A Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Your Bonsai Leaves Small
An important feature of a bonsai plant is balance, which means the size of the leaves should complement the overall appearance of the tree. Although there are several tree species that naturally produce huge leaves, you can apply leaf reduction techniques to form them into stunning bonsai plants.
What is Defoliation?
Defoliation is a bonsai cultivation technique that refers to the removal of leaves of broadleaf and deciduous tree species during summer. With defoliating, the bonsai will be able to produce a set of new leaves that differ in terms of density and size, as well as remarkable Autumn colors.
However, different species react in a number of ways when they are defoliated. There are some that respond positively to total defoliation while others thrive well when defoliated partially. Generally, partial defoliation is ideal for certain species, and this is done by gradually removing large leaves during spring until the latter part of summer. These leaves are eventually replaced by smaller and finer leaves, which enhance the look of your bonsai.
Here’s a great video that shows the process:
Benefits of Partial Defoliation
There are numerous benefits that partial defoliation offers. For instance, the stress associated with leaf removal is spread out for a few weeks or months. In addition, this ensures the excellent condition of the lower regions of the bonsai plant. Since the largest leaves are usually found at the ends of the branches, removing them will allow light to reach the lower, inner and weaker branching of the tree. Thus, this type of defoliation can help reinvigorate the lower sections of the tree when the apical areas are removed.
Before you begin defoliating your tree, you need to determine its specie to know whether you should partially or completely trim its leaves. Moreover, you should keep in mind that frequent defoliation may result to stress or weakening of your plant. Once your bonsai has become weak, it will become more susceptible to diseases and ill health.
Depending on the time of the year, it may be advisable to completely defoliate certain species such as Chinese Elms, Fukien Teas, Ficus and Brazilian Raintrees. On the other hand, total defoliation of conifers such as the Juniper tree may be detrimental to its health, so you should conduct research on the right time to defoliate your bonsai tree.
In most cases, the growing season, which is in the middle of spring, is the best time to defoliate. However, it still depends on the maturity and health of your tree. Evergreens may be defoliated at the onset of the growth period and when they have come out of their dormancy state.
Ensure Best Results
Make sure you cut the leaf that grows just above the stem, and avoid forcing the petiole to drop off. When the petiole is still intact, this will cause the plant to absorb essential nutrients and energy into its leaf system.
New branches will also sprout along with new sets of leaves. This gives you a chance to select the branches that you will remove and keep. Trim the new foliage sprouts up to the first set of replacement leaves. By trimming your bonsai properly, you can expect a balanced growth pattern and denser foliage pads that will enhance the appearance of your tree. Lastly, correct defoliation results in new foliage that is at least two-thirds its original size, which gives the plant a natural and realistic appeal.