BONSAI WORLD A series of articles by The Shikoku Shimbun focuses on the attractions of bonsai which encapsulate small universes in containers.

Winter-season care
Bonsai need careful cultivation, like children

February 4, 2009

After the annual series of bonsai exhibitions have finished, potted bonsai trees are returned to their shelves and wait for the arrival of the next spring. But growers need to perform many important duties in the winter before the spring arrives.

Removal of old leaves, leaf cutting

From the end of autumn until about the end of the following March, growers of matsu (pine) bonsai trees are busy with winter-season care work. The removal of old leaves requires most time. The work is relatively easy for short-leaf goyomatsu (Japanese white pine) trees whose leaves often fall simply by touching them. But in the case of kuromatsu (Japanese black pine) trees, they require detailed work, as the old leaves of kuromatsu trees must be removed one by one with tweezers.

This reporter visited the Yoshihara Keishoen bonsai garden in Takamatsu's Kokubunji town where its owner Masaaki Yoshihara was busy removing old leaves from a kuromatsu tree in the sunshine. ''It takes roughly one hour to complete the removal of old leaves from a relatively small tree, and two hours are necessary for a large one. It is something like child-raising -- the workload becomes heavier if the number of bonsai containers grows,'' Yoshihara said.

Also important is the leaf-cutting work -- cutting in half old leaves that have grown to more than 7 to 8 centimeters in length. Long leaves pose an obstacle to wiring work. Trees are easily infected with harmful insects if the leaf-cutting work is neglected. Leaf cutting takes a lot of time as the work must be done at intervals of around two weeks because of pine tar.

Masaaki Yoshihara removes old leaves at Yoshihara Keishoen bonsai garden in Takamatsu's Kokubunji town.
Masaaki Yoshihara removes old leaves at Yoshihara Keishoen bonsai garden in Takamatsu's Kokubunji town.


Wiring must be done during the winter season when trees are in hibernation. The grower needs to pay full attention to wiring trees in accordance with their shape and form. Yoshihara said growers' techniques are tested in wiring work as the results will affect bonsai sales. As the wiring work strictly reflects the grower's individuality, it is said that the grower of a particular bonsai tree can be identified even after it has been sold to other people.

Wires begin to bite into the trunk around a year after being put on. The wire that first bit into the trunk is the first to be removed, and all wires should be removed in stages over about two years. The form of the tree can then be maintained beautifully for around five years.

Minute, patient work

Growers need to perform minute work in the winter season, including the removal of old leaves, leave cutting and wiring. Such work cannot be skipped if the shape and form of the bonsai is to be beautifully maintained.

About three months after behind-the-scenes work by their cultivators, bonsai are ready to greet the spring again.

Cutting leaves from a kuromatsu (Japanese black pine) tree.
Cutting leaves from a kuromatsu (Japanese black pine) tree.

(By Shigeo Hano)

translated by Kyodo News


Lindsay FarrSeptember 2, 2009 2:48 PM

This is a very interesting and informative article. Thank you.

Stu GarrettOctober 22, 2009 12:45 PM

This is a great series of articles. I want to visit Shikoku!

gerryDecember 11, 2009 3:57 AM

It is a wonderful place to visit. I spent several years there apprenticing with bonsai in the early 1980's. I was accepted and taught wonderfully and generously by all the growers in Kokubuji. Seeing them here again is great, they all still look the same, just a little greyer. I long to return for a visit some day.

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