How to Make Leaves Smaller on a Bonsai

Updated February 21, 2017

Bonsai is a Japanese art form consisting of long-term cultivation of miniature potted trees. A bonsai tree mimics the proportions of a tree growing naturally in the wild through pruning and trimming the leaves, roots and branches. If the leaves on a bonsai grow too large, it can disrupt the balance of the tree. With the proper defoliation technique, you can reduce the leaf size on a bonsai tree to maintain proportion and balance. Smaller leaves sprout in place of the larger ones, and this is a desirable quality.

Inspect the tree to make sure it is in good health. The foliage should be fully developed before defoliation.

Trim off large leaves with scissors. Always leave the stem intact on the tree to allow it to absorb nutrients.

Place the tree in the shade for approximately one month or until new leaves sprout.

Trim off new branches that sprout along with new leaves to maintain the tree's balance, if necessary. The branches should remain large at the bottom of the tree and become smaller toward the top.


Defoliate in late spring or early summer after the leaves are fully developed. Defoliate deciduous trees every other year. You can defoliate most other trees every year.


Don't completely defoliate conifer trees. This can damage or kill the tree.

Things You'll Need

  • Bonsai shears
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About the Author

Shelley Marie has been writing professionally since 2008 for online marketing and informational websites. Her areas of expertise include home, garden and health. She holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration and an associate degree in medical billing and insurance coding, both from Herzing University.