Competitive bonsai styling

Preparing yourself for a bonsai competition can be a daunting task if you do not have any references. There are no guidelines or instructions that I could find available on the internet, unless it’s a well-hidden document.

I am taking part in my third competition this weekend. The first competition I took part in was on Japan day at Blaauwklippen Estate. I was so “amped” to be part of a young designer’s competition. Everything I needed was ready and packed a week before the competition. I was so nervous on the day I could not stop sweating. It was so bad that the person organizing the event asked me if I was okay. I replied and said I was fine (hoping he would leave me alone so that I can focus on the tree in front of me and finish before my time ran out). To add more tension to the situation the third person that was part of the competition have been apprenticing with one of the founders of bonsai in South Africa… Needless to say, I did not win that competition.


A is the tree from my first competition. B is the tree from my second competition.

The second competition was easier. I knew what to expect. We were only two participants so I had a 50% chance of winning. I met the other participant he was older than me, had all the fancy tools and gadgets. To top it all off he got the better-looking tree. As we started styling the trees I just focused on the task at hand. We had two hours to style the trees. Twenty minutes before our time was up I was done. I won the competition.

Before and after photo of my tree in my second competition.

What I learned through this is that when you are entering these competitions you cannot predict the outcome but you can make the best of what you have in front of you. Enjoy styling the tree and let your tree guide you. The mistake I made in the first competition is that I wanted to show case my skills by bending the tree, using raffia and carving deadwood. You need to know when to use what techniques. You do not need to use all of them at once.

What you will need to take along when attending a competition:

  • Turntable
  • Wedges at different angles
  • Concave cutter
  • Wire (different thickness)
  • Wire cutters
  • Pruning scissors
  • Scissors
  • Chop stick
  • Rake
  • Raffia

Helpful tips:

  1. Before you start to working on your tree plan what you are going to do with the tree. If you are able, make a sketch of the tree.
  2. Angle the tree on you turntable using your wedges and secure it in place.
  3. Start wiring the trunk.
  4. Move on to the lowest branches on the tree and work from the trunk to the outside of the tree.
  5. Place branches
  6. Remove extra foliage. Do not remove any foliage when you start with your designing as there is always a shortage of branches later if you remove too much upfront.

This is a very basic layout of how to plan your steps during a competition. Everyone has a different approach. This works well for me. The process that you use to style you trees at home and the way you style trees during a competition is the same, the only difference is the time pressure.   Points are rewarded for neatness so try and plan your wiring so that it does not cross. The health of the tree after styling is also taken into consideration.

Happy bonsai’ing.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s