Finding the front of our bonsai tree

So there we were, in our first SDBC class, staring at our new little elm and tasked with our first assignment…finding the front of our tree. Determining the front of the tree will determine the way you prune the tree. Here’s what we did:

Revealing roots for determining front of bonsai tree
Clear soil from base of the tree trunk to reveal roots

Our first goal was to uncover and get a clear view of the roots, since the roots were to be our main direction in finding the front. The roots not only form the foundation of the tree, but also give it strength, so we wanted to find a view that allowed the roots to tell this story.

We started by slightly sharpening the tip of a chopstick and using it to clear away soil from the base of the tree and roots. This did involve some scooping out of soil so we could have a clear view of the roots. We turned the tree this way and that, checking out the roots and how they interacted with the base of the trunk.

Here are points we considered in selecting our tree front:

We wanted a view that showcased not only the roots, but the trunk and branches as well.

  • Do the roots exude a feeling of stability and security?
  • How does the trunk raise out of the roots, and does it develop into a tapered point?
  • What are the primary branches and which view allows them reach out to the viewer and the sky?

Once we determined the front of our tree, we stuck a chopstick in front of that spot t so we wouldn’t get confused as we started pruning. We had to wait for the instructor to come check our work before pruning – and then, we were lucky enough to get most of the pruning he did on video. That’s next post!!!

Do you use this method to determine the front of your bonsai trees?


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