A bonsai tree is a work of art, and no two bonsai trees are alike. It grows and flourishes according to the hands that nurture it. With proper pruning, grafting, and sculpting, it finds its form over years with the right care and attention. Each one will have unique needs and it is up to the caretaker to make the decision on whether to make the difficult decision to cut or chop its trunk to achieve the ideal form.

Why do bonsai enthusiasts chop the trunks of their trees?

Trunk chopping is a common practice in Bonsai cultivation. The trunk makes up a significant component of what gives the bonsai its aesthetic appeal. Chopping helps to achieve an asymmetrical, tapered trunk that gives the bonsai its unique and much sought-after look. It also helps reduce the height to keep the tree to its desired miniature size.

Reducing or cutting the tree also encourages the bonsai to grow in a new direction, if done correctly. When a trunk is cut, it needs to be done with precision; not only to preserve the plant’s appearance, but also to keep the base healthy and strong.

There is a bit of controversy when it comes to trunk chopping. Some experienced bonsai masters say that cutting leaves “wounds” that remain visible after the plant regrows. Some cultivators are purists and would rather not see any unsightly scars or sealants on the body of the tree. At exhibition shows, critics may note the appearance of the scars that are not immediately visible to untrained eyes. To others however, trunk chopping is an excellent way to help a tree establish a strong base and a visually appealing look.

What types of trunk chopping are safe for my bonsai tree?

If you’re looking to cut the trunk of your tree in a way that will still keep it strong and healthy, there are still a few popular forms of trunk chopping that you can employ:

  • Blind reduction
  • Flat cut
  • “V”-shaped cut
  • Tapered/slanted cut

Furthermore, there are two styles of tapering: the Japanese Moyogi Tapering Style and the Spreading Oak Tapering Style. Both styles require that you cut the trunk straight across. With the former, the trunk must already exhibit some slanting or movement before you cut it. In the latter, you must apply bonsai wires after the reduction to direct the growth to achieve the desired style.

Note that the trunk chopping style you choose will vary depending on your tree and what you want to achieve. If you aren’t sure what to choose, get in touch with an expert and see what they would recommend.

Before you decide to cut

If you want to manipulate the trunk of your bonsai, you must know that you should only cut if the tree is in good health. A strong, sturdy, and robust trunk will ensure the tree survives and is able to deliver enough nutrients to its leaves. You should also only cut trees that have a substantial trunk. These are relatively mature trees that have had some time to grow. Depending on the species of your tree, the trunk should be a considerable width before it will require reduction.

Should you notice that the leaves are drying out or there are other signs of malnutrition, delaying the reduction will give it the best chance to regrow its buds. Give the tree time to heal, otherwise you may risk killing it altogether!

In conclusion

Your bonsai will respond to your manipulation, but as a living thing you need to allow it to grow and find its natural shape. Chopping the trunk shouldn’t be arbitrary, rather it should come as a result of planning and careful preparation. Timing the chop of your trunk can mean the difference between the bonsai dying or thriving.

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