dogwood fall work

Sneak Peek

Fall is a great time to edit and shape your deciduous bonsai. This Roughleaf dogwood is a great example of the progress you can make on your trees at this time of year.

Fall Dogwood Work

You’ve seen this Roughleaf dogwood before. It’s been through a round of training, and here in November the tree is showing it’s recent summer stressed out glory. That’s not totally serious, of course. This year was one for the books. Our rainfall deficit was many inches, which is another way of saying we had more than three periods of drought (no rain for at least two weeks at a stretch). That’s going to be hard on most of your deciduous trees, and mine were no exception. Watering with municipal water just isn’t the same.

No matter, this tree will come through fine. But it’s in serious need of some cleaning up, editing and wiring.


Starting off slowly, first I want to eliminate smaller branches that obviously have no place in the ultimate design. You should have a lot of these as you go to work on your deciduous trees in the fall.

More trimming, and the tree is not only getting “lighter” in appearance but much easier to “figure out” from a design perspective. There are some principles you should keep in mind as you do this work:

  • Downward pointing branches are almost always eliminated
  • Upward pointing branches must always be viewed critically; they’re not always removed, but probably in about 60-70% of the cases they are
  • For species that have opposite leaves, like this one as an example, you usually prune out the branch/sub-branch leader and leave the two shoots that diverge from one another – this gives you an easy change of direction for your branch and avoids “bar branch” situations
  • Prune off more than you think you should – but in steps; take off the obvious “outliers,” and as you study the tree more keep on working each branch back in toward its origin; a few passes will usually get you where you need to be
  • I like to leave a little more extension on my branches when trimming in the fall, for species that typically drop smaller branchlets; you’ll learn which are which as you gain experience

This photo is taken from an angle that I think makes for a better front. Time to start wiring.

Starting at the bottom, I’ve wired out and done additional trimming on the bottom branches. Notice that each branchlet has been given its own space (as nature tends to do as well).

Moving on up the tree. Take a close look at that apical branch, to which I’ve applied a bit of heavy wire. It’s straight and ugly; something’s got to be done.


A little bend makes a big difference, right? But now I’ve encountered a problem, namely that bar branch set on the leader. I can’t keep both, as they aren’t needed and just don’t look good.


The obvious solution was to get rid of the branch on the left. That gave me a left-right set below, which provides the balance needed. When the tree buds in spring, I’ll get a shoot on the left where I need it and can continue developing the crown.


With a little more wire and positioning, plus a final trim, I’ve finished my work for today. This tree is ready and set for 2021!

Let me know what you think.