Styling Bonsai

select the front of the tree

Bonsai are designed to be viewed from a particular aspect and pruning and shaping allows you to give the tree depth and show its trunk and main branches to their best advantage.  The best viewing height is usually just below eyelevel. You should however avoid showing the entire length of the trunk too clearly.  The use of front branches gives the image depth and can allow you to disguise defects in the trunk.

prune or wire?

Pruning is the preferred method as the branches will have morenatural curves however wiring allows a tree to be styled more quickly without having to wait for the branch to grow.  By wiring a long branch and introducing a series of curves to leftand right it will gain more character and appear shorter.

applying wire

Wire is usually made from aluminium or copper. The wire is wound in a spiral around branches but never allow wires to cross.


Broad leaf trees are usually wired just as the buds are beginning to break and conifers are usually wired in winter.
Once a tree has been wired it is best moved to a sheltered and shaded place for 2 to 4 weeks while it recovers.

You must keep an eye on a wired tree.  As the tree grows the branches will thicken and the wire can begin to bite into the bark.  The wire must then be cut off before it permanently scars the tree.

Varying the spaces between the branches, leaving wider gaps between the lower branches than those at the top of the tree will distinguish between the areas of the tree which are older and younger.

When pruning do not be too hasty to cut off small branches.  You could let them grow and supplement the main branches on the tree thus avoiding the chance of removing a ranch that could be needed in your final design.  It goes without saying that once cut off they cannot be put back on!

When pruning large branches you do not have to cut them flush with the trunk.  The stubs can be left and converted to dead wood, something the Japanese call jins.  If in the future you chose to remove them they could be used to anchor wires during the initial styling exercise.

Leaf running is a continual process done little by little to stimulate dormant buds that otherwise would not grow.  Using your fingers the new growth is pinched while it is still small.  For conifers using the fingers prevents browning of the remaining foliage.

© The National Bonsai Society