Bonsai training and shaping is what’s going to determine the look of your miniature tree. It’s a complex process because during its development you’ll create the bonsai. Miniature trees are really normal trees that are kept small by special techniques. They grow from natural seeds because there’s no such thing as “special bonsai seeds”.
Bonsai training will be based on the style you want for your miniature tree. We’ve said many times that we believe that your first bonsais should be based on the shape of its original tree in nature and later start experimenting, but that’s up to you. Balance, inspiration and beauty are all important factors. Try to bring the best out of your tree, don’t fight it but be a part of an smooth training, filled with harmony and patience.
The most important techniques when it comes to bonsai training are:
Pruning is one of the most important techniques in bonsai training. In our bonsai care section we already talked about it. There are two types of pruning: maintenance pruning and shaping pruning. We’re going to focus on the second.
Shaping pruning must be done during the appropriate time of the year. Tree species are different and even though some can be prune during the whole year, most are better to be treated during early spring or in autumn, right after and before of what’s known as growing season (from early spring to early autumn). You must also give a few weeks to the tree to recover afterwards in order to keep him healthy. Keep in mind that bonsai training can be very harsh. If you cut branches you can always use healing products to treat its lacerations. There are many in the market.
Remember that pruning must be balanced in a way that while you treat the tree you must also constantly do the same with its roots. If you prune the tree, you must also prim the roots. If not, your tree will grow a massive amount of roots to compensate and try to develop back the branches you have cut.
In bonsai training, and specifically when it comes to pruning, defoliation is a well known technique. It consists in removing unwanted leaves in order to keep them small and encourage the development of new ones. Defoliation can be done during the growing season, June being the best month. Shoots must also be taken care of in case they give a bonsai an undesirable look. If you prune them, you’ll see that after a while they’ll grow back with smaller leaves and more ramifications, that’ll balance your tree. If there are any weak areas in the tree keep them with foliage.
When it comes to branches you must know and decide which ones you would like to remove in order to keep your tree balanced. Two branches at the same height of the tree are undesirable (one should go), so are vertical ones that are too thick to twist. Branches with strange looking curves are also not wanted just like abnormally thick ones on the top of the tree. Bonsai training and styling is all about how you want your tree to look, but these are basic rules on shaping. Most bonsai masters have their own unique style.
The tools you must use for this activity are very important. You can learn more about it in our bonsai tools section.
Wiring is decisive when it comes to bonsai training. It can reshape, curve and bend the branches and trunk of your miniature tree. It’s called wiring because you must use copper or aluminum wire and wrap it around the tree to silhouette it and shape it. This technique must be used carefully and must be constantly checked because if it’s done the wrong way it can hurt the bonsai. This process consists on the tree following the lead of the wire.
The wire must be removed after you achieved the results you’re looking for. Bonsai wiring is temporal and can be done anytime of the year. However you must realize that during growing season branches develop faster, so in order to avoid ugly lacerations, you must check your plant regularly and remove the wire on time.
As we said before, there are two types of wire used on bonsai training: anodized aluminum and annealed copper. There are also many sizes. In order to choose one you must know how thick is the branch you want to bend. Remember that if the branch grow, it’ll be necessary that the wire still hold it without trouble and without hurting it. Bigger branches will need thicker wire.
There’s no specific timing for bonsai wiring. We said it can be done anytime of the year. However, during growing season there’ll be faster results than in winter. What’s achieved in 3 weeks in summer may need 2 months in winter. If you’re planning to do intense wiring you must keep in mind that the miniature tree need time to recover aftermath and that growing season is the best healing moment. Tree species are different just like world climate. Tropical environment are not the same than template, just like trees that grow in each climate.
Thicker branches have a priority when it comes to bonsai wiring. After you work with them you can start taking care of smaller ones.
In some cases you must think carefully where to anchor the wire. It can be on the pot, on other branches, on the trunk and even on its roots. Wire branches of the same size together. If you’re going to wire your whole tree, do it from the trunk to the primary branches and then the others. You can use many wires while doing this activity.
Sometimes a guy-wire can be used, especially if you’re trying to bend downwards weak, old or fragile branches. Sometimes a piece of fabric around the branch can come handy so the wire won’t damage the wood. Do not wire sick trees. Also protect the foliage while you do this activity.
Remember that, just like pruning, wiring has a lot to do with the way you want your bonsai to look in order to make your own personal style.
Here’s a video on how bonsai wiring works:
BONSAI TRAINING: CONCLUSIONS
Bonsai training may be hard when you’re a starter but after a while it gets really easy. There’s an important factor on this activity and that is the personal style of the bonsai grower. Pruning and wiring are tools to make your miniature tree look like you want to. Inspiration and creativity are decisive.
Like we always say, if you’re thinking on growing and training a bonsai by yourself at home you cannot use only the information on this website. You need to investigate more. You can look out on the web but this might be tricky. There’s way too much information and even though some may be useful, there’s a lot of wrong data out there. That’s why we always recommend guides that can help you achieve this goal and support you in every doubt you may have.
Our first recommendation is The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton, an extraordinary work on the subject and the most complete. All you need to know about bonsai training, caring, styling and growing is there. You can find our review about The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton here or buy it directly on Amazon. To give you an idea of how great this book is: All reviews on Amazon.com give it five stars.
Update: There have been many messages in our email account lately. Apparently The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton is not available on Amazon any more. You can only buy the used version. So, in case you don’t want to buy an old used book we are also recommending The Complete Book of Bonsai by Harry Tomlinson. It is as complete as The Bonsai Book, is also very well explained and have amazing graphic material. The Complete Book of Bonsai will provide you with all the information you need to know on bonsai, from its principles and origins to its styles, techniques and species. Tomlinson ain’t no stranger to most bonsai enthusiasts. You can read our review on The Complete Book of Bonsai by Harry Tomlinson here or buy it directly on Amazon.
If you’re also thinking about buying a bonsai, you can visit our online store here. We have all types of bonsai, kits for starters and we also recommend the best tree species for begginers.
On the right side of the site you can find more reviews on books and other products.