How Do We Avoid Pom-Poms?

A reader on this blog raised this great question. It’s an excellent one as it leads to a central tenant of good bonsai maintenance.

First, how are pom-poms created?

To speak not to shape but to density, pom-poms are created when we nibble at growth. If all we do is nibble at the exterior—like pinching or trimming—the exterior will get really dense. Crowding out light. And weakening and killing interior shoots.

And we may create a secondary uncool thing with this nibbling: branches that don’t have taper. Thick, stubby branches result from pom-pomming (the verb of nibbling).


While the shape of these garden pom-poms is one thing, trimming at the exterior of pads in bonsai over time creates similar stubby branches with no taper.

What then is the alternative?

Thinning the exterior, and occasionally cutting further into a branch pad, to a side shoot.

This develops taper for the branch and removes foliage at the branch ends.

The result? We have airy, natural-looking pads that have branch taper. The airy pad is important for making space for new growth.

Note that we can still pinch or trim, if that’s the technique we should use, but then we need to follow that with thinning, and, less frequently, pruning. The above describes “worst case” when we nibble year after year without cutting back inside.

It’s the work we do after pinching or trimming that will prevent our pads from dying of density. There’s nothing wrong with density…unless it goes on for years without thinning. 

And then shape…well, pruning and wiring will prevent pads from becoming mystical floating balls.

October 2022 Bulletin Board

  • If you’ve not yet got your copy of Post-Dated (a memoir about my apprenticeship) or Bonsai Heresy (an offbeat educational guide to bonsai), visit my booth at the Pacific Bonsai Expo. Buy a copy for a friend in desperate need of a bonsai book. I’ll be signing books both days, November 12-13, 2022 in Oakland, CA. Happy to chat bonsai, too!
  • Post-Dated is on its second printing! I’ll have those fresh-off-the-press books at the Pacific Expo…along with the (still fresh) books from the 2022 second printing of Bonsai Heresy.
  • 2023 Winter Seasonal dates are up on the calendar! Join us to study the ins and outs and sideways of repotting-

🤞Sign up for the blog!

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


  1. Mitch Fennell says:

    As usual, more great information leading to a practical process.
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply