Refining Bonsai

The section of the 'Primer' on the various styles that bonsai may be grown in, made no mention of the placement of the branches to get the best effect, or how wiring is used to add to the impression of age. In this section we will look at what can be done to take your tree that little bit further.

Some of the Text and illustrations, you may have seen in other sections of the 'Primer', but it's worth repeating some important points.

If you are able to see, either as pictures, or in the flesh (wood), good quality bonsai, you will notice that the foliage is generally in a triangular shape. Alongside is an illustration of one of my San-Jose junipers the upper image is as the tree was when converted from a nursery tree. At that time it lacked growth at the top, however by allowing a small branch to develop, it's gradually acquiring a triangular form.

Refining branches

Mature trees generally have open areas, or 'negative' areas between their foliage pads and not developing these in a bonsai would give the impression of it being a shrub, not a tree.

As branches get closer to the top of the tree, their angle to the trunk should get closer to horizontal. The reason behind this is that the lower, heavier branches would have been forced down by the weight of the foliage over the years. The upper, smaller branches would have been less affected.

If you draw an imaginary line out from the top of the tree, to a point equal to the height of the tree, a line drawn through each branch should meet that point.

While this is not a hard and fast rule, it should be borne in mind when placing branches and if achieved will add to the overall feeling of age.


Having got your tree to a reasonable state, with a good trunk taper and a fine spread of branches, you may think the job is done, not so I'm sorry to say. A Bonsai is never 'static', so you will need to keep on pruning the branches to maintain its shape. Branches will in fact need to be redeveloped every few years, this is no more than a really hard pruning. it will however make the tree 'unshowable' for a while.

With deciduous trees you should remember that to have a branch that looks good without leaves, you will need to develop a fine structure, this can be achieved by pruning, wiring and leaf trimming (if appropriate), however there are one or two things to bear in mind which will improve the looks of your tree.

Mature trees do not have foliage growing in the crotch of the branch and trunk. This happens mainly in conifers, but can be seen in elms and maples.

Remove any foliage that hangs down, as this hides the branch structure.


Allen. C. Roffey 09-Jun-2018 17:04