I was starting to write about winter pruning in another article on winter care. While writing that, I realised to winter pruning probably needs a spot of its own. Here, we’ll focus on Winter Pruning of Bonsai Trees – what winter pruning is, what we do and why.

What Is Winter Pruning?

When I talk about winter pruning, I’m generally referring to the pruning of deciduous trees during their dormancy period starting at the end of autumn and lasting until the beginning of spring.

Its an opportunity to get a good look at broadleaf trees when they are clear of vision obscuring foliage. Its a great time to set your deciduous trees up for the year ahead.

Winter Pruning Deciduous Bonsai Trees – What Do We Do?

  • Remove crossing branches.
  • Remove branches growing directly up or down.
  • Remove large buds from the tips of branches.
  • Thin out the number of branches from busy areas of the tree.
  • Allow light into the centre and lower parts of the tree by thinning out the often denser top of the tree
  • Removal of overly thick branches if they are too near the top of the tree.

Why Do We Winter Prune Bonsai Trees?

When we’re explaining why we winter prune our bonsai trees to customers in the shop, I often say that the tree is in a race with itself. One branch with its buds is in competition with the others. They race each other, searching for light. Buds and branches near the outside of the tree get the most light. The tree invests more energy into these areas, leaving the lower and inner parts of the tree with less energy. over time these areas of the tree become weak of die. The tree is happy with this, as it expects to be in competition with other trees and its environment, so growth upwards and outwards is its priority. For bonsai growers however, it can be a problem. Bonsai growers tend to prefer smaller leaves, finer branches and uniform growth. Winter pruning helps us to even up the Competition – We pick the winners.

Notes And Tips On Winter Pruning of Bonsai Trees

  • When I’m winter pruning. I tend to prune back to where I can see living buds and not bad any harder than this. Buds which will grow will have already formed by winter. Having said this, many deciduous trees will back-bud really well even to the point where no buds are visible. Experimentation and experience gained over time will teach you this.
  • Some people would argue that trees which have been pruned in winter should then be protected from frost. I do not find this to be important.
  • I like to do winter pruning before buds start really fattening up in early spring. By doing this, I stop the tree from wasting energy through pumping its strength into buds which I subsequently remove.
  • I generally don’t bother to seal small cuts made when pruning. I do tend to seal bigger cuts with Kiyonel.
  • I also prune evergreen trees in winter. I haven’t mentioned them in these notes though. The principles are largely the same but do remember that some evergreen trees do not back-but so easily.