Bonsai Tree Trunks: How to Create a Beautiful Bonsai Tree

ash bonsai tree on white background
© Gilles Paire/Shutterstock.com

Written by August Croft

Published: January 8, 2023

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If you are wondering how to shape or style your Bonsai tree trunk, you’re not alone. When it comes to Bonsai trees, the overall flow and aesthetic appearance of any specimen hinge on the shape of its trunk. Eye-catching and truly a statement, you can craft your Bonsai tree trunk into whatever you want– with proper training and research, of course!

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know when it comes to your Bonsai tree’s trunk, including how to properly and safely shape it. We’ll go over some stylistic choices you may want to consider as well as the tools you may need to get the job done. Whether you’re brand-new to Bonsai tree care or simply want to learn more about Bonsai trees, here’s how to carefully craft the miniature tree of your dreams!

What to Consider When Shaping Your Bonsai Tree’s Trunk

bonsai tree trunk

The species of Bonsai tree that you choose to work with directly affects the thickness of its trunk.

©Raquel Pedrosa/Shutterstock.com

It isn’t just the foliage and flowers of your Bonsai tree that need special shaping and attention. You can alter the overall appearance of the trunk of your Bonsai tree almost as easily as the branches. However, what should you consider before attempting this patient and intricate process? The style, thickness, and surface roots of your tree are all things to think about!

Trunk Shape and Style

There are a number of different Bonsai tree styles and shapes to consider. It’s important to keep your species of tree in mind when choosing a trunk shape or style, as some trees are easier to craft than others. For example, redwood Bonsai trees are difficult to shape given the strength of their wood and their large growth habits. Ficus bonsai trees are far easier and grow faster, giving you plenty of opportunities to adjust their design!

No matter what type of Bonsai tree species you have, your tree’s trunk will be difficult to shape the thicker it gets. In fact, it’s unlikely that you will be able to adjust the overall curvature and style of your trunk once it gets thick enough. That’s why it’s important to choose your Bonsai tree specimen while it is young and perform most shaping and styling during its youth.

You may already know the Bonsai tree style you are hoping to accomplish. If you aren’t sure, check out our Bonsai tree styling guide, listed below!

Trunk Thickness

bonsai tree trunk

No matter what type of Bonsai tree species you have, your tree’s trunk will be difficult to shape the thicker it gets.

©NOTE OMG/Shutterstock.com

The species of Bonsai tree that you choose to work with directly affects the thickness of its trunk. Some trees, such as birch or aspen, develop trunks that are much more narrow compared to trees such as oak or elm trees. However, crafting a trunk that makes a statement often involves a thick and tapered appearance!

The tapering element of your Bonsai tree trunk is key to showcasing a healthy specimen. Many different types of Bonsai trees develop a thicker base, thinning as it stretches upward. This is necessary for proper Bonsai tree cultivation, as it more accurately mimics how trees grow in nature! 

Structure of the Nebari, or Surface Roots

Some Bonsai tree species are ideal for developing surface roots and incorporating them into your design. Also known as the Nebari, surface roots help create a natural shape and structure for your tree. It truly sells the idea that you are growing a miniature tree in a container, as trees in nature often develop roots on the surface of soil!

Some Bonsai tree styles and species incorporate surface and aerial roots in an effortless way. Most of the time, highlighting the surface roots of your tree helps offset the overall appearance of your tree’s branches and foliage. Depending on how you style it, your Bonsai tree will likely look more cohesive and well-balanced with the Nebari in mind!

Tips for Shaping Your Bonsai Tree Trunk

bonsai tree trunk

The tapering element of your Bonsai tree trunk is key to showcasing a healthy specimen.

©Sergio Arjona/Shutterstock.com

Now that you know everything you need to consider when it comes to shaping your Bonsai tree trunk, here’s how to accomplish the image you have in your head. Keep in mind that timing is everything with Bonsai trees, from when to defoliate to when you should repot them. Shaping your tree’s trunk also takes time and impeccable seasonal timing, so remember this if you are feeling impatient about your design!

Choose Your Bonsai Tree Carefully

Given the fact that your Bonsai tree trunk is the core of your tree’s design, you should choose a young Bonsai tree specimen carefully. If you notice that the trunks of certain baby Bonsai trees are unevenly knotted or develop an uneven taper, you may want to choose another tree. Likewise, a thicker trunk will be nearly impossible to shape, even with a trunk bending device, so don’t start with a Bonsai tree that is too developed!

Speaking of trunk-bending, there are certain tools you can use to shape your trunk when your tree is young. If you are worried about getting your Bonsai tree looking exactly how you want, this may be an option for you.

Thinning the Trunk isn’t Possible

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to thin your Bonsai tree’s trunk to achieve a slimmer appearance. However, you can work to shape your trunk with deadwood and other design elements instead. The thickness of your trunk matters for the overall health of your tree, so shaving away at it isn’t an option. You can always encourage certain sections of your tree to thicken to achieve a more even appearance, though!

But You Can Thicken Your Trunk!

Speaking of adjusting the thickness, you can always allow your Bonsai tree to grow larger, including its trunk. By allowing select branches at specific heights to grow without pruning, you can encourage the energy of your tree to redirect where you want it, resulting in a thicker trunk appearance. However, this is indeed a time-consuming process and it may take years before you can properly prune and shape your Bonsai tree’s branches. You are essentially growing throwaway branches that will be completely removed from your specimen, but only after they have grown for years!

bonsai tree trunk

Given the fact that your Bonsai tree trunk is the core of your tree’s design, you should choose a young Bonsai tree specimen carefully.

©Fauzi Tulus Rahmadi/Shutterstock.com

Consider the Taper of Your Bonsai Tree Trunk

Bonsai trees look best with a tapered trunk more often than not. You should consider the evenness of your tapered trunk and redirect your tree’s energy if need be. Most of the time, a young Bonsai tree will develop a thick and tapered trunk if you plant it in a large container and let it grow until it has reached your desired thickness. While it may take a couple of years, this is one of the easiest ways to thicken your tree and help its tapered trunk get established!

Take Your Time

As previously mentioned, your Bonsai tree will need years before it can develop a beautiful and structured trunk. You may need to leave your specimen alone during this time, unpruned and unstyled. While this may be disappointing, Bonsai tree cultivation is all in the timing, including how long you should wait before shaping your tree. With practice and patience, you can cultivate a trunk that mimics nature, no matter what style you are hoping for!

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About the Author

August Croft is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on astrology, symbolism, and gardening. August has been writing a variety of content for over 4 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater from Southern Oregon University, which they earned in 2014. They are currently working toward a professional certification in astrology and chart reading. A resident of Oregon, August enjoys playwriting, craft beer, and cooking seasonal recipes for their friends and high school sweetheart.

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