Bonsai Training Guide: When To Start Training Limb Growth

  • By: Josh Koop
  • Date: August 24, 2021
  • Time to read: 11 min.
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Bonsais are amazing, you can grow any tree in your garden into your next coffee table companion, which makes it all the more challenging when your new tree starts growing in strange ways. This may lead you to wonder when do you start training the growth of your bonsai, do you fire it from the first shoots, or do you wait?

You should wait at least 4 to 5 years before really working on training the growth of your bonsai tree, with wiring only starting once you are sure the tree is growing healthily. Many bonsai owners start training too early and cause their trees to die early, the growth of a bonsai should only be controlled once the tree is healthy enough to divert energy to different spots.

But if have grown some trees in the past you may be aware that some trees are almost fully grown by the time they are 3 years old. Which might make the perfect bonsai tree if it could be grown in a proper pot.

Every tree on earth will be different, with only the most commonly used bonsai trees loving to wait until they are five years old.

The tree that grew straight and true in your garden for countless years may not do the same in its pot. Knowing which trees are perfect for this and will be able to grow without a challenge when they are being wired or trimmed will take you further than you could imagine!

What Do You Need to Use When Training Bonsai Growth?

Before we start training the growth of your bonsai you will need to know what to use to do it all, with each one producing different results for the tree.

Some of the best techniques won’t require more than a few minutes of work, allowing the tree to grow in every way imaginable with ease and comfort.

Having these handy at all times once your tree reaches the right age will allow you to get the perfect bonsai without having to flounder around looking for something that could work the same.

Wires

The one thing that you will have to regularly go and restock is the wire, these are not always reusable and will need to be replenished as your tree grows.

Wiring is used to help the trunk of the tree grow either straighter once it has bent or to encourage it to grow in more angled growth.

Many people will need help to have the bonsai growing perfectly using wires, as they either don’t notice in time when the tree does something strange or they may have encouraged the wrong growth earlier.

Scissors

Bonsai scissors are slightly smaller than the scissors you will be using in your garden and they will be your most used tool by far.

The scissors are used to trim unwanted branches, cut leaves that grow too large, or even just remove some of the cumbersome limbs that are growing on your tree.

Just be sure that you are not cutting too much, that will only lead to sadness.

Pots

If your bonsai has been growing all its life in one small pot it can slow down its growth dramatically, however, if you are trying to grow new limbs this is the opposite of what you want.

Finding a new pot for your young bonsai will allow it to grow faster and give you the opportunity to control the growth it is experiencing.

Shovel

The shovel goes hand in hand with the new pot you might be using, you will need something to transfer the old soil into the new pot.

Or just use a shovel to add fresh soil to the bonsai’s roots, allowing it to grow easily and happily healthier with each passing day.

Many young bonsai growers think shovels are never used and end up having to struggle with their hands when repotting or just adding new soil.

Fresh Soil

You should be adding new soil in regular intervals to your bonsai, but when you start training its growth you will need to ensure that the soil it has available will be healthy and filled with everything it needs.

Just be sure that the soil you are adding has everything it does need and no roots and seeds from potential pests in it. Bonsai trees like to be the only things growing in their pots.

Pinching

Meant for more mature bonsai trees pinching requires only one tool, your nails. Pinching is the art of removing the buds from branches that are sprouting on your tree, this encourages growth into other buds on the tree.

Pinching is especially important if you want only certain branches to grow while leaving others the size they currently are. The advantage of pinching is that it is not such a big shock to the tree-like removing entire limbs would be.

When Do You Know it is Time to Start Training?

It can be quite a challenge to see when your tree is ready to be trained, many first-time bonsai owners will have this challenge in front of them.

It becomes especially difficult to do when the tree is being grown from seed, as the tree might reach a height unexpected long before the grower ever thought of training the growth of the tree.

This is why it is important to know just exactly how long it will take for your tree to reach maturity, trees all grow at different speeds.

