A Guide to Bonsai Critique

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Tree outline

The trees' outline is normally roughly triangular.

Depending on individual species the apex should be triangular or rounded but not pointed.

Group plantings or trees with multiple trunk forms should have an overall triangular outline, this triangular shape should not be symmetrical.

In some groups, a dominant tree can disturb the overall triangular shape.

Foliage, flowers and fruit

Dead or diseased leaves should be removed.

Leaves should not show white lime deposits from being misted or sprayed with hard tap water.

No insects or cobwebs should be visible on the tree.

All leaves should be of similar size; overlarge leaves should be removed.

All flowers or fruit should be free of blemishes.


Pots should be clean and undamaged.

The colour of the pot should not clash with the dominant colour of the tree whether that be the colour of the leaves, flowers or fruit.

Glazed pots are generally considered better for deciduous species whilst unglazed pots are generally used for coniferous trees.

Antique pots should be used for old trees, new pots should be used for younger trees.

The pot should not distract attention from the tree, it should compliment and enhance it.

Ornate pots are more suitable for flowering and fruiting trees or mame bonsai.

The tree should not be planted centrally in the pot except when a round or square pot is used.

The dominant mass of the tree should be above the centre of the pot. A tree leaning to the right should be planted left of centre so its centre of gravity is above the middle of the pot.

The tree should be planted slightly toward the back of the pot.

The tree should only be over potted for horticultural reasons; visually under potted trees look as though they have thicker trunks than over potted trees.

Compost surface

The tree should be planted proud above the surface of the compost, which should slowly fall away in height to the edges of the pot.

The surface should be kept free of weeds and debris from the tree; old leaves and flowers for instance.

The compost surface should not be plain, gravel or mosses can be used to great effect.

The use of small ceramic or wooden animals or models should be used with considerable discretion.

Multi-trunked Bonsai

There should not be an even number of stems or trunks.

Multi-trunked trees should have all their stems rising from ground level and not from part way up the trunk.

All stems should emerge from the surface of the compost closely and gradually diverge as they ascend.

All stems or trunks should have a similar form.

The thickness of individual trunks or stems should be in proportion to their heights.

Multi-tree plantings All trunks should be visible from the front and the side.

There should not be an even number of stems or trunks.

The tallest tree should be planted highest in the pot.

Space in the pot should be left to imply a natural expanse of open ground.

Trunk thickness should be reflected by trunk height.

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