Bonsai, like with any art form, has certain techniques applied to create the masterpiece. Painters use paintbrushes, composers use paper, pen, and musical instruments; sculptors use a variety of tools. Bonsai artist also use a variety of tools, their primary tools being their hands, time and patience.
Bonsai has a variety of techniques applied to this art such as leaf trimming, pruning, wiring, clamping, grafting, defoliation, and deadwood to name a few. Each of these techniques requires bonsai tools especially for that purpose.
Tree Story – A Maple Campestre
In leaf trimming, a bonsai artist does precision removal of leaves or needles from the bonsai plant or tree. In doing so, it aids in developing the mature look sought after in the bonsai piece. The leaf trimmer is specifically designed for leaf removal for quick clean cuts that make trimming your bonsai plant/tree quick and safe for your Bonsai. Dull cuts leave ragged edges that may result in slower healing. Tweezers work great for removing dead leaves as well as needles, insects and weeds in the container. Evergreen variety bonsai need needles that grow on the trunk or below the branches removed. By removing needles or new bud growth, the artist can produce budding on the trunk adding character to the bonsai. Leaf trimming and pruning are the two most frequent techniques used with bonsai creation.
Pruning involves the removal of branches, roots, and trunk growth. It is extremely important to know the ins and outs of pruning a bonsai because one wrong cut can kill or weaken a bonsai. Sharp pruning shears are essential for clean cuts. Pruning, like leaf removal is done frequently throughout the creation of the bonsai. Concave cutters are the most common bonsai tool used in pruning of branches, roots, and trunk growth. Their angled cutting edge make for easy and clean cut removal of unwanted growth on your bonsai. They come in various sizes but standard is 8 inches. Spherical concave cutters are the sister to the concave cutters with the only difference being a rounded cutting edge that is designed to give more precise growth removal as well as give the artist the ability to create hallow wounds in the trunk of the bonsai that after healing appears flat giving the bonsai a more matured look. Shears, the last of the pruning tools have short blades with long handles. Much like the shears one would use on a hedge but in a Bonsai size, they give the artist the ability to prune the bonsai to shape and get into areas where the concave may not be able to reach. In order to maintain the bonsai shape and form, pruning must be maintained. The amount of time and frequency in which you will have to prune will be dependent upon the type of plant or tree used.
Wiring is done to form the tree of plants branches in their desired form. It works as a support and a map in which the plant/tree will conform. Copper and aluminum wire is used when wiring branches or trunks of the bonsai. The wire is left in place up to nine months or until the branch hardens up. Wires are also used to form shapes with young branches that are still flexible or to connect them to the bonsai pot. Not all branches take to wiring due to their lack of flexibility. These branches are shaped and formed into the desired positions through pruning. Wiring is most often done in the springtime when there is new growth and branches are more flexible. When wiring, you want to take extra precaution not to brake the branches or bark by being to forceful. Keeping the wire firm and at intricate locations (e.g. bends, crossovers) is prudent in receiving the goal you are reaching. The most common tool used with wiring your bonsai is the wire cutters. A bonsai artist uses the wire cutters to not only cut the wire but often times shaping the end of wire tightly around the branches. The Bonsai wire cutters have a rounded nose on them, which enables the artist to get in close to the branch and not harm the bark. Branch benders are used in place of the wire when branches are not flexible enough to wire in desired positions.
Ginseng Ficus Bonsai pair
Clamping is yet another technique used by bonsai artist in the forming of branches and trunks that present stiffer wood. Most commonly used are the screw-based clamps that enable the artist to put pressure on branch or trunk increasing over a period time to achieve desired results.
Grafting is done to join two plants or trees together to give the appearance as a singular bonsai. Another common reason behind grafting is that some plant root systems alone in bonsai art are not suitable to stand on their own; with combining the two root systems the artist gains better ability to control size. Common tools used in grafting are grafting and budding knives. It is important for the artist to use sharp knives as to not leave ragged wounds that can cause harm to the bonsai. Tying and wrapping materials are used to hold scissions and stock together tightly as well as prevent callus from forming. Commonly used tying and wrapping materials are tape, plastic, raffia, rubber budding strips and twine.
Defoliation is the practice of total leaf removal by partially clipping along the petiole (stem) of the leaf, which will later dry up and fall off. This forces a new crop of smaller leaves adding to the esthetics of dwarfing. This short term dwarfing of the leaves can only be done at most every other year due to the weakening effects it has on the tree. Not all plant/trees can survive defoliation. Sharp bonsai scissors are the most common tool used for this technique.
Deadwooding is a technique used to give the appearance of matured bark in an otherwise young tree. There are two different styles of deadwooding; the jin used when bark is stripped entirely off a branch, and the shari technique is used when trying to give the impression of scarring on a branch or trunk. Other techniques are done to give the appearance of a raised grain in a trunk or a bleaching of the trunk using a lime-sulfur compound.
Shade is useful when first starting a pot. The trick is to diminish the sun, while the plant is getting established. I use white bamboo sheets. they seem to provide just the right amout of light for getting them started. I have an old king bamboo sheet that I have been cutting pieces out of for years
There are many other techniques used in bonsai art and a variety of different tools to achieve the effect of the technique.