How to Prune Shrubs to Look Like Bonsai Trees


Bonsai trees have a unique look that is broad and flat at the top with bare branches below. Creating a small bonsai tree takes years of root pruning and proper growth techniques. However, the shape of the bonsai tree is attractive on a larger scale and a shrub can be pruned in the garden to resemble a bonsai tree. Good candidates for shaping into a bonsai form are privets, hollies, and ligustrums.

Step 1

Choose a shrub that has several larger main stems or trunks and lots of thick top growth.

Step 2

Trim out all the small branches that are attached to the main limbs and any small limbs that are sprouting from the ground around the main trunks or stems. The main limbs or trunks should be bare up to the level where you want the green top to begin.

Step 3

Identify any long or unruly branches coming from the top of the shrub. Cut these branches all the way back to the main branches. Do not simply shear off the top of the shrub, as this will create an unnatural look that will not look like a bonsai tree.

Step 4

Rake away all cut limbs, leaves and branches. Step back and look at the shrub and cut any small limbs left on the main branches. Your shrub should have the look of a large bonsai tree when you are finished.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning loppers
  • Leaf rake


  • Crain Tree Farm: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
  • Creative Home Owner: Pruning Shrubs
  • Organic Guide: Pinching and Pruning Techniques
Keywords: bonsai pruning, bonsai shape shrub, pruning a shrub

About this Author

Based in Rockdale Texas, Jim Gober has been writing garden-related articles for 25 years. His articles appear in several Texas newspapers including The Rockdale Reporter, The Lexington Leader, The Cameron Herald and The Hearne Democrat. He is a Master Gardener and Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional. He holds bachelor degrees in English Writing from St. Edward's University and Finance from Lamar University.