Is this common practice in Japan?

I just saw a video from someone who’s apprenticing with Kobayashi. They were essentially cutting in half needles to ‘refine’ the look of a tree. I can imagine doing this to decrease the strength of the tree so that if they decrease or stop fertilization the new growth will be smaller and next year they’d remove the cut brown-tipped needles that will be two year old and with continued under fertilization have a nicely refined tree. If this is what indeed they’re doing in Japan, wouldn’t this impact on the health of the tree? Wouldn’t a better way to do things be to increase the fertilization and with it the strength, ramification and have the containerization effect induce more but smaller needles over the future seasons?If this is done at Kobayashi’s nursery I assume that it is the accepted practice there. With the negative effects of this practice in the long run, how can this be an accepted practice at such a respected nursery? See the screenshot below taken from my facebook stream.21%20

I’m not sure but I think it’s somewhat common. Bjorn Bjornholm did it during a pine demo at a Rochester club meeting last summer, and told us NOT to do that ever :joy::joy::joy:. Was pretty surprised, I had never seen that done before then. Can’t remember which pine species he was working on.

I wonder if this was done instead of needle plucking to balance energy?

I’ve heard of cutting a few stray needles to help improve the look of a pad but never seen cutting that dramatically.

I believe Bjorn said it is done for purely aesthetic reasons as well, and that’s why he did it in his demo. He cut all of the needles shorter pretty much.

I don’t find that acceptable…

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Cutting needles is typically an aesthetic thing to do. By decreasing needle surface area it also cuts down on food generation. There are several reasons not to cut needles, but we also have to keep in mind that its not always possible to nail the length every time and in Japan the economy of bonsai does have a greater impact on the decisions made to perform certain techniques. Mr. Kimura would rarely ask us to do this but on occasion we would have to cut older needles just before the Kokufu to shorten them to the newer needles for the show. Conversely, if you leave the needles longer you can get more strength built up and have a more robust flush the following year which technically should give you more buds with shorter needles as a result of the robust strength. “NEVER” in bonsai is a rare case…there is always an exception;)


I imagine that after a few weeks all cut tips will turn brown, not very aesthetic then…

never say never…:exploding_head:

When a nursery owner/employee uses a technique that makes me scratch my head, or when they break rules that I hold near and dear to my heart, I wonder if it is a business decision.

Here are the following questions:
Does it sell the tree faster?
Does it utilize fewer variable costs? (Think: If you can use less wire, fertilizer, man hours… you make more money)
Does it rush the design? (Shorter product cycle)
Does it follow a current fad?
Does it require being on site every day?

I’m not saying you can’t trust bonsai businessmen, I’m saying that some of the techniques I’ve seen used by some nursery owners are driven more by business than developing good bonsai.


In my humble opinion, cutting needles, especially in preparing for a show as @ryan mentioned is one of the behind the scenes ‘tricks of the trade’ that while breaking a rule, serves a purpose for the greater good. It’s one of those trade specific practices that happens backstage to present the audience with the best product possible. That being said, when we learn the needles were cut and the tree didn’t just grow that perfect we feel some what jipped. It’s almost like some of the magic is lost when we learn how these things are done. I’d compare it to models using Saran Wrap to shape their bodies backstage during a show. The audience says wow look at her, not knowing the quick work that had been done previous to her walking the runway. Or even sound guys in the movie industry using celery sticks to convey breaking bones in animated pictures. As a viewer you don’t think twice about the sound, but once you know… I personally think it’s a necessary evil. Something some what questionable done for the greater good.

When @ryan cut needles it was to redirect energy. In the case of cutting needles only for a show, I am not for it. I am a proponent of a naturalistic style in bonsai.


People do all kinds of things to prepare trees for showing. I’ve heard of gluing fruit on trees (chinese quince in particular, either because the tree had no fruit or they didn’t like where they were), attaching jins on trees, gluing pieces of bark to cover wounds, etc. I guess it’s all part of the illusion, so why not. Trimming needles - if it doesn’t look obvious and ugly, why not (they do eventually brown). The preference of course is to evenly distribute the strength so all the needles are the same desired size but if I’m attending a show, I think I’d rather see an otherwise great bonsai that had some needles cut, as opposed to seeing a lesser bonsai that was had no needles cut. Others may feel differently.


Are they the same people who say a phoenix graft is cheating…

LOL. I figure if someone can do a phoenix graft well enough that I can’t tell, they should be commended. Most of them are pretty obvious and not very attractive.

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I see a “phoenix graft” as just another way of using common bonsai materials (dead wood and a live plant) to make something that could look great together and not as an effort to fool anyone or to pass it off as something its not. And after I tell you what it is and you have to look a little closer to see it, then so much the better.