Artificial Ageing of Bonsai

Like any other trees, even bonsais become more beautiful and acquire character when they age. In fact, a number of bonsai training techniques are helpful in making a tree look much older than its actual age. These methods also help to mend faults in the shape of the trees, if any. In Japan, bonsai growers employ different training methods for this purpose - Jin, Sabamiki, Sharimiki, and Tanuki.

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Jinning is a particular technique that involves removing the bonsai branches that have either died back in the natural way or have broken off. When you employ this technique you may remove the bark from the branches and, at the same time, hone the ends of the branch somewhat, depending on your preference. Then use an emery paper to smooth the branch's entire length. Subsequently, you need to paint the smooth branch using any furniture bleaching agent or citric acid. This helps to blanch the branch and shield it from rotting.

One can also undertake jinning to make the bonsais that have grown excessively tall to make them appear shorter. To achieve this, you need to just cut away the leaves and/ or the needles at the tree tip, get rid of the exposed bark and subsequently smooth the branches and bleach them. Usually, jinning is perfect for all types of conifers and a number of trees with broad leaves. Basically, jin is described as a bonsai deadwood procedure that is used on branches or on the trunk top (known as the "leader"). This technique is undertaken to show the age of a bonsai or demonstrate that the bonsai tree has endured much struggle for its survival.

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In nature, jin is created when adversaries like lightening, winds and others kill the top of a tree trunk (the "leader") or any other branch that is much lower. When you undertake jinning, you actually get rid of the entire bark from any particular point to the tip of a branch or the trunk. When you do this, the wood that is left behind dries out and dies to create a jin.

Jinning the leader or a "top jin" is effective in creating a shorter as well as more noticeably tapered bonsai tree just in one step. In fact, such alteration in the size of the tree can greatly help to increase the false impression regarding the age of any bonsai tree. When you remove the active leader of the tree, it serves to share out the vigour of the tree among the lower branches. As a result of this, the growth of the lower branches will be rapid, thereby helping in augmenting the diameter of the trunk. In addition, developing a jin from the leader will also make the tree look more aesthetic. In fact, as the tree now has two leaders, a designer can remove one of them by turning it into a jin. When this procedure is undertaken on branches of a bonsai, it enables the grower to get rid of any undesirable branches, while improving the illusion regarding the tree's age. Sometimes, one jin, especially the remaining one, may be long having a lovely shape - may be cared or bent, or short - something similar to a broken branch's dead remains close to the trunk.

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The second method, known as sharimiki, involves stripping the branch or trunk bark partially. At times it even involves creating a markedly prominent and visible root. In this way, the appearance of the bonsai becomes more interesting.

While employing the sharimiki method, the bonsai grower starts peeling a slender strip of the tree's bark from the top downwards in the front side of the tree. The work becomes easier when the grower loosens the strip first by making two straight up cuts using a sharp edged knife. As in the case of jinning, the grower then uses emery paper with a view to make the wood smooth by using furniture bleach or citric acid. When you are making the wood smooth, you need to be careful to ensure that you apply the bleach or the acid only to the exposed part of the branch or trunk that has been stripped of its bark.

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The third technique employed to make a bonsai look older than its actual age is sabamiki. Bonsai trees that have already undergone this technique not only appear to be very old, but also quite impressive. These bonsais remind one of the trees that have endured the wear and tear of nature for several centuries, especially the trees that are found in hilly regions as well as those growing in lonely coastal locations.

Translated into English, sabamiki denotes a hollow trunk or a split trunk. Precisely speaking, this is wood-splitting procedure that allows a bonsai grower to replicate the forms of trees seen in nature, especially among the aged apricot trees, junipers and elaeagnus. In case, you have a bonsai tree whose trunk has been damaged, you can use a chisel and hollow out the damaged portion of the trunk and subsequently treat the spot as you would do in case of sharimiki or jinning.

When you undertake this technique properly, it creates a visual effect as if a lightening has struck the tree or the trunk has been damaged severely and deep due to some other natural forces. The trunk will generally have an appearance as if it has been weathered over several decades. The sabamiki technique involves stripping the bark of the trunk's bark and subsequently drilling it or carving the exposed part of the wood to create a deep gash. The depressed or void area may begin as well as end partially up the trunk. Alternatively, it may begin with a large opening at the tree's base and then taper to close somewhere in the mid-part of the trunk. However, the wound should be created carefully and in a manner that it does not hinder the supply of nutrients to the different parts of the tree via the trunk. Otherwise the branches and leaves above the wound will gradually die. Once you have completed shaping the tree, you need to treat the exposed wood using any good preservative.

A number of bonsai experts also tear down a branch that is forward-growing and may deface a tree. This leaves a hole in the trunk, which is made larger with the help of a chisel. When the hole is enlarged, the growers can work out the sabamiki technique on the tree.

Here is a word of advice. It is best to undertake all these artificial aging techniques during the middle of summer, as the wounds will dry and heal quickly and, also because the trunk will be able to soak in the bleaching agent properly. It is important that you always use a sharp-edged knife and make the wood smooth using an emery paper prior to applying the furniture bleach or citric acid.

Moreover, you should apply the bleaching agent no less than once in two years with a view to prevent rot assaulting the branches that have been stripped of their bark and also to emphasize on their pale hue again.


Tanuki bonsai is a technique that involves joining a living tree to an attractive deadwood piece with a view to create a composite in the same manner as driftwood. Usually, the deadwood used for this purpose has the shape of a weather-beaten tree trunk. If not the full deadwood, its lower portions should have this weathered form. The bonsai designer or grower needs to make a groove or channel into the deadwood before adding it to a living tree. Usually, the living tree is a young juniper, as this species has plenty of vigour, suppleness and aptitude to withstand harsh shaping. The young juniper is set inside the channel using screws, nails, clamps and wire wrapping that is non-reactive. Over a period of time, the young juniper will start growing inside the deadwood channel, which conceals the fact that the young tree is a separate unit. When the young juniper has established itself in the deadwood channel, all the affixing devices like the screws, nails, and others are removed and the living tree is grown as well as shaped using the typical bonsai methods.

It is important to note that generally genuine driftwood-style bonsais are not cultivated from the usual bonsai source materials. Instead, these specimens are obtained from the wild and are considered to be prized since they are rare. Using the tanuki process enables a grower to create a driftwood-style bonsai using materials that are very common. However, whether this end product can actually be considered a bonsai is a question that needs to be debated. In fact, the Japanese name for this artificial method implies this aspect. Tanuki, in Japanese folklore, denotes the Japanese raccoon dog, and they are tricksters that continue changing their shape. In the West, tanuki bonsai is sometimes referred to as "Phoenix Grafts", certainly a less-disgraceful term. Several people who grow bonsai outside Japan are of the view that tanuki is a good enough bonsai term. However, currently this method is still not accepted as an element of traditional Japanese bonsai technique. As a result, people in Japan still do not display tanuki in any official bonsai exhibition.

In addition to the above mentioned methods, you can employ another technique to make your bonsai look more aged than its actual age. This may prove to be an easier method. Just tie down the branches of your young bonsai tree or wire the branches in such a manner that the outline of these branches has a close resemblance to the older trees that are seen growing in the wild.


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