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Bonsai Cutting

Bonsai Cutting 101: How to Shape Bonsai Plants

According to many bonsai practitioners, the most enjoyable part of the art of bonsai is cutting and shaping.

Well, in this article, you are going to learn a lot of things about bonsai cutting such as pruning time, the tools to use, and most importantly learn how to achieve the shape you want for your bonsai plant. Also, additional tips and tricks on bonsai cutting await you.

You’re about to be introduced to your creative side, so keep reading!

Bonsai Cutting
bonsai tree and tools on white table

Necessary Tools

Most of the time basic pair of scissors are used for young plants. But if you want to create smooth cuts on your plant that won’t mar the attractive look of the plant, you will need some more special pruning tools.

Thanks to the Artists!  who have worked hard to create the tools that make the job of shaping plants easy and also increase their beauty.

So, Let’s take the advantage of their expertise. It may cost more upfront, but it will surely make your job easier and your plant prettier. 

If you have the choice to buy one thing, you must go for pair of concave pruners. You will easily get these concave pruners, as many online retailers carry these specialized concave pruners that are the right size for cutting bonsai plants. An eight-inch pair is considered the standard concave pruner.

Wazakura Carbon Steel Concave pruners-1

Wazakura Carbon Steel Concave pruners 

Wazakura Carbon Steel Concave pruners 

Wazakura Carbon Steel Concave pruners are the perfect concave cutter, you can get this from Amazon. After all, they are an indispensable part of any bonsai toolkit.

Next, you will need a small pair of shears for pruning away leaves and tiny shoots.

Pruning Shears

Pruning Shears

Abana Homes sells Bonsai Shears that are both functional as well as a beautiful display element for a gardening shelf, also these shears are easy to use.

For wiring, purchase soft, flexible wire in multiple gauges. Minimum you will need 1.0- 2.0-, and 3.0-millimeter gauge wire.

It is preferable to use Aluminium and copper wire, just avoid using steel unless it is coated because it rusts. This does not harm the bonsai plant, but it is messy and compromises the structure. Whereas, copper is stronger and works better for conifers.

You can get this wire in kits with a variety of gauges and a pair of snips. 

You can buy a bonsai toolkit, which has five gauges of aluminum wire in 160-foot lengths, a pair of wire cutters, and a canvas storage bag to hold these items.

Pick one from Abana Homes.

Bonsai toolkit

Bonsai toolkit

With these get some raffia. As many bonsai retailers carry raffia. Raffia is used to protect the branches while using branch benders. You can also use the stuff that you get at parties or craft stores.



Make sure not to buy colored or dyed raffia as it makes a mess and the color may bleed when raffia gets wet.

If you plan dramatically to change the shape of the branch or work with thick branches, you need to get a bending or jacking tool.

Tree Bender tool

Tree Bender tool

Tree branch bender comes in different sizes, but the small size is preferable for beginners.

The Basic Goal of Shaping

The basic goal of shaping is to make the plant appear as it would in nature. 

Of course, shaping and bonsai cuttings are also done to make your bonsai plant look the way you want.

The bonsai cutting should be such that it should look like you never interfered at all in mind.

But this doesn’t mean that your bonsai tree needs to grow straight up and down like, a formal upright style. Though, few trees in nature look that way.

Have a look around the trees growing near you. You can see most of them are sightly tilt as they reach for sunlight or are pushed by the winds. Also, they may have longer or denser branches on one of the sides.

Some trees are more dramatically shaped by the environment and this is reflected in cascading or windswept style.

The Basic Goal of Shaping

While cutting bonsai, the main aim is not to leave any evidence of cuttings. That’s why concave pruners are used. These make the smooth cut that eventually heals.

And as time goes by, you need to do limited bonsai cutting. The most dramatic shaping is primarily done after the initial phase. After that, you need to focus on maintaining that shape.

Picking a Shape

To decide whether to remove or re-shape a branch is totally subjective, after all, bonsai cutting is an art form.

Just as no one can tell us whether or not to add a brushstroke to a painting, same like that no one can tell us whether a branch should stay in a place or not or whether it should be curved or be straight.

But not to worry! Because there are few things that can guide you on that,

The first thing to remember is that you are trying to recreate a natural tree in miniature form.

The unique method of growing bonsai makes it distinct from growing just a dwarf citrus plant in a container or another type of miniature plant.

 If there are long and thick branches, remove them. Because this is something that rarely happens in nature.

The same goes for twisted or turning branches. Sometimes they do appear in nature, but you need to remove these unless they contribute to the shape you are going for.

To create a visually appealing tree, most bonsai practitioner removes branches that are of the same height.

Though it is contrary to natural growth in a full-sized specimen, as you are working in a limited space, it looks better to the viewer. It also simplifies the appearance, creating visual interest.

Most bonsai style prefers alternating branches that appear at different height, and this is where the art of bonsai cutting comes in. 

It actually creates a balanced composition that deviates from the natural environment.

In the end, remember there is always a “front” angle that you want viewers to look at your bonsai.

Although the bonsai tree is multi-dimensional, once it is on display it should be shaped so that viewers can see it from the ideal perspective.

Deciding What to Cut

Once you have picked the shape, it’s time to start the actual work.

