How to Trim a Bonsai Tree (Foolproof Bonsai Trimming Method)

If you’re interested in learning how to trim a Bonsai tree, look no further.

This complete how-to guide provides foolproof bonsai trimming methods for the novice and expert alike.

The art of Bonsai grew from the Japanese monastery’s way of life, where miniature trees were grown in small containers and were used to test the growers’ ability to shape the tree.

The art of bonsai6 involves containing and directing the direction of growth for a small tree species, and that is why trimming the tree carefully is such a fundamental skill for a Bonsai tree grower to have. Indeed, Bonsai art is a great hobby that can work to lower your eco footprint. Since the trees themselves sequester carbon emissions, it’s like having your own best carbon offset program at your fingertips. (Granted, the amount of sequestration is small, but every little bit helps!)

It makes it possible to turn the growing process into a beautiful artistic experience for themselves and everyone who sees the tree.

6 Steps To Trimming Your Bonsai Tree Correctly: Learn How To Start Your Trimming Now!

When new to the art of taking care of a Bonsai tree, one of the most predominant questions is How Do I take care of a Bonsai tree? Here are some steps to follow, even as a beginner.

  1. Determine the health status of the Bonsai Tree plant:7 the trimming process is aimed at doing away with dead and sickly branches on the plant to give space for healthier foliage to grow. Identifying the branches that need trimming will determine where the most trimming needs to be done and where it is least needed.
  2. Target the trimming at the ends for shaping purposes: to make the Bonsai Tree take on a particular shape, the best method to use is pinching off or trimming at the ends until the desired shape has been achieved. The new orientation will make the tree curve and depend on that direction.
  3. Go sharp and slow: when using tools such as shears for your trimming, it is essential to make sure they are very sharp from quick cuts that leave minor wounds. The other thing to look out for is cutting away more than necessary and trimming where needed to ensure that the Bonsai Tree remains healthy and robust and its growth continues with ease.
  4. Use different shaping techniques for the best results: the process of shaping the Bonsai Tree is re-orienting it to take a different growth direction. This can be done using various methods, such as tying or bending the tree with props like wood and metal.
  5. Trim in season: After new growth, seasons have occurred, cut down the leaves on your Bonsai tree to allow for new growth. This motivates rapid growth and gives space for denser leaves to be brought forth. As a general rule of thumb, the pruning should only be done to 1/3 of your tress foliage at every trimming. Taking excellent care of your Bonsai tree contributes to greater changes in positive climate outcomes and climate change.
  6. Rinse off your Bonsai Tree: This final step is vital as it washes off any dust and dirt that is bound to accumulate on the leaves after a while. This keeps the tree clean and beautiful and in the best position to absorb the natural elements it needs to survive.

Things To Know When Trimming for the First Time

Before you start trimming your Bonsai, there are some things to understand about your specific tree. since many species can be used for Bonsai, note the peculiar needs of the species you have.

Understand the growth patterns of the tree: Each Bonsai Tree has a unique growth pattern2 that stands as its fingerprint. Understanding this pattern influences the trimming and shaping process of the tree will help to direct the pattern. For example, a Bonsai Tree with a radial growth pattern is more likely to produce oval and round designs than that with a triangular pattern.

Man in a greenhouse carefully trimming bonsai trees next to a large pile of soil and hanging baskets of green plants.

(Image: Tima Miroshnichenko9)

Use the right sharp tools: Using sharp tools prevents damage to the tree and reduces the risk of infections from cuts. When the edges of the Bonsai Clipper are not as sharp as they need to be, it causes tearing of the barks and damage to the leaves. Such damages make the trees healing time to be much slower. It is also essential to use the right tools to protect the gardener and the tree. Some tools that are used for the trimming process include hand pruners, pruning saws, and pruning shears.

Know the type of trimming you will be doing for the Bonsai tree: this will help you know the end goal of your trimming process.

Types of Trimming:

  • Corrective pruning: The two types of corrective pruning are branch removal and shoot thinning. The branch is removed as a whole, and the cut is usually at least one bud long for branch removal. The best way to do branch removal is to make sure the angle of the cut follows an outward direction from the area where the branch meets the trunk or the branch collar. This will make sure sealing off and healing happens well.
  • Shoot thinning: Is mostly used on pines to remove small branches and needles that are growing in undesirable directions. Care is needed here to avoid leaving stubs which are shortened branches but instead take out the entire branch.
  • Styling pruning: This type of pruning is aimed at influencing the growth direction of the Bonsai, and the first step is deciding the style the Bonsai will be taking for the best look. Then, the direction each branch will take will be easier to place, making it possible to cut back for taper until necessary.
  • Maintenance pruning: This is the regular pruning done throughout the year to balance out the growing seasons of the Bonsai tree. This makes sure the tree looks good and is healthy all year round.

The Necessity for Trimming Bonsai Trees: Why Trimming Is Essential?

Bonsai trees can be trimmed to take the shape the grower desires. Trimming helps remove dead excess branches from a tree, maintaining its health and shape. Through manual plucking, trimming can be done with sharp scissors, wires, and strings.

With some fundamental knowledge of how trees grow and the science of nutrients and carbon emissions, it is easier to learn how and why to trim your Bonsai Tree efficiently. The natural direction of tree growth leans towards apical dominance, which means that the plant’s central stem grows more dominantly than the side stems. The main branch will be more dominant over the twigs following this example.

Related Reading: How many trees are planted each year?

The apical dominance system encourages the tree to grow higher and outpace competition from neighboring trees. However, this means that the higher the tree grows, the less growth is distributed to the inner and lower branches leading to their eventual death. This does nothing but destroys the Bonsai tree aesthetic, which is heavily dependent on the density of the tree.

Close up of bonsai tere art sculpture, situated on a rock formation with mossy growth underneath, all on a white stone pedestal.

(Image: Quang Nguyen Vinh10)

Trimming fights against this natural apical dominance and forces the trees to redistribute the growth to other lower branches. This, in turn, increases density in these areas and makes it easy to create the artistic designs that Bonsai Trees are so well known for.1 Every few weeks of trimming with the right tools will be magic for your Bonsai Trees.

Related Reading: How to care for a Bonsai Tree

Best Time for Pruning: This Is When To Trim Your Bonsai Tree

Another important aspect of knowing how to trim a Bonsai tree is learning the seasons of growth for the Bonsai Tree. There are seasons of major growth and seasons of dormancy to the trees.3 Planting projects can be done to blend into the different seasons. Here is a guide to follow for the different seasons of the year when trimming Bonsai Trees.

  • Spring: When trimming is the spring season, it is best to remove crossing and rubbing branches before the new shoots come up. Thin out all-new shoots to the desired size and shape as they are more malleable in this season.
  • Summer: For summer, pinch out new growths that seem unnecessary to maintain smaller sizes of the leaves.
  • Fall: In this season, it is best to set up the tree for growing thicker branches in the next year by cutting out the branches and removing dead and damaged branches.
  • Winter: Wiring is best done during winter and before wiring, be sure to leave clean cuts to avoid the spread of infections.

Types of Trims and Cuts

Knowing how to trim a bonsai tree means understanding the trims and cuts made, depending on the plant’s needs and growth cycle. The type of tree chosen8 is also important when selecting a trimming method. These methods include:

