Trimming vs. Nibbling: Part II

Last week’s post championed the benefits of thinning and trimming. This week’s will argue that nibbling at our bonsai diminishes them.

A good trim and a bad nibble are a world apart.

“Nibbling” is something we happily do. And then we tend to get bigger. Constant nibbling on a tree, on the other hand, results in the reverse: A weak, thin tree without the means to make food.

Nibbling is done around the edges of risotto while you wait for the rest to cool down. It’s reserved for chocolates in closets where we think no one saw us go. Nibbling is best reserved for food. Occasionally for nails. Never for bonsai.


Reserve nibbling for risotto

Nibbling around the edges of your bonsai while listening to podcasts (never do this with Bonsai Wire) is a nervous habit likely to end them.

Though it may seem simplistic to say this, bonsai need to grow. Each is different: How they do that. When they do that. But it’s imperative to know a species’ needs, and then to give them a non-trimming pause in which they can grow. If we don’t give them a pause, that’s called nibbling.

🤞Sign up for the blog!

We don’t spam! Read more in our privacy policy


  1. paul3636 says:

    Nibbling is something I am guilty of on indoor bonsai. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. David Murray says:

    What a wonderful & appropriate metaphor, Michael!

  3. Skipp Serrano says:

    Where can I find your latest book. I haven’t been able to find it in any book store.

  4. philip l harden says:

    Thanks for the advice. I enjoy what you have to say. And when you would do a demonstration, I would sit on the edge of my chair, enthralled.

  5. jrplater says:

    Great post, Michael! I’ve been experimenting with Dennis Vojtilla’s rule of let it grow out to ~5 nodes and then cut back. With my ficus growing so fast, even this technique can feel nibbling somewhat. What do you think, do I trim these on a branch by branch basis on this rule, or let everything grow and trim all at once? I guess it’s all about balancing energy.

    • crataegus says:

      Yes that’s a great question. And I agree with Dennis’ rule as a general guide. If you have a very vigorous tree that you’re having trouble controlling, maybe only let it get to 3 nodes. If it’s weaker than you’d like it, maybe let it extend as long as it wants and harden off before cutting it back. It’s sort of a gas pedal in that regard. The length of the extensions. Also and in addition, as you suggest, this all can be modified case by case, branch by branch.

Leave a Reply