Before you start snipping, let us learn quickly tree anatomy,

Deciding What to Cut
  • The periderm or the cork or bark is the outer part of the stem and branches.
  • Inside that, you can find a layer called the cambium, followed by the sapwood.
  • Sapwood is not alive but it is where the sap moves through and in that xylem is found, a tissue that transports water and nutrients through the plant.
  • Finally, there is the heartwood, which acts as the hard skeleton center of the tree.

If you cut through the cambium layer into the xylem, the tree will not be able to produce a new cork in that spot. It will be visibly injured. Therefore, you need to take care to create bonsai cuts that will heal cleanly.

Before you make any cut on your bonsai, always picture your selected species as it appears in the natural form.

Broadly you can see that most trees grow in one of a few standard shapes, in absence of the dramatic environmental influence.

These shapes include:

  • Columnar
  • Funnel-shaped
  • Oval
  • Round
  • Triangular (conical)
  • Umbrella-shaped

For example, if you choose a species that grows in a triangle shape like many conifers’ species do, you need to stick to that shape.

On other hand, a weeping willow is quite round, so if a bonsai is trained in a triangle shape, it may look a little odd.

You can tilt the tree dramatically to the side as though it has been buffeted by the wind. while still maintaining that overall shape of the bonsai that’s larger at the bottom and pointed at the top.

Also, note whether your chosen species has alternating, whorled, or opposite branching, and try to maintain this natural growth pattern. Though many bonsai styles are pruned to create alternating branches, this isn’t always the case.

In addition, remove any rubbing, crossing, or awkward branches just as you would do with full-sized plants.

Branches that are out of proportion such as too thick, too long, etc should be removed.

Bonsai cutting is not just about subtraction and it does not force the tree to remain small. The constricted root system in the pot does that. Bonsai cutting and pruning are all about creating a nice shape.

Besides, there are lots of rules that growers of bonsai try to follow, but the tree in nature does not necessarily follow the same rules. So let nature be your guide in shaping a plant.

Also, it is important to remember that you don’t need to achieve everything in one go. Such a process takes years and you simply won’t be able to cut or shape the tree in a year.

It may look strange or even odd at first. But just hold your ultimate vision in your mind, with a little bit of patience, and watch your beautiful work of art appearing before your eyes.

Making the Cut

Now it’s time to start cutting the bonsai, so ready with the pruners?

Let’s proceed,

Slow down first and make sure your tools are sharp and clean. So that there is less chance of harming the tree or making any bad cut.

Keep in mind never to pinch a new growth using your fingers, no matter how tempting it may be! 

For that always use sharp and clean tools like scissors and trimmers.

At first, you do not need to make a flush concave cut because it rarely heals well. To begin with, start getting away the majority of branches out of the way.

Cut the branches back to a stub that is about as long as the branch is thick at the base.

 As you have access to the stub, make a more precise cut.

Remove all the wood to the branch collar, but no further. You need to do this at an angle because the branch collar emerges from the trunk at an angle.

It means the top of your cut will touch the trunk whereas the bottom of the cut will be out from the trunk.

Of course, this will leave a little bump. Not to worry because it will heal and still look natural. Also, the tree won’t be injured as it would be a concave cut.

Talking about the frequency of pruning, keep in mind that some species and some individual plants don’t do well with frequent pruning. They reduce photosynthesis, shock the tree, and may introduce disease.

For instance, conifers should not be pruned more than once every few years.

Whenever you need to make multiple cuts in one area, you should spread them out over time.

For smaller cuts on deciduous trees, you can prune the branch above a node to encourage branching.

And for evergreen trees, remove new shoots to the point of another outward-facing branch.

Don’t worry, if you mess up. There are lots of bonsai specimens out there that were fashioned around a pruning mistake that ended up winning awards.

For your ease of understanding, have a look at additional tricks and tips on how to cut the bonsai,

Making the Cut

Fixing Mistake

Do not panic if things go wrong. It is possible, that by mistake you can remove the branch which you didn’t want to. But you can help the tree to repair as well.

For the damaged part, wrap the tree in moistened sphagnum moss and cover it with black plastic. Check for new bark growth every month. And once it is formed, you can remove the bandage.

While bending the branch if it gets cracked, stop bending it and wire it first. Just don’t cover the crack. The tree will heal itself as long as you don’t damage the spot further.

You will make mistakes; you will have unexpected damage. Don’t worry, because it’s all good after all this is a living and breathing artwork.


1. Which are the best species for Bonsai Cutting?

Juniper, Pine, and jade plants are the best for bonsai cutting.

2. Does Bonsai Cutting Harm the tree?

As long as you are taking good and proper care of the tree while cutting, it does not harm the tree.

3. How long does it take bonsai cutting to grow?

Cutting will take about 2 weeks to develop roots and a few years to grow a new tree that is ready for pruning and shaping.

4. What tools are used for bonsai cutting?

The commonly used tools are pruner, branch cutter, root cutter, wire cutter,pliers and bonsai scissors. The Special bonsai tools include pruning saw, tweezers, brush, mesh, grafting knives and scalpel.


Bonsai cutting is the part of growing bonsai where you are able to show your creativity.

Mostly, you need to just follow your artistic instincts to create a pleasing display. But the most important thing to know in bonsai cutting is how to make your cuts so that you don’t damage your plant.

I hope this article arms you with basic knowledge of bonsai cutting and the shape you have envisioned for your plant.

So, which shape you are aiming for your bonsai tree? Let us know in the comment section!

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