There are a number of ways to remove old leaves from deciduous bonsai. Depending on the variety, branch age or density and how dry the leaves are, I’ll use a combination of fingers, tweezers and my whole hand.
The first two examples below are from a Japanese beech. Beech leaves don’t always fall off on their own so I tend to help them along to ensure the interior buds get plenty of light during winter. As beech leaf buds are relatively large and delicate, I pull leaves away from the buds to avoid breaking them.
Pulling a beech leaf away from the bud
When the leaves are hard to get due to branch density or on the dry side, I’ll use tweezers as I can remove leaves quickly with them. The same rule of pulling leaves away from the buds applies.
Gotcha – gripping a beech leaf with tweezers
As my beech bonsai are young, removing the old leaves went quickly.
My favorite technique for removing old leaves is better suited for landscape trees. As Japanese maple leaves can be removed by pulling in the direction the branch is growing, running my fingers along the branch is a great way to remove leaves quickly.
Lightly pinching a young branch
Drawing my fingers along the length of the branch
Handful of leaves
As you can see from the photo below, many of the branches on this maple are young and vigorous. I removed the leaves on these branches with my hands. For the more delicate branches near the apex, I removed the old leaves with tweezers.
After removing almost all of the old leaves
Removing the last few leaves
At some point this winter I’ll take another peek at this air layer to see how it’s doing.
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