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How To Bonsai an Oak Tree (Step By Step)

You can apply the art of bonsai to many types of trees – even the well-known oak tree. 

And although the steps to bonsai an oak tree may seem cumbersome, it’s actually not too difficult.

To bonsai an oak tree, you need to start with an oak sapling. 

Then, you should acquire the right soil and container.

Afterward, you can prune and wire the tree’s branches to set its shape. 

And over time, you’ll need to continue training it with pruning and shaping. 

In this article, I’m giving a guide on how to bonsai an oak tree, including how to choose the right plant to begin your bonsai journey. 

I’ll also share my best tips for promoting healthy growth and bends in your own oak bonsai. 

How to Choose an Oak to Bonsai

Before you can start pruning and shaping your oak tree into a bonsai style, you need to choose the right plant. 

And since oak trees can grow quite large – up to 100 feet (30 m) in some cases – I recommend acquiring an oak sapling. 

Oak saplings are young oak trees that are small enough that you can contain them in a bonsai pot. 

Their branches are also flexible, meaning you can easily bend and shape them. 

Your chosen oak sapling should have the following qualities before it’s ready to undergo a bonsai treatment:

  • A strong root system
  • A height between 0.5 and 2.0 feet (15-61 cm)
  • Slightly bendable offshoots
  • Healthy foliage 

Several varieties of oak saplings are ideal for bonsai art, including the coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) and the cork oak (Quercus suber). 

How to Pot an Oak Bonsai

Once you’ve chosen the type of oak sapling you want to use for bonsai, you need to mix the right soil and transplant it into a bonsai container. 

Oak Bonsai Soil

Oak bonsai requires a soil mixture that includes both peat moss and perlite. 

You need to make a balanced blend for your bonsai soil, meