Taking a knife to your bonsai tree for the first time can be a daunting prospect. The fear is that something will go wrong and your tree will end up looking ghastly, or you might even kill it. However proper pruning is an essential component in the care of bonsai trees

Pruning is necessary to give your tree its desired shape, then maintain that silhouette. Bonsai masters have, over centuries, devised stringent rules to provide growers with guidelines on the proper shaping and care of bonsai trees. For instance, the first branch should be about one third up the height of the trunk. If the first limb branches to the right, the second should grow from the opposite side with the pattern repeating as branches rise up the tree. They should also reduce in size as they ascend and there should be plenty of space between them.

The best time to prune depends largely on the type of bonsai you have. Some varieties prefer spring when the tree is about to undergo its most vigorous growth. Other varieties thrive better if pruned in the fall. You will probably need to do a little research on the maintenance and care of bonsai trees to determine the most suitable time for pruning your particular plant.

Your next step is to determine which branches detract from the appeal of your tree and earmark them for removal. That will mean taking out any that cross over the trunk or each other, as well as any that are growing on the wrong side or are too close to another.

Proper care of bonsai trees means it is usually necessary to prune hardest at the top of your tree where the growth is the most vigorous. If left alone, this top growth will pull nutrients from weaker, lower branches and spoil the look of your tree. Conversely, heavily pruning in one area will encourage growth in a weaker area.

When pruning branches it is best to cut them back to a bud that is pointing in the same direction in which you wish the tree to grow. This means any new growth will branch in that direction. A word of warning though – think carefully before making a cut and don’t get too carried away. You can’t put a branch back once it has been removed.

The best tools to use are secateurs or scissors,but make sure they are sharp enough to give a clean cut. Also ensure they have been cleaned first to minimise the risk of the wound becoming infected. A protective coat of suitable paste should be applied to any large cuts to minimise the risk of pests or diseases getting into the wound. Your pruning instruments should always be sharp and clean as blunt tools will leave a ragged cut more likely to lead to trouble in this regard.

Proper care of bonsai trees also involves pruning the roots. This is generally done every two to three years. Ideally you remove around a third of the root ball, snipping off the larger thicker roots. The mass of finer, hair-like roots left behind will be much more efficient at absorbing water.Very importantly, once you have repotted your bonsai after root pruning, you should give it a good soaking.

Once your tree is the desired shape you may still need to do what’s called maintenance pruning. This is a simple procedure able to be done using a finger and thumb to pinch off unwanted new growth.

As I stated in the beginning, pruning is essential for the proper maintenance and care of bonsai trees, and it can be scary wondering whether you are doing the right thing. However it’s this act which determines the shape of your tree, creating its unique appeal and thus providing the most satisfying aspect of this hobby. You simply need to think carefully, plan your moves and do your homework first.

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