  • Pinching: This is done using fingers as the tool and helps to prune the Bonsai trees’ development by encouraging budding or slowing down growth for some time.
  • Plucking: It involves pinching off small clusters of leaves to expose bare branches strong enough to support wiring.
  • Thinning: This type of trimming targets removing parts of foliage and redirecting growth4 into the desired shape.
  • Defoliation: it is not the most common type as it tends to leave your tree weak because it involves removing all the leaves on your tree. It is used mostly by those most familiar or experts to create smaller leaves or thicker branches.
  • Wiring: This is used to reshape the tree by gently bending the branches into the desired positions. It is done when the tree has developed thick branches.
  • Slant cut: this cut is made by placing your saw on an angle and cutting it down until arrival at the desired point.
  • Straight cut: With this cut, it is possible to make clean breaks when removing branches and sections from a tree. It is best done with a sharp tool and when a bud is at least one inch below where the cut is to be made.
  • Concave cut: This is used to reduce the branch sizes and encourage growth spurts. It is made from the branch’s base and tapers off towards the top.
  • Notch cut: this helps remove small branches from a tree and is made by making a V-shaped cut at the branch’s base and using your tool to cut above the created V shape.

Best Shaping Practices for Bonsai Trees

Bonsai trees have a unique symbolism8 in society and personal lives. Shaping the Bonsai tree is one of the most fun parts of the trimming process as these trees have a legacy of living for up to hundreds of years with the right form of care. Shaping the bonsai tree5 allows for showing off gardening and artistic skills by first deciding which shape the Bonsai tree will take. Then the shape can be outlined on the tree using a pencil to create a guide for trimming through.

An image of basic garden tools

(Image: Gary Barnes11)

With this outline in place, it is possible to use your method of choice to cut out the excess foliage while taking your time to avoid cuts that damage the tree. Trim until you have your desired shape in place. There may be some challenges, such as choosing the right tree and determining the right side of the tree that will fulfill your vision.

It may also be difficult to make sure the Bonsai Tree is firmly grounded to prevent uprooting and allow for trimming of the roots. However, these challenges may be overcome with patience and guidance from experienced Bonsai Gardeners.

As a beginner, there might be a temptation to give up easily, but it takes time to arrive at perfection as it is with all good things. Remember to be gentle with yourself and the tree throughout the trimming process and have an enjoyable time making your Bonsai art. Knowing how to trim a Bonsai tree takes time and lots of patience, but it is an art worth learning.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Trim a Bonsai Tree

Why Is Trimming Necessary for a Bonsai Tree?

Trimming helps to maintain and refine the shape of the Bonsai tree while also ensuring that the tree is in the best health by doing away with dead and damaged foliage and branches.

When Is the Best Time to Do Trimming on a Bonsai Tree?

Trimming can be done at different times of the year for maintenance reasons. Indoor Bonsai can be pruned all year-round while the best pruning time for outdoor Bonsai is from March to September.

How Should I Trim Bonsai Trees?

Trimming is for shape maintenance and health of the trees, and the best way to do that is by pruning branches and shoots that have outgrown the shape or are damaged using the right tools. Feel free to be as creative as you can because Bonsai trees are ultimately meant to be an artistic expression.

What Is the Biggest Mistake That People Make When Trimming Bonsai Trees?

The biggest mistake is over-pruning. This leaves the plant weak and vulnerable, and it is best to go slow and do a thorough pruning in the right seasons and allow for adequate recovery time.


1Bonsai Topics. (2022, n/a n/a). //. bonsai topics. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from <>

2J. W. (2021). Pruning A Bonsai Tree For Beginner | A Comprehensive Guide. Bonsai Gardener. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from <>

3Bonsai Empire. (N/A). Bonsai maintenance calendar. Bonsai Empire. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from <>

4back garden bonsai. (2022). How To Prune A Bonsai Tree – A Beginners Guide – Back Garden Bonsai. Back Garden Bonsai. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from <>

5Nakamura, A., Simson, W., & Castillo, R. D. (2018, September 29). How To Shape A Bonsai Tree. Bonsai Tree Gardener. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from <>

6National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. (2022). U.S National Arboretum. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from <>

7Plant Protection Today – Bringing Bonsai to Washington, DC. (2022). Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from <>

8In Washington, bonsai trees reflect U.S.-Japan ties. (2022). Share America. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from <>

9Tima Miroshnichenko. Pexels. Retrieved from, <>

10Quang Nguyen Vinh. Pexels. Retrieved from, <>

11Gary Barnes. Pexels. Retrieved from, <>