Bonsai Training

Training your bonsai trees is a skill you will enjoy the process of developing over time.

As you become more confident you will want to venture into more and more advanced techniques.

This page is a guide to techniques for the beginner to the advanced bonsai enthusiast.

I will be adding videos, photos and text to this page over time so be sure and check in once in awhile and have a peek to see whats new.

Making A Mame Bonsai Tree

How to make a “finished” mame bonsai from a nursery stock Chamaecyparis pisifera sawara cypress “Tsukumo”. A dwarf Japaneses false cypress.


Mame is the Japanese term for a small bonsai from 7 to 15 centimeters, or roughly 3 to 6 inches.


The Tsukumo is a hardy tree (zone 4-8) so like most bonsai it needs to be kept outdoors in order to go dormant for a time of rest during the winter.

It makes an excellent mame bonsai because of it’s tiny foliage and slow, compact growth habit. The same characteristics that make it difficult to style. This video shows you how to work the tsukumo into a “finished” bonsai tree.


Repotting should only be attempted during the dormant season with few exceptions. The cut roots will heal over when the tree wakes up in the springtime so the closer to spring it is the less time the open cuts will sit in the dirt unhealed, reducing the risk of root disease. Also using a sharp root cutting tool  will make clean cuts and speed the healing process.

Some signs that a tree needs to be repotted are:

A: Roots appear near the edges of the pot.

B: Roots growing from the bottom drain hole.

C: Poor drainage or slow absorption of water.


1: Snip the wire on the bottom of the pot that secures the tree to the soil. Being careful not to cut the screen clip.


2: Cut the soil loose from the pot and carefully remove the tree.


3: Carefully rake out and untangle the roots without disturbing the soil right near the base of the trunk.

Water is good at this point as it is critical the root’s do not begin to dry out and it also loosens up the old root ball and soil.


4: Remove the large woody searcher roots leaving the small delicate feeder roots. The tree at this point can be moved up to a larger bonsai pot if you would like to increase the overall size of the bonsai tree.


5: If you want to keep the overall size of the tree the same only increasing the trunk and branch thickness, cut off the feeder roots so there is about ½ “ to 1” (depending on the pot size) of space between the pot sides and the root ball.


6: Make sure the screen is clipped over the bottom drain hole and put a small mound of new course bonsai soil in the center of the pot. Set the tree into place and adjust into position. Usually a little off center and toward the rear.

If your pot has only one hole, the screen clips can be installed from the bottom of the pot up through the screen inside the pot which gives you something to secure the trees tie wire to.


7: Cut a length of copper wire and insert one end up through the drainage hole until it reaches the surface of the root ball. If you cut the wire at a sharp angle it will easily poke through the drain screen. Now bend the other end up through the other hole or on the opposite side of the screen clip wire if there is only one hole and do the same. Twist the two ends of wire together with a pair of pliers until it clamps down (not too tight) and secures the tree in the pot.


8: Add bonsai soil to the top and work it into the pot using a chopstick or pencil until you are sure there are no air pockets. Firm the soil in with your thumb until it reaches the desired height.

9: A newly potted tree can be dunked rather than watered from above as it keeps the soil from washing away.

Field Growing

Once a tree is placed in it’s bonsai pot, It’s growth slows to that of molasses running up hill on a cold day. And so, a tree should not be placed in it’s pot until you are quite happy with it’s size and appearance.

While A tree in a nursery pot will grow much faster than one in a bonsai pot, compared with the same time in the ground the difference in the growth rate are phenomenal.   


If you are wanting a thick trunk or a larger size bonsai, field growing is the audubon of bonsai creation. You simply plant your tree in the landscape in a location that meets its needs and care for it along with the rest of your grounds.


Some people like to place a flat stone or thick plastic underneath to create a good shallow spreading root system rather than a deep tap-root.


Once the trunk is suitable size, the tree is chopped down and a new apex created from a low growing branch. Keep in mind, the sacraficial top does not have to be grown straight up. Growing it to the side allows the new apex to be trained by wiring and pruning even while the tree is being allowed to grow out. 


When the unwanted top is removed, it may create an opportunity to carve an amazing jin or shari!

Note the location where the original field grown top has been removed on the right side just below the branches.

Chop & Grow

Chop and grow is the method of letting the tree grow much taller than desired in order to develop a large trunk. The same can be done by allowing an unwanted branch to develop and grow untouched and then when the trunk is suitable the branch is removed. The sacrificed branch can be carved into a jin or removed with a concave cutter to heal over clean.

This technique can be done in a pot or in the field for faster development. To create taper in the trunk, ever so often, a low growing branch is selected to be the new top leader of the tree. The trunk is then chopped on a steep angle pointing up to and just above the newly selected top. It is sometimes necessary to wire the new top to help get it going in the right direction although many tree species younger branches tend to point upwards naturally. The “chops” and new top leaders can be chosen in such a location as to give the developing trunk a lean or curve in the desired direction.

Note the changes in the trunks direction created by the chops as it grew.

Root Development

Exposed roots are created by slowly lowering the soil level over time as the roots harden off.

This is also how root-over-rock roots are developed. The roots are easily placed over the rock when they are young and pliable. They can be buried in the soil with the entire rock or wrapped in sphagnum moss held on with plastic wrap and potted with the rock atop the soil and the ends of the roots beneath.