Trident winter pruning

Cold weather has finally come to Shibui Bonsai and many of the deciduous bonsai have lost leaves. I always find this a great time of year because I now get to see the underlying structure of branches and twigs that make up my bonsai. I now get the opportunity to assess the branch structure that has been hidden by a dense canopy of leaves for several months and to begin winter pruning and refinement.

This Root over rock trident maple has a well ramified branch structure. It was my second attempt at root over rock bonsai and is around 28 years old now.







With younger trees we spend a lot of time and effort on increasing ramification but there comes a time when the tree reaches a stage where further ramification is counterproductive and we need to switch from pruning to increase branching (development) to thinning and reducing the branch structure (maintenance)

This trident has been in the maintenance phase for some years now and has a complex branch structure but you can see in the picture above that some areas don’t look quite right. There are also a couple of branches that have grown during the summer that will probably cause further problems if left as they are.


Apex: the upper parts of many trees are the strongest. This is referred to as apical dominance. The trees divert more energy and food to the upper shoots to try to reach maximum height as quickly as possible but for bonsai these strong growing upper shoots not only spoil the look of the tree but can also cause the upper trunk to thicken excessively and must be corrected.

I’ve selected the best placed one of these shoots to be the apex of the tree for next season and shortened it so the leader is now a thinner side shoot.

I also remove any thicker branches that might compete with the apex or cause the whole area to thicken.


Some of the lower branches have developed strong, thick shoots, especially near the tips. I’m taking the opportunity to remove these. As in the apex, leaving strong parts could lead to excessive thickening and destroy the delicate branching. It is also an opportunity to reduce the length of the branches and bring the width of the silhouette back a little.

If this is not done occasionally the bonsai would get slightly larger each year.





Shoots with long internodes should always be pruned. Even if you are still developing branching, shoots with long internodes should be trimmed. You cannot get intricate ramification if the branches have long, bare spaces so cut these off and try again for shoots with shorter internodes.


Most bonsai growers are aware that bar branches on the trunk are undesirable but far fewer understand the importance of also removing bar branching from the secondary and tertiary branch structure. Branches or shoots that are opposite not only disturb the visual flow but will also ultimately cause localised thickening so I make a final check to restore the 2x2 branching structure. Wherever possible when I find a branch junction with more than 2 shoots I remove one or more until only 2 remain. In the picture I’ve decided to prune the centre shoot because it is both stronger and long but removing either of the side shoots would also restore the 2×2 structure here.

After trimming and pruning the bonsai looks far better and is now ready for spring growth. Contact Shibui Bonsai if you are interested in adding this trident to your bonsai collection. Asking price $1100 + delivery cost.



Photographed from the front like this the branch structure does not show up well.


From above you can start to appreciate the intricacy of the ramification.

Another twisted shimpaku

The recent workshop with Joe Morgan-Payler has re-inspired me to keep developing these small, contorted junipers.

While not everyone appreciates this style of bonsai, especially here in Australia where our relatively mild climate does not produce such trees in the mountains, they seem to be valued by Japanese bonsai artists. These trees simulate the types of trunks that the severe winters and harsh growing conditions in the Japanese mountains naturally produce.

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JBP first styling

Today I worked on a Japanese Black pine. It was grown from seed about 10 years ago and I kept it because it has a really good 360 degrees root system that should develop into great pine nebari. Despite having such a great root system the top has not developed particularly well so I have not given it much attention so it is a good candidate to show how I go about making initial styling decisions. Continue reading

Autumn at Shibui Bonsai

The warm weather has gone on way longer than normal in our area this year but many of the deciduous trees at Shibui Bonsai have finally decided it is time to shut down for the winter so we finally have some colour.

Autumn colour is best with cold nights and fine sunny days so this year’s leaf colour is nowhere near as strong as usual but still worth sharing some photos with you. Continue reading

Layering for bonsai

Layering is the term used when we grow new roots on the stem of a plant so that we can produce a new plant.

There are 2 main methods: Air layering and Ground layering. There are also many variations of each of these methods.

Layering has many uses in bonsai:

  1. It can be used to propagate a new plant that you can then train as a bonsai. Because you can layer large branches you can start off with a nice thick trunk.
  2. It can be used to grow new roots at a point on the trunk that is better than the current root level.
  3. If a bonsai has poor nebari, a modified version of layering can be used to get new roots to fill in, and improve the nebari.
  4. When you have a bonsai with a really nice top but poor base you can layer and remove the good upper part as a new tree.

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Japanese Black pines

The black pines have been growing slower than usual after summer decandling. It is possible that is a response to less fertiliser than previous years. I am pleased to have small buds on these pines but I’ll try to feed more often through next winter and see if that makes a difference next summer.

Here are the clusters of buds that are growing after candle pruning in mid December (early summer here). Note that these summer buds do not have the bare ‘neck’ that the stronger spring candles have. Not having bare sections means I can have much more compact growth and better ramification. Needles should also be smaller on these smaller buds which will add to the impression of a mature tree.

Towards the end of summer I will reduce the number of buds in these clusters. Like all bonsai I try to only have 2 shoots at any place on the tree to reduce the chances of bulges and inverse taper in the trunks and branches.

I have mentioned before that decandling is only used on more mature trees. For the trees that are developing, where I want the trunks to thicken as rapidly as possible I allow them to grow freely for 1-2 years then prune back hard to the lower needles. Pruning like that also triggers new buds to grow from the remaining needles and those new buds can be used for either a new growth cycle if the tree still needs to grow or to start making branches.

If pruning is done in autumn or winter the new buds will grow in spring and are usually strong. If pines are pruned in summer the resulting buds will be smaller and more compact similar to the ones that grow after summer candle cutting.


These pictures show the shoots that have grown after winter hard pruning on 2 of the developing pines at Shibui Bonsai. You can see that these shoots are quite strong but have plenty of needles close to the base that will give me somewhere to prune to next time.