Pruning Techniques

crab apple by walter pallWith the growing popularity of keeping bonsai and perfecting its art form over the past decade, many people may own or want to own a bonsai. Many people see beautiful pictures of bonsai that have been shaped and pruned into works of art. They themselves want to have a tree as magnificent in the photos so they buy a bonsai tree only to find out it takes special care.

Pruning Your Tree The Right Way

When it comes to caring for your tree and keeping it attractive, having the right knowledge in how to correctly prune and maintain its appearance can make all the difference. While some types of bonsai require more or less care there are some general guidelines that you can follow for all species.

  • Make sure to use flush cuts rather than concave when removing twigs and branches
  • Species such as the Jade Bonsai don’t require sealing when cut while most others do
  • Proper drainage of the soil is essential before removing large branches

Refining Your Bonsai Tree

Refining is the art of shaping the bonsai into the form that you want it to grow in. This is what the bonsai is famous for because of it’s ability to grow into different shapes and forms.

Removing the terminal bud is one of the best ways to stop a branches growth along with pinching buds and branches in key areas. Aluminum wire is the most common method used to refine bonsai because of it’s flexibility while still remaining strong. Aluminum wiring can be found at your local garden shop or hardware store and is relatively cheap. Smaller bonsai can be refined with wire down to 1mm thick while continuously increasing the thickness of the wire as the tree goes.

During the growth season a bonsai tree can grow quite quickly. Constant pruning and maintenance is required to keep things in order. During it’s smaller phases, bonsai may require pinching twice a week while larger trees can do just fine with pinching only once a week.

Bonsai Tree Pruning Tools

There are quite a few tools that master bonsai artists use to refine their trees. However, for the beginner only a few are required to make your life easier.

For most of those just getting into bonsai 2 tools are recommended when you start out. The concave pruner and the bud scissors.

Concave Pruner – The concave pruners unique shape and design allow you to cut the branches in a way that promotes proper healing of the wound.

Bud Scissors – The bud scissors are useful for trimming leaves, branches and buds. It’s design and shape allow you to efficiently and safely refine your tree without causing damage to adjacent areas.

As you grow your collection you are going to require more tools in order to fully develop and maintain your bonsai.

Wire Cutters – Essential for cutting the wire that is used to shape and refine the bonsai. Their small short blades safely remove wire that is already up against the bark and branches without harming the tree.

Root Hooks – Most people don’t realize that they also need to maintain the roots of the bonsai to keep it healthy. Root hooks allows for easy removal of tangled roots and soil.

Knob Cutter – While not always needed the knob cutter is used to remove protruding stubs. It can also be used to efficiently shape and contour the branch and trunk and while quickly removing unwanted wood.

It is said that caring for a bonsai can be a great stress reliever. People have been perfecting the art form for hundreds of years as tools and information is passed from generation to generation.

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Kaiyu-shiki, a place to be…

In the heart of London amidst the fast paced lifestyle that just goes with living in a major city, a haven of tranquillity sits on the roof of a house of healing. The Great Ormond Street Hospital in the Bloomsbury district of London offers patients and others who happen to discover this contemplation garden the opportunity to take a quiet break and relax. It is called the “Bridge Over Mountain Stream” garden.

Visitors do not enter the garden, but rather explore the dry landscaped Karesausui style garden from benches outside the area. The garden gives the impression of a stream flowing from the mountains down to a pool on a lower level. A path of stepping stones leads the eye back up to the mountain, with stone lanterns helping to guide the way

Another roof top Karesausui style Japanese garden was built in 2001 at the School of Oriental and African Studies. The Kanji character for forgiveness is carved into the garden’s granite water basin. The garden uses sandstone rectangles, free form pieces of green slate, silver gray granite chippings that are raked to represent water and slabs of basaltic rock representing a bridge over the water feature. Larvikite stones from Norway represent islands. This garden is located in Russell Square in London and is frequently used as a backdrop for receptions, small plays and for weddings.

Leave it to the Irish to combine their love of horses with their appreciation of lovely gardens. At the Irish National Stud in Tully, County Kildare, a Japanese Garden created between 1906 and 1910 now has the distinction of being the finest in all of Europe.

