Tiny Trees with Bob & Terry

This was an evening’s insight into everything that is great about bonsai yet packed into a scale that is miniature in a world of what is commonly referred to as Mame and Shohin.

This is a table of Bonsai sizes according to Herbert Gustafson (1995), however there are numerous other sources that provide contrary dimensions so this is not a definitive list of bonsai tree sizes but good as a guide.

Miniature bonsai
Keshitsubu bonsai -Poppy seed size bonsai from 1 to 3 inches (3-8cm)
Shito – Fingertip size bonsai from 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm)
Shohin – Palm size bonsai from 5 to 8 inches or 8 inches or less (5-15cm)
Mame – Miniature one-handed bonsai from 5 to 8 inches (13-20cm)
Komono bonsai – Miniature one handed bonsai from 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm)

Medium bonsai
Katade-mochi bonsai -Medium sized one handed bonsai from 10 to 18 inches (25-46cm)
Chuomono bonsai -Medium size two-handed bonsai from 10 to 18 inches (25-46cm)
Chiu bonsai -Medium size two-handed bonsai from 16 to 36 inches (41-91cm)

Large bonsai
Omono bonsai -Large four-handed bonsai from 30 to 48 inches (76-122cm)
Dai-bonsai -Large four-handed bonsai from 30 to 48 inches (76-122cm)
Hachi-uye bonsai – Large six handed bonsai from 48 to 60 inches (102-152cm)
Imperial bonsai -Large eight handed bonsai from 60 to 80 inches (152-203cm)


Terry firstly began with a brief talk updating the club members on elements from a previous talk relating to root pruning and the current practices surrounding the need to ensure that when you re-pot you should focus on removing any roots that grow downwards underneath the main trunk to ensure that the tree, once placed back in its pot, sits flat and within the pot well. In order to do this the roots underneath, as well as old soil should be removed and the roots around the edge of the root plate thinned out as necessary to leave a well spaced root system. Furthermore, the removal of wedges of roots from an established root plate should be done with care and caution and alternate wedges should be removed on alternate re-potting years. This method is used to re-energise the fibrous root mat by providing new spaces for the development of new fibrous roots and also allows for new soil to be added into the rooting area that is consumed by roots which will also encourage new roots to form.


He then went on to start his main talk in conjunction with Bob Bailey on small trees and posed the question; what makes a good small tree?

  • Lots of interest in a small area
  • Good sense of scale and proportions
  • Small leaves
  • Trunk with good taper if straight
  • Interesting features including Sharis, gins, twists, bends and deadwood

What species make good small trees?

  • Cotoneaster particularly the Cotoneaster microphyllus
  • Box
  • Elms particularly the Siberian Elm or Ulmus davidiana ‘pygmy’
  • Forsythia
  • Hawthorns
  • Junipers
  • Pines
  • Gooseberry
  • Lonicera
  • Herbs e.g. Rosemary

Where do you find material to make into small trees?

  • Older nurseries
  • Garden centres and look in the reduced sections
  • Collected trees from gardens
  • Cuttings
  • Air layers
  • Rafts
  • Tops of old cut hedgerows
  • Bonsai nurseries
Mame Callicarpa nebari

How do you begin with raw material?
This was when Bob Bailey then took over this section of the talk and did a demonstration with a tree he had purchased to provide an example of what you could do. He had a relatively small Callicarpa which he had seen potential in the lower trunk. He then proceeded to remove around 90% of the tree to leave the single stem he wanted and he would develop this now over the next two years to have hopefully a show quality tiny tree as the end result. This was for a demonstration, caution is advised here with regard to the staged removal of no more than 30% of the foliage at any one time, so as to not unduly stress the tree. Also it is not advised to prune both the roots and the foliage heavily at any one time.

Bob then discussed pots for small trees and recommended a potter called Rene Lecocq, however, you do not need to use a pot, you can grow your small trees on rocks, over rocks, on clinker or other materials and one example provided was that of a household brick – certainly unique if somewhat unconventional.

How do you look after small trees?

  • You need to keep them moist as they dry out quickly due to the small size of the pots
  • They do need water, essential element to successful growing of small trees
  • They need to be kept in semi shade for the majority as they will dry out very quickly in full sun
  • They can need winter protection is they are less hardy tree species i.e. a plastic cold frame
  • They need good levels of ventilation and air flow around them
  • Feed them small amounts of fertiliser regularly but reduced dosages (Daily during the growing season)
  • Prune them regularly to maintain the scale and proportions required

One method is to keep them on a gravel bed; this will aid with raising the humidity levels as well as allows the roots to access moisture in the gravel beds. If roots do develop into the gravel, trim these regularly to stop them forming large root masses in the gravel as this will reduce the amount of root then within the bonsai pot.

What are the secret tips to small trees?
If it doesn’t have it, you can add it later, so look closely next time you see small trees and check if the flowers or fruit belong to the tree. Gins and Sharis can also be added later by gluing on deadwood or drilling it into the main trunk, so you get more interest.

And finally…
The main aspect behind creating small trees then is you, it is down to your own imagination and inspiration and seeing something in the material you have or see around you. Try to look at the material from all aspects, if you think you can air layer something, it can be diagonally for example as opposed to straight across a stem. If you are not happy with the current taper, try laying it down or angling the trunk in the pot differently, the key is to experiment and have a go yourself. Some species are better than others, Bob and Terry have experience of different tree species and have got some great results out of native and unusual species including Pomegranate which root easily and from large cuttings as well as fuse easily to form clumps and layer well too. So go on and have a go, and in the meantime here are some images of the trees that Bob and Terry brought in to hopefully inspire you to have a play yourself.