Developing Deciduous Bonsai Branch Structures

Part Two: Autumn/Winter or Structural Pruning and Wiring: Page 2 of 2

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This series of four articles first appeared as part of Chapter 12 of my first book Bonsai Inspirations 1 and this excerpt contains what I believe to be essential information on how to design, build and improve the branches and branch structure of a deciduous or broadleaf bonsai.

Note that extensive information of how to build the branch structures of coniferous bonsai, such as Juniper and Pine, are contained within Bonsai Inspirations 2

Part One>> Building a Branch Structure

Part Three>> Shaping Deciduous Tree Branches

Part Four>> The Importance of Branch Taper in Bonsai


Page 2 of 2:

bonsai pruning

This second example of autumn/winter pruning concerns a branch near the apex of the elm airlayer.

At first glance it is easy to see that the growth is too straight. Each of the shoots also needs to be positioned slightly lower into an area of the crown that is at present empty.

bonsai pruning

Straight growth, be it on trunks, branches or minor shoots, should always be avoided as they will always make a bonsai look immature whereas growth with plenty of (realistic) movement will add age and interest to a bonsai.

The first step is to quite simply coil bonsai training wire around the shoots of the branch.

bonsai pruning

And then movement is added to the shoots by making them bend not only from side to side but also up and down.

bonsai pruning

The final shoot has movement applied to it and now the 3 secondary branches in this area of the tree are finished for the time being.

Each of the shoots should not look exactly the same after they have been wired but they must have similar movement to eachother.

That is, they should look as though they have grown under similar circumstances to each other on the same tree but there must also be an element of randomness to their movement as well. Otherwise in the future, when the wire has been removed, it will be obvious that the shoots have been artificially placed.

One of the main purposes of wiring is to create the illusion to the viewer of the bonsai that the tree is a miniature version of one found in the wild and that the bonsai has grown naturally into shape by itself. Therefore, long term evidence of wiring and artificial placement need to be avoided.

Use twists and bends of similar degrees but in different combinations to achieve a random effect when placing newly wired branches.

Make sure that if the trunk has very heavy twists and turns this is reflected in the movement of the branches as well. Similarily, if the trunk has very slow, gradual bends, its branches should reflect this.

bonsai pruning

These are the lower left hand branches of the Elm airlayer. The older branch sections have been pruned and wired a number of times in the past but as is normal some of them have naturally lifted out of position while the new growth has not been shaped before and has no natural shape or pattern.

bonsai pruning

After wiring the new lower branches and rewiring those that have lifted out of shape, some order has been restored.

Straight shoots have had movement wired into them and have been placed so that they all grow outwards in their own space.

Notice that I have not tried to form a ‘cloud’ of foliage. ‘Clouds’ of foliage are something of a cliché in bonsai and should really only be considered on coniferous species where they would be found growing naturally. Rather, on deciduous trees, each of the leaves and shoots naturally grow into space where they can receive maximum light.

bonsai pruning

After many hours of pruning and wiring the branch structure has been arranged for another year.

Notice that when seen from above, the branches and individual shoots fan out into their own individual spaces. Although each branch has been individually wired and styled, they all combine to produce one cohesive design where no one particular branch or shoot looks out of place.

As noted before, Autumn/Winter styling is a time consuming process but it is not only an essential task but one that produces spectacular results, short- and long-term.

bonsai pruning

December 2009 After pruning and wiring the Elm airlayer.

December 2009: As can be seen in the image above, I have styled the Elm in a ‘naturalistic’ style. The branches avoid the clichés of all being placed on a horizontal plane and I have retained primary branches in such a way that they do not grow from the trunk in a left-right-back, left-right,back formation as used to be advised for the unnatural abstract styling of yesteryear.

Note that the apex has been shaped with a steep slope towards the right and gradual slope towards the left. This almost subconciously indicates to the viewer that the tree is growing towards the sun on the right hand side. This means that the first or primary branch also grows towards the right, despite not being the lowest branch. Additionally, the branches on the left hand side (the ‘shaded’ side of the tree) have a tendency to grow upwards, whereas the branches on the right hand side have a tendency to grow outwards towards the ‘sunny side’ of the tree.

These are all subtle visual clues that we all see in trees everyday and as bonsai enthusiasts, can harness to create a more convincing image for our bonsai.

There are many visual clues that we all use to give the impression of age in a tree. Short term solutions are to style the branches of a bonsai on a horizontal plane to give the impression of aged branches weighed down over time by the weight of the sub-branches or snow lying on them through the depths of winter. Or to allow a massive number of sub-branches to develop (ramification) to create a dense canopy of leaves. However, these short-term solutions cannot replace and should not be confused with the genuine characteristics of great age in a bonsai, taper.