Designed by the father and son team of Eida and Minoru, the gardens represent the “Life of Man” from birth to death and the possibilities that life offers along that journey. This is a kaiyu-shiki, or strolling garden. Pathways lead over a curved, bright red Japanese bridge, naturally formed stepping stones, and past stone lanterns and quiet ponds filled with water lilies. An authentic Japanese tea house is on site. In one quiet nook a waterfall cascades over small steps of stones, half hidden amongst branches of evergreens and bright reddish-purple sprays of colour from Japanese Maples.

Another unexpected find is on the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. In 1908 a Japanese garden was added, sitting just south of the Triton pond of the original estate gardens. Laid out on what was once bog land, this garden features pathways past a pagoda, stone lanterns and over several bridges as it winds back and forth over a babbling brook. The garden is laid out in two circles, the inner one asks that we reflect upon our inner selves and the outer one encourages discovery of the world we live in. The gardens feature Japanese Maples, Chinese Fortune Palms and azaleas.

Azalea Flowering Bonsai

Azalea bonsai are some of the more common bonsai adaptations that were introduced when bonsai was first imported over from China to Japan. It is one of the more beautiful plants to adapted to bonsai style gardening.

The Azalea bonsai is a member of the genus Rhododendron. This simply indicates that the Azalea bonsai is an evergreen that adapts itself to a shrub type formation. Small shrubs typically grow to less than 6 feet in height. The Azalea Rhododendron actually can be divided into between 500-900 species.

Since they display very large beautiful flowers they present a very stunning and elegant style of bonsai plant. This is the primary reason that the Azalea bonsai has become very popular with Bonsai gardeners.

Care of the Azalea Bonsai

It is critical for peak condition that you avoid exposing this plant to direct sun during the spring and summer months. This plant will reward for your efforts on being placed in an area of filtered or indirect sun light. The plant does not need to be brought indoors during the winter and in fact can perform well outdoors even in winter climates although it will require some protection from severe conditions. An outdoor greenhouse can provide beautiful results.

For those who want to keep their bonsai indoors year-round, the azalea is quite suitable to that application. A cool window and plenty of light is considered optimum for keeping an azalea indoors during the winter months as is the necessity for frequent misting and maintain a higher level of humidity.

When considering watering options you will find that the plants respond very well to rainwater. Collection of rainwater to a storage container will reward you with healthier plants. The azalea bonsai plant will deteriorate quickly if the roots are allowed to dry out so moisture should be maintained in the soil at all times.

You will benefit from repotting as required to maintain appropriate space for full root development and you should monitor the soil to ensure the slightly higher acidity level preferred by the azalea. PH balance needs to be 4.5 to 5.5. It is best to use a soil specifically designed for Azaleas. Repotting should be undertaken in spring after the flowers have died. Repotting is required annually for the first couple of years, and every two or three years for more mature azalea bonsai.

Fertilize your azalea at about every other week in the spring time until flowering diminishes. Thereafter, monthly feedings will satisfy nutrition requirements. You should use an acid based fertilizer such as you would find available by Miracle Gro. In the late summer or early fall, reduce nitrogen from the fertilizer mixture and begin increasing the amounts of phosphorus and potassium. This will assist your azalea bonsai to set buds and blossoms for next season.

Also, if you repot with an amended, peat based soil in spring you may not be required to fertilize until autumn. It is recommended that you discontinue fertilizing your azalea bonsai during the hottest months of the summer in order guard against burning your plants.

Pruning should be practiced in late summer taking care to seal significant wounds. This plant will produce shoots from old wood. These often occur in clumps of 5 or 6. Proper pruning will reduce the number of new shoots to one or two. The number of leaves on these new shoots should also be reduced. This will ensure that these newly formed branches will receive more that adequate nutrition and light to develop in to strong, healthy new branches.

The weakest trait may be that the branches are relatively brittle and the bark thin and tender. For this reason, great care must be taken when wiring and shaping branches. Softer aluminum wire is recommended, accompanied by the liberal use of such as raffia to protect the delicate surfaces.

Written by Thomas Hendricks