How To Keep Bonsai Leaves Small

Bonsai tree leaves aren't known to be particularly large, especially when compared to other houseplants. However, if you prefer to keep the leaves on the smaller side, there are ways to do it. We have researched the best ways to keep the leaves small, and in this post, we will go over them.

Here are a couple of techniques that you can use to keep your bonsai leaves small:

Method 1. Place the tree under bright lighting. Method 2. Defoliate the bonsai during the spring.

You may be surprised to know that bonsai tree leaves can develop into even smaller leaves with the proper maintenance plan. Keep in mind that initially, it will take a very diligent effort to ensure that the leaves remain small. Continue reading to learn about the different methods you can use to limit the size of your bonsai tree leaves as well as its overall height.

A small and gorgeous bonsai tree on a table outside, How To Keep Bonsai Leaves Small

Two Methods to Keep Your Bonsai Tree Leaves Small

First, know that it helps to choose a bonsai tree variety that has small leaves already. Not all bonsai trees will have large leaves, and some will even have very fine leaves and stems, which can make your job even easier if you're looking to minimize them.

A row of bonsai trees at a bonsai farm

1. Place the tree under bright lighting

Similar to other types of plants, bonsai trees need light to grow. However, if the plant has insufficient lighting, the leaves will become larger to get more light. For example, you may notice that your tree will become leggier if you expose it to low light conditions for a week or more. So, to grow smaller leaves, it's best to give the plant more light.

To do this, place your bonsai under direct light or any natural light source for several hours throughout the day. When this happens, the bonsai will naturally preserve resources, which means that it won't expand its leaves when exposed to additional light.

Do this for a few weeks, and you'll notice that your bonsai tree will not only have small leaves, but they'll grow and very compact clusters. 

If you have trouble accessing natural light in your home, consider purchasing a lamp or growing light. When choosing a growing light, note the wattage and make sure that it is suitable enough to support the size of your bonsai tree. The typical bonsai tree can take a lightbulb of about 30 to 60 watts.

Check out this indoor growing light on Amazon.

2. Defoliate the bonsai during the spring

If your bonsai tree loses its leaves regularly, it's best to defoliate the tree during the springtime. This will help you get a smaller leaf growth, and it'll also decrease the size of the branches and stems.

Before choosing this method, it's best to confirm that your specific bonsai variety can withstand the defoliation process. Defoliation involves removing the leaves from the plant so that it can recover and grow new leaves.

That being stated, some bonsai trees do not take well to this process and may suffer from plant shock. And turn, the plant may not be able to recover and may die. When using this method, be sure not to remove more than a third of the plant's leaves, as it could cause the plant to fall into a state of ill health. 

How do you stop bonsai trees from growing taller?

Every bonsai tree will have its characteristics and individual needs. But if you want to keep your bonsai tree on the shorter side, there are ways that you can prevent it from growing taller. It all comes down to three things: lighting, pruning, and potting. We've discussed lighting. Now let's discuss the effects of pruning and re-potting.

A nicely propagated bonsai tree with equipments on the table

Pruning the tree

Pruning your bonsai tree will help keep it short, and it'll also encourage the foliage to grow denser than before. If you want to produce a miniature canopy effect, a combination of maintenance and structural pruning can make it happen.

Maintenance Pruning

Maintenance pruning your bonsai involves trimming off small branches and sticks to maintain the particular shape of the tree. For the most part, the new growth on the tree will concentrate near the top of the bonsai. So when you cut these pieces, it forces the tree to produce denser and smaller leaves and branches near the base.

However, it is advisable to use branch or twig cutting shears on your tree as they are sensitive to the pruning process. You can also pinch the bonsai at the stem with your fingers instead of using shears altogether.

When it comes to bonsai trees, this method is preferred by many arborists. The best time to trim your tree is anywhere from the early spring to the late fall, as this is when the tree grows the most.

Find these plant shears on Amazon.

Structural Pruning

Structural pruning involves cutting off any thick branches on the tree. It's this type of cutting that will help guide the overall shape of the tree over time. Every bonsai tree is different, but it's best to do it right after or right before the tree's growing season when it comes to structural pruning.

Here are a few tips to remember when performing a structural trim on your bonsai plant. Note that structural pruning can be very stressful on the bonsai, and you don't want to cause it to go into a state of stress while trying to change its size.

  • Take off any branches that are growing too thick on the top of the plant
  • Trim away any branches that are growing parallel to the trunk
  • If any branches are crossing other branches, trim them down

Potting the bonsai

Potting and root care are essential parts of keeping a bonsai tree small. Essentially, the roots are the engine of the tree. Just like any other tree, the roots are the most important part of a bonsai tree. The more nutrients they can absorb, the faster they will grow.

Keeping the plant potbound is best to limit its growth. Strategic cutting and potting will help you restrict the plant's growth and limit the nutrients and water that it receives.

Here's how to pot your bonsai tree to keep it small. (Note: Also, if your tree needs defoliation, it's best to do this a couple of weeks ahead of re-potting the tree.)

  1. Push the tree out of the pot by pushing your finger through the drainage hole. Remember that the root growth should be dense enough to where the tree pops out with little effort.
  2. Use your fingers to brush away any dirt from the roots, and then spritz them with a bit of water to keep them moist.
  3. Use your cutting shears to carefully trim the roots to a radial shape. And be sure to cut away any stems or branches that are growing across other branches or outside the tree's new shape.
  4. To re-pot the plant, fill the pot with fresh soil and place the tree inside. Afterward, cover the roots completely with additional soil.
  5. Next, place the tree in a sunny location.

Where do you cut bonsai leaves?

It depends on the type of cut that you're doing. For example, if you're doing a general maintenance cut, then you'll only cut back the twigs so that they have 3-4 nodes. A node is a joint that the tree's leaves grow out of.

Three bonsai trees planted in different shapes of pots

So, if your tree's branches have 6-8 nodes, cut the branches down so that they only have 3 or 4 remaining. Not only will this encourage new growth, but it'll also keep the bonsai from growing too large.

However, if you're doing a structural cut to shape the tree, you'll want to thin out the canopy and crown of the plant. This will allow sunlight to filter through the top of the canopy to reach the lower branches. And it'll keep the canopy from becoming too large to where it overshadows the bottom portion of a tree.

Should you remove dead leaves from your bonsai?

Yes, dead leaves can take up energy and drain your plant. It's always best to cut them off when pruning the plant or after spotting them randomly.

How do you reduce the leaf size of a bonsai tree?

The easiest way to reduce the leaf size of the tree is to expose it to direct light daily, keep it rootbound, and strategically prune it by removing large branches and leaves.

Wrapping Things Up

We hope this post has helped illustrate how to keep bonsai tree leaves small. As you can see, making the leaves smaller comes down to establishing a strategic maintenance plan that includes lighting changes and maintenance.

Before you go, be sure to check out some of our other posts:

What's The Best Pot For Bonsai Trees? [Inc. 11 Perfect Examples]

How Fast Do Bonsai Trees Grow?

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