Defoliating, Leaf trimming or Leaf cutting Bonsai

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Partial Defoliation

Defoliating or Leaf-cutting Bonsai Partially defoliating a bonsai is much kinder and with some tree species is preferred to total defoliation. Large leaves (or the largest leaves) are gradually removed through the growing season until late Summer, these large leaves are slowly replaced by smaller leaves as and when required.
There are several advantages to partial defoliation; the stress of leaf removal is spread over a number of weeks or months. The largest leaves tend to be in the strongest, most apical areas of the tree (that is, the tips of the branches, particularly in the crown or apex) and their removal enables light to reach the weak, inner and lower branching. In this way, partial defoliation can be used as a means to reinvigorating the weaker, lower areas of a tree by weakening the apical areas.

Species suitable for defoliation techniques

This list by no means complete; other species can be defoliated but I would strongly suggest that unless a particular tree species is recommended for total defoliation by an experienced enthusiast, first try a limit amount of partial defoliation on a specimen to gauge its reaction to defoliation techniques.

Defoliation is normally carried out around midsummer in the UK; however some species are best defoliated a little earlier in late May, the others in mid June. Please note that different climates and differences in the length of growing seasons will alter the optimal time to defoliate according to where you live.

Species to be defoliated in May

Crataegus species Hawthorns:
Total defoliation in May but partial defoliation of larger leaves is normally adequate.

Fagus sylvatica European Beech:
Partially defoliate larger leaves from May. Complete defoliation has varying degrees of success and is not recommended. For further details please see Advanced Pruning Techniques for Beech/Fagus

Quercus robur European/English Oak:
Partial defoliation of all large leaves from May onwards except those on weak (often low) branches. Thin out leaves (leaving one or two on each branches) in heavily congested areas of the tree, often at the tips of branches.

Sageretia theezans: Total defoliation can be carried out before June and with very vigorous trees, a second time after midsummer.

Ligustrum sp./Privets: Total defoliation can be carried out before June and with very vigorous trees, a second time after midsummer.

Ulmus various species Field Elms:
Total defoliation in May; also helps combat thickening of the tertiary twigs that cane be a problem with Field Elms; particularly for mame and shohin sized trees.

Ulmus parvifolia Chinese Elm:
Total defoliation in early May can be followed by a second total defoliation after midsummer if tree is vigorous enough. With only a small leaf-stalk and huge numbers of leaves even on mame sized bonsai;rather than cutting with scissors, remove leaves with fingers, pulling away in the direction of the branch to avoid damaging the new bud or branches.


Species to be defoliated in June

Acer palmatum Japanese Maple:
Total defoliation in June is excellent for increasing ramification and reducing leafsize. Partial defoliation of large leaves recommended for the weaker red-leaved Acers.

Acer buergerianum Trident Maple:
Total defoliation can be carried out twice a year on vigorous specimens.

Carpinus Hornbeams
Total defoliation of only the most vigorous specimens. Otherwise partial defoliation as per Fagus/Beech species.

Fuchsia species Fuchsia
Total defoliation can be carried out twice a year in vigorous specimens

Malus Crab Apples:
Total or partial defoliation.

Zelkova serrata Zelkova
Partial defoliation of all but the weakest branches can be carried out.

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