Updated: Jan 7
Like most everything on earth there is usually more then 1 way to do things, This is especially true in Bonsai because we have so many variables. Today we are going to look at the 3 most common ways we prune for aesthetics and talk about the results that we get from each.
Pruning + Wiring
This one is the most common practise and is what you will see in most traditional bonsai styles. This is the practise of pruning your tree selectively to keep adventitious branches which might mean a branch that will be the most photosynthetically efficient or a branch that is in the perfect spot for your design goals, If you can have a branch that ticks both those box's then that's even better! . After you have pruned the tree to keep the branches you want to use in your design you would then go through and prune each individual branches growth to once again keep the most adventitious shoots for that branches structure. Now that you have got all the best branches and shoots on your tree we need to now apply wire so that we can shape and move those branches and shoots into the positions needed to achieve our design goals. The combination of pruning selectively and and wiring your branches into the perfect location and creating flowing lines will create the most traditional form of bonsai style and also the highest quality in my personal opinion. Some people are under the impression that this type of styling can make a tree seem to contrived and "fake". But after all Bonsai is an art and if we wanted a natural looking tree all we would need to do is plant a tree and let it grow, Done. If you want to satisfy the art side of yourself you will need some intervention which is where the selective pruning and wiring will come into play, this will allow you the greatest control of your trees design on top of proper watering and fertilising techniques.
Lingnan ( Clip and Grow )
Lingnan or Clip and Grow as its more commonly referred to is the technique in which we only selectively prune the tree and let phototropism take care of the rest. You remember phototropism for early articles right? if not this is the effect of the tree growing towards the sunlight if left to its own devices, so in the method of clip and grow you can clip a branch and when the new shoot emerge you allow them to grow towards the light to achieve your shape. This style of pruning will give you sharper angles in your branching but not much control, Some times you might have to tilt your tree on an angle to achieve a certain bend in a branch or to stop a branch from completely growing straight up. This style is most commonly seen in Chinese Penjing, and when practised properly can look quite nice and appeals to those who want to practise a more natural style of bonsai with a slight artistic intervention.
This is a very controversial technique in bonsai in which an artist will literally prune their bonsai like a hedge by simply hacking at the canopy of the tree and creating a much more rounded topiary style to the tree. Now some argue that this is a perfectly reasonable approach to bonsai and there has been some decent results with this, but they are far and few. In this case deciduous trees would look ok during the growing season as this foliage will cover up the inner structure of the tree and hedge pruning will get you a dense mix of branching very quickly, the problem is thought when the trees drop all their leaves in winter this exposes lots of flaws in the structure of the tree. You see when we selectively prune we take into consideration areas that have more then 2 shoots and take them back to 2. this prevents areas of swelling, when hedge pruning this kind of work is not done. When we prune selectively we also prune to make the tree as photosynthetically efficient as possible giving the tree the maximum amount of energy and vigour, where as this is not done with hedge pruning either. Lastly when we selectively prune and wire we insert the most amount of creativity into our design to create something special, this is also lost on hedge pruning in which you will end up with a tree that looks like..... you guessed it a garden hedge. Now after saying all that if this is what you want from your bonsai trees then that is perfectly fine, who says you can practise keeping hedges in a bonsai pot? or topiary style in a bonsai pot? . Its not my job to tell people how to style their trees or what kind of style they should be interested in, I'm just here to point out the up and downs of each practise.
The 3 practises listed above are just the most common and there are other ways people approach their trees, i know people which tie weights off the end of their branches to pull them down but this create curves that are far too obtuse and tea cup handle like which is un sightly, the same result is achieved with trees that are totally style with guy wires, guy wires are a very useful technique but are used in very thought out situations. I hope this has helped give you some extra ideas for your bonsai practise moving forward and maybe you can mix and match the style to create new results for your own trees.
Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.