Making Bonsai Trees: Taking Cuttings or Vegetative Propagation

This term is used to describe all the techniques by which plants are grown other than from seed. This means producing roots from growing branches. This category also includes grafting, although here, two plants are linked rather than root growth being produced.


Without doubt, this is the simplest and speediest method of propagation. It is also a method with the best chance of obtaining a plant similar to the parent plant, which is not so likely from seeds.

Roots have to be produced by a living twig cut from a tree, so it can pursue an independent existence. In principle. Given the right conditions, it should be possible to take cuttings from any plant.

Using Scissors to Cut The Leaves and Branches of A Bonsai Tree

Direct contact with water should cause the cutting to grow roots; this can be easily proved by putting a twig in a glass of water, although this method usually only succeeds with plants with good rooting properties, like succulents. Woody twigs require special conditions if they are to make lasting roots.

Taking Cutting

Use a sharp blade (such as a budding knife) or good secateurs, to make a clean cut. Disinfect the blade with alcohol or formalin or by sterilizing with a flame to prevent the spread of infection.

The simplest method is to cut a twig about 15 cm (6 in) long. Trim the base of the cutting diagonally (simple cutting) and remove its lower leaves. You can also cut a section of the parent branch with the twig (T-shape cutting) or keep some of the bark of the branch (heel cutting). The latter method has the advantage of exposing more of the cambium cells, enhancing root growth and the chances of survival.

Where shoots have leaves, keep some of the leaf nodes at the base. When inserted in the compost, roots tend to grow from these nodes. In fact, some plant cuttings, such as those from vines, only grow if the nodes or buds are buried.

making bonsai trees
Cutting is The Simplest and Speediest Method of Propagation

When should cuttings be taken? This simple question is the subject of much controversy. Without wanting to evade the issue, one could say that cuttings can be taken throughout the year, though the best times vary from species to species, since the growing cycle of each plant is significantly different.

Although cuttings can be taken from some species from spring onwards, the best results are generally obtained using the year’s new growth, if woody enough, which usually means that the twigs will not be ready for cutting until the summer. This way, the cutting will not have to suffer the shock of major growth in the weeks immediately after rooting. Since the first growth does not begin until the autumn, it does not proceed in earnest until the next spring, by which time the plant is much stronger.

Cutting Techniques

Although basically simple, taking cuttings demands great care. This is the price of achieving a high success rate.

1. Container and Contents

Use plastic, clay or, even better, peat pots. Potting compost should be light: peat mixed with sand is ideal. Preparing cutting:

If leafy. Keep only the upper leaves. Cut off a portion of the remaining leaves to limit transpiration and subsequent dehydration of the cutting. Remove the lower leaves, but take care to retain the buds in their axils. Dip the bases of the cuttings in hormone powder, then gently shake off excess.

2. Planting The Cutting

Give the contents of the pot a good watering: the best way is to stand the pot in water. Make a hole in the compost for the cutting with a stick or pencil. If you insert the cutting without making a hole, the rooting hormone will be left on the surface. Firm the compost gently around the stem base with your fingers, so the cutting fits snugly in the compost. Water generously.

Planting Bonsai Cutting
Planting Bonsai Cutting

Dehydration is the main cause of failure in cuttings. Professionals put their cuttings under a mist spray. The amateur is limited to watering his cuttings at least twice a day while they are growing. A good way to limit transpiration is to place a translucent plastic cover over the cuttings, at least while they are rooting. But watch carefully for any signs of mold.

The appearance of new shoots usually indicates rooting and is a sign that the cutting has taken. But some plants can survive on their own food reserves and may develop shoots without having produced roots. This is why you must be very patient and wait until you are absolutely sure that the cutting has taken before potting it on.

3. Advantages of Cuttings

The main advantage without doubt is the exact reproduction of the features of the parent plant, an advantage shared by other vegetative methods of propagation, particularly layering, which is described later.

In terms of bonsai creation, cuttings have the advantage of a specimen plant on which the desired bonsai can be modelled. In other words, you can choose exactly which style or shape you want and duplicate what you see – a considerable time saving when producing bonsai.

making bonsai trees
Replant and Care Bonsai Tree

Another considerable advantage is that once the cutting has taken you will have a plant that is much more advanced than a seed that has just germinated.

Although your cutting might be growing strongly, remember that it will take a number of weeks for the root ball to establish itself. So treat the new tree with care. Pruning can be started as soon as necessary, and as well as starting to form the shape of the tree it also helps to stop the new roots from overworking.

Final Thoughts

Creating your own bonsai tree is more than just a hobby; it’s a dialogue between you and a living work of art. The finesse it takes to prune, shape, and care for your miniaturized tree is the same care and attention we often forget to give ourselves. If you’ve made it this far into the world of bonsai, you’re not just cultivating a plant, you’re nurturing a state of mind, a Zen focus that can benefit all areas of life.

So, don’t just admire your bonsai from a distance. Dive in, get your hands dirty, and grow alongside your pint-sized masterpiece. Trust me, your life will be richer for it.

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FAQ (Frequently Answer Questions)

Can you keep your bonsai tree indoors?

While some bonsais thrive indoors, many require outdoor conditions. Tropical species are more suited for indoor life. But, ensure they get ample sunlight and consistent temperatures. Always research your specific tree’s needs!

Is bonsai cultivation difficult for beginners?

Everyone starts somewhere! While bonsai cultivation requires patience and care, beginners can absolutely dive in. Begin with a hardy tree species, arm yourself with knowledge, and remember: every bonsai artist was once a newbie.

Why is your bonsai losing leaves?

If it’s a deciduous tree, seasonal leaf drop is natural. For evergreens, it could be due to environmental stress, pests, or disease. Regularly check its health and ensure you’re meeting its care requirements.

Are there any pests you should watch out for?

Like all plants, bonsais can attract pests. Spider mites, aphids, and scale are common. Regularly inspect your tree, keep it healthy, and use gentle, plant-safe treatments if pests appear.

How should you fertilize your bonsai?

Bonsais need nutrients not always present in their limited soil. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer, and follow the recommended application frequency. Remember, during the growth season, bonsais have higher nutritional needs.

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