Design a bonsai step by step

As I anticipated a few days ago in the article »How do you make a bonsai?» From now on and once a month I will guide you in the design of your future bonsai . I will explain in detail how it is wired, how it is transplanted, and why each of these things has to be done. And, of course, with many photos to make it even easier for you.

So, if you want to start with me on the path of designing a bonsai, grab a pen and paper, and let ‘s get started .

Today, in the middle of winter, what we are going to do is the first job, which is to choose the style that we want to give it and transplant it . But if the cold wave is still very present in your area, it is better to transplant when the temperatures begin to improve.

  • Low plastic pot
  • Pair of scissors
  • a small saw
  • A hook”
  • healing paste
  • Akadama (if you can’t get it, you can use clay balls or take a broken ceramic pot and “grind” it well)
  • Vermiculite (or kiryuzuna, but when it comes to species that do so well where you live, you don’t need a special substrate)
  • And of course the plant that we want to work

Step 1: choose a style


It is not always easy to choose a style , since the plants that we find in nurseries and garden centers are pruned thinking that these plants will be in gardens, and not in bonsai pots. Something similar happens with seedlings “bred” by us: normally we let the tree grow as it wishes for several years until we decide to start working on it. The specimen that I have chosen to make this guide is a seed Schinus molle . He is about three years old, and has been in a corner of a table until now. So at first glance it is not easy to define a design, and it is likely that it will end up changing as you work.

But… (fortunately there is always a but), it can help us a lot to know the following :

  • There can be no branch growing towards us
  • The branches and their leaves, as far as possible, have to form a kind of Y
  • There can be no branch that crosses another
  • The Classical School tells us that there has to be a certain triangularity, on all sides of the tree

Knowing this, in this case I have chosen to follow the double trunk bonsai style . That is to say, that one day if everything goes well we will see the Schinus like this:

double trunk

Much work remains to be done! But we shouldn’t be in a hurry. Patience must be our companion on this path to do it correctly.

Step 2: first pruning

cut branch

There are several types of pruning: training, maintenance, and sanitation. The Schinus did not have to be done much, in fact, more than a pruning could be considered pinched, since only a few twigs have been removed.

To prune you can do it with scissors if the thickness of the branch (or root) is not too wide, or with a small handsaw. Do not forget to disinfect the tools with water and alcohol beforehand, and after having used them. It is also important that you put healing paste on each cut , especially if it has been large (like the one you see when pruning a thick branch).

Step 3: Transplant

remove substrate

Now the time has come to transplant to our tree. But for this we must first remove the substrate . How do we do it? With the help of a hook. As long as it is an autochthonous species or that it lives without problems in our area, we can do this task without worries; carefully, yes, but without having to worry about the “indirect pruning” of roots that we are doing.

clean roots

Then we clean the roots with water.

Prune thick root

Sometimes the unforeseen arise. The Schinus we see a too thick root that has to be pruned with a saw, by the red line.

Wound healing paste

We put healing paste, and leave it in a bowl with water .

pot with substrate

We turn to the substrates. So that we do not make mistakes with the amount of substrate that it needs, we first put the akadama in the pot , until almost filling the pot. Then we add a layer of vermiculite.

mixed substrate

When mixed, we will have something like this. Ready to plant the tree! If you want, to make it easier to transplant it, take out a little substrate before putting the plant in, and then put it back in to finish covering the roots.

To water

Finally , we only have to water (with water alone, or by adding a few drops of Benerva, which you will find in pharmacies and will help the roots recover better from the transplant), and place it in a location sheltered from direct sunlight.

And to finish…


Don’t worry if your tree drops its leaves . It is a very common reaction considering that several roots have been cut when removing the substrate. This is a reaction prior to the spectacular budding that it will do in spring.

In the case of conifers, intensive root pruning or cleaning should never be done. These plants are sustained thanks to mycorrhizae , which are a kind of beneficial (and vital) fungus for the survival of these trees.

Design a bonsai step by step

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