Ugly vs. Pretty Styling

For any styling it’s good to ask: Do we leave it rough, or do we polish it off to as crystalized an image as we can? And the answer usually is, as with many things in bonsai, it depends.

When is leaving a mess appropriate?

  • With very aggressive work, with large branches and even trunks moved and a lot of tissue damage, there are benefits to just doing the big bends or cuts the first day and leaving it for a season, for vascular damage to mend or be rerouted and for forward momentum to be seen once more. When in doubt there is nothing wrong with this slower method.

When is primping indicated?

  • Often, particularly with optimum aftercare in a humid greenhouse, a full on initial styling is easily possible down to the shoot tips. The majority of raw conifer styling work shown on my Portfolio page was done in one day, so with a bit of experience even aggressive work may be done all at once. And then restyled trees with small branch movements are always candidates for single day completion and fine detail.

An Ezo Spruce rough styling that involved pruning off many unwanted branches and severely bending the remaining ones. This is optionally a place to pause to give the tree the easiest transition. When in doubt, pause.

Another Ezo Spruce wired down to the tiny shoots. In this example there was little trunk and branch stress from repositioning, and few branches pruned off, so physiological stress is already much lower than the above spruce. For a tree like this there is no benefit in taking the work in stages, so it is done all at once. (And no, we didn’t leave it in this skimpy pot…the post about this spruce is here.)

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  1. Michael – These informative posts are the ones i most look forward too… Your Bonsai Empire course was very informative as well, but too gorgeously filmed to be able to pay attention to “words” on the first couple viewing… it was only in the 3rd and 4th viewings that I was able to pay attention 😉

  2. Ray says:

    Sage advice Michael
    Thank you

  3. Home says:

    Hi Mike I was one of the students working on T mertensiana during the Rendezvous last Fall. You mentioned then there may be an opportunity to repot the tree with your instruction. I know it’s too early, but i want to know if that offer is still available. If so, what do weekends in March look like (my best guess when the tree will start mobilizing resources)

    Best Henry Milczuk


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