Fruit-bearing trees have been bred to grow faster than normal trees, generations of selective growth, and experimenting will have this effect. This is why some fruit-bearing trees need to be trained as young as two years old.

However, normal trees that you may find in your garden will need to be left for a lot longer, usually being allowed to grow until they are around four to five years old.

This allows their trunks to grow extremely strong and healthy before you start messing with the tree and pruning off anything it may be used to grow stronger.

You must do some research about your tree before you decide when it has grown enough, many bonsai owners will already have the experience to share with you.

How Do You Train the Growth of Your Tree?

Now that you know what you need to use to train your bonsai, you need to learn how to train the growth of your tree with each tool. Buying and having everything you need to train the tree is not the same as knowing how to use everything.

TV has made it look like all that is needed to train a bonsai is a few trimmings sprinkled throughout its growth, however, you should know by now that this is not the truth.

There are four things you will have to do to train your bonsai, these things will need to be repeated each year, as the tree grows and becomes more mature some of them can be left.

Wiring

The most complicated part of growing a bonsai tree is the required wiring that it needs to go through, as this can make or break the aesthetic of the tree.

Wiring is the act of wrapping a strong wire around the tree and each of its limbs, encouraging each part to grow in specific ways. Many of the more exotic bonsai trees were encouraged to grow into their shapes by master bonsai growers.

Encouraging the trunk to grow in certain shapes requires a lot more patience than any of the limbs, as the limbs are more pliable and will easily bend to what you need.

The trunk needs to be slowly encouraged to either straighten or bend to the shape that you need. Encouraging this growth early might seem like the best idea, but a tree that is bent into odd shapes too early will not be healthy and can die.

Pruning

Pruning the leaves and other parts off a bonsai is what most people have seen and will think they have to do when growing a bonsai for the first time.

However, pruning involves a lot more than simply cutting off leaves and hoping for the best for your tree. This is why many bonsai owners that have not done the right research soon need to plant their trees in the yard where they can safely grow wild.

Pruning a bonsai tree requires that you look at which new branches are sprouting out of the already existing branches. As well as choosing which branches to remove or leave that are sprouting out from the trunk of the tree.

This encourages more energy to go to the branches that you do want, as well as keeping the branches growing from going wild.

Repotting

If you want more energy for roots or just the trunk of the tree you need to do two things, trim off all the leaves and buds from the tree and give it a new pot to grow in.

This will encourage a massive boost in the growth of the tree and allow it easily and comfortably reach new strength in the trunk it is growing.

Many bonsai owners forget to regularly repot their trees, thinking that one pot is perfect for a tree for its whole life.

Repotting brings several advantages to a bonsai tree, with the tree only getting its permanent pot once it has reached 8 years or older. There are some trees that should seemingly never find their permanent pot.

These trees can grow to be a lot older than other trees, with many of them preferring to grow slightly larger than the traditional bonsai trees.

Growing

Training your tree is not just about bending it to your will or cutting off everything that bothers you. You will need to allow the tree to grow in some natural ways to get it to stay healthy throughout the training season that it undergoes.

Bonsai owners that never allow their trees to grow are usually left in some tears as they no longer have trees that grow perfectly once everything is said and done.

Some of the best bonsais are left to grow now and then, once the new limbs that are growing have been trimmed, the wires apply, and the bothersome bulbs pinched off.

The only thing you should be doing is allowing the tree to grow into its new shape, many amazing trees can be grown when they are left to their own decisions.

Problems With New Buds Growing From Your Bonsai

Now that you know what you are doing, we need to talk about buds growing out of the trunk of your tree.

This happening is the best thing you could hope for, as it shows that the tree is healthy and wants to grow to its full potential.

It is going to be your job to ensure that the buds don’t go wild, stopping the bonsai tree from becoming a full tree.

There are four things that you need to do to any buds that are sprouting out from your bonsai tree, pinching, trimming, wiring, and growing.

Pinching

As with the bulbs at the end of already existing branches, you may need to pinch some of the buds that are forming.

There are two ways that you can do this, each causing massively differences in the growth that they will promote from your tree.

Knowing when to do each will be the difference in how your tree having the best limbs on earth or simply having a few wonky-looking branches.

Pinching off a bud that has only just formed will stop the tree from growing any further, allowing that energy to go elsewhere in the growth of the tree.

This is a perfect and easy way to discourage new limbs from growing, each one that will require you to do some extra work.

The second way of pinching these buds is to pinch only the very tip of the bud, allowing the limb eventually to still start growing.

Pinching only the tip of a bud off will force it to stop growing for a few days, having the tree focus its energy on other limbs and buds that you did not pinch off. Allowing these other limbs to grow stronger over time.

Trimming

Trimming the buds is a much more serious thing to do for your bonsai tree and will greatly affect the way new buds are growing.

If you remove all the leaves and budding flowers from your bonsai it will cause many new buds to sprout from the trunk of your bonsai, allowing you to easily add a few branches if needed.

However, some bonsai tree owners want their trees to have a few aesthetic changes to them, like the look of limbs that have been removed.

Allowing a bud to grow into a long branch and then removing the tree at the trunk will leave a permanent scar on the trunk of the tree.

However, it should be noted that you should only do this if you already know what you are doing as this can introduce disease to the tree.

Many bonsais have been lost because of branches that were removed, only for a fungus to find its root in the fresh wound.

Wiring

Buds that are not removed may need to be checked on regularly, especially if your tree already has a few other well-established branches.

If you are not careful the new branch can cause damage to the other limbs, growing into them or growing in a wild way. The solution is something that you have done a million times before, wiring the limb to grow in the way that you need.

Just be sure that it is thick enough to be wired in the right way, it may be helpful to use the connected wiring method as well. This method calls for wiring the branch together with another limb, usually one that is already established.

By doing this you can rely on the second branch to influence the growth of the new branch, either letting grow in tandem or simply growing away from each other, with the wire helping to push them in opposite directions.

Growing

If you have a young tree with only a few branches that you have all trimmed to be without leaves and multiple new buds are sprouting you need to allow some growth.

Remove a few of the buds that are growing, leaving five or six to start growing. Soon your tree will start looking a lot more like a tree, with several different branches going in each direction.

The best thing to remember is that patience is key when working with a tree, being hasty in your trimming or too aggressive will only lead to the tree dying long before it has reached its apex.

Final Thoughts on When to Start Training Bonsai Growth

Training a bonsai can be extremely relaxing when you know what you need and how you need it, however, if it is the first time you are doing it you will be so stressed that you can barely breathe.

The most important thing to remember is to wait until the tree is ready to be trained, young trees might not like it and older trees might already be too big.

Just be sure you aren’t training your bonsai tree to do something that does not come naturally to it, allowing the tree to be what it wants to be should be a right all trees have, even miniature ones!

If you are just learning about bonsai trees and looking to purchase high quality trees that will likely live longer than you then I would highly suggest checking out Bonsai Boy Trees as they are a long lasting New York business that provides trees for all price ranges!

Here are some of my favorite Bonsai Items

Thanks for reading this article, I have a few items I love to use with my bonsai tree care and wanted to share the best options for the core needs for the new bonsai enthusiast!

Best Bonsai For a Beginner – Most of what you find online are starter plants where they are going to be difficult to start and grow successfully. Most beginners like to have a starter plant to work from. I highly suggest looking at Bonsai Boy directly (more options and good prices), or you can look at their inventory from Amazon.

Best Bonsai Tool SetTianBonsai makes the best quality tools for simple bonsai work, if you want tools that will last you they won’t come cheap, make the right investment the first time with these beginner tools on Amazon!

Best Bonsai PotBonsai Boy’s Beige Ceramic Bonsai Pot – The team at Bonsai Boy operates out of New York and has been perfecting bonsai in the US for over 50 years, there is a reason I love and share them, if you want to order directly from Bonsai Boy then click here, or click here to order through Amazon.