Developing Deciduous Bonsai Branch Structures

Part Four: The Importance of Branch Taper in Bonsai: Page 2 of 2

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bonsai branch

The example branch from Part Three after approximately 5 years development. It has now reached the size and length required for it to fit within the overall silhouette of the bonsai. If in the future the branch is simply pruned back repeatedly to keep it in shape it will slowly increase the ramification (number of tertiary branches) to an impressive number. The density of the foliage will greatly increase and leaf-size will be reduced. Both of which will create a good impression of age in the bonsai during the growing season. However, the taper of the tertiary brannches will be slowly lost and the taper between the branch base and the branch tips will slowly diminish.

bonsai branch

Over the course of a number of years the tertiary branches will continue to thicken but for various reasons the primary and secondary branches will barely change in diameter and eventually the branch will look like that above. As already noted, the ramification of the branch is impressive but as the taper disappears so will the true impression of age.

So how is the the branch rejuvenated? Quite simply, by pruning it back very hard and rebuilding it. Bonsai are said to be never finished and this is a good example of what this cliche actually means. Bonsai is a unique artform in that unlike other pieces of art, a tree is forever changing, however subtly. Though removing the ramification of the branch can feel very much like a step backwards in the development of the tree, long-term it is a large leap forward.

bonsai branch

The branch is cut back hard to a smaller diameter secondary branch that becomes the new primary-branchline. This work can be carried out in the summer but it is preferable that the branch can be studied clearly before making such major alterations and so I prefer to carry this work out during the dormant season when the tree is clear of leaves.

bonsai branch

The newly pruned branch is then wired and reshaped as necessary.

bonsai branch

At the beginning of the following growing season new shoots will begin to appear that in comparison to the existing primary branchline are considerably thinner. Despite there being only 4 or 5 secondary shoots the branch already has a more aged appearance than before it was pruned, simply due to the massive increase in taper.

bonsai branch

With just 18 months of rebuilding the branch ramification will have started to build up and when compared to the its appearance after 5 years development, the illusion of age is very apparent. The process of rebuilding the tree can, in theory, be repeated over and over again for the duration of the life of the tree. Which is likely to be a very long time leading to incredible taper and a magnifi cent illusion of age!


As bonsai enthusiasts, many of us are used to the concept of field-growing trees to greatly reduce the time taken to develop a trunk for bonsai. Allowing free growth in the trunk leader encourages the fastest possible thickening of the base and dramatic trunk taper in the future.

Exactly the same techniques can be used to create branch taper. Rather than then developing the trunk in a container as I have described in this chapter, the stump can continue to be developed in the ground, this time with the emphasis on building branch taper.

Though this increases development time in the ground and delays the transition of a tree into a bonsai pot by another 10 years or more, the long term results are branches of the highest quality in a shorter time frame.