is usually best for most trees. If you begin styling during the tree's growing season, perform a series of less-drastic prunings and allow the tree time to recover between sessions. You can do light prunings at any time.

Wiring

Step 1

Wind the wire around the part of the tree to be trained. Apply the wire tight enough so you can't see light between the wire and the bark. Use only aluminum or copper wire. Use a wire that is thick enough to hold the branch or trunk during training, but not so thick that you damage the branch while winding.

Step 2

Support the branch as you wind the wire to prevent damage to the branch. Your wire should be about a 45-degree angle to the branch. Move your hand along as you wrap to make sure the branch is properly supported.

Step 3

Cut the ends of the wire close to the tree with a pair of sharp wire cutters. Be careful not to injure the tree.

Step 4

Once wrapped, bend the section to its desired shape and position. Listen carefully for cracking sounds. Stop if you hear a crack. Let the branch heal and continue training the branch in a few weeks or months. Be very careful training succulents, like jades. It is very easy to break off branches that can not be reattached as with other woody trees.

Making Jins

Step 1

Make a sloping cut in a branch using a concave branch cutter. A jin is a dead wood tip and is an important part of creating aged looks.

Step 2

Make your jin cut at an angle pointing away from the trunk or branch. Cut a third or half way through the branch to prepare for the break.

Step 3

Snap the branch off and pull it toward the trunk or branch. Use a tearing action to expose the natural grain of the wood and give a natural, rough texture.

Step 4

Pull away more slivers of wood with a pair of jin pliers to expose more grain, if desired.

Making Sharis

Step 1

Mark the area where you would like a sharis. A sharis is a barkless area that looks like drift wood. Use a marker to create curved, natural shapes on the trunk before beginning to cut. Be sure to leave enough bark to carry nutrients to the foliage of the tree.

Step 2

Remove the bark in the marked area with a sharp knife or chisel. Follow the outline carefully and be careful not to slip.

Step 3

Cut into the wood to create natural-looking lines and textures. Use a sharp knife or chisel. If you are comfortable using power tools, a small grinder like a Dremel tool can speed up the process.

Ground Decoration

Step 1

Add gravel to sections of the ground under your tree. A natural aquarium gravel can work nicely.

Step 2

Add moss to areas under your tree, especially in areas naturally shaded by the tree. Remember to mist the moss regularly if you live in a dry climate.

Step 3

Add rocks or other natural forms to the pot to create a Chinese-style miniature landscape. Watch the balance and don't over-do the landscaping.

Step 4

Add clay Chinese figures, such as scholar's reading or people fishing. Although currently out of fashion in many bonsai circles, adding these figures, especially to a larger bonsai, can help create a sense of place and story with your tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not create jin and sharis on recently planted trees. The trees should have a strong root structure before creating these effects. When creating sharis, always leave enough bark to carry nutrients to the living branches. With sharis, you may be better off limiting each change to around a third of the total bark area of the tree. If you want larger sharis, do the sharis in two steps. Always try and leave at least a third of the bark to carry nutrients.

Things You'll Need

  • Potted bonsai
  • Bonsai pruners
  • Sharp scissors
  • Sharp knife or chisels
  • Gravel
  • Moss (optional)
  • Clay figures (optional)

References

  • Bonsai4me.com: Wiring Bonsai
  • Bonsai4me.com: Creating a Natural Deadwood Effect
  • "Bonsai Secrets;" Peter Chan; 2006
Keywords: bonsai styling, bonsai training, growing bonsai

About this Author

Christopher Earle is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, The Associated Press, the Boeing Company, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, Active Voice, RAHCO International and Umax Data Systems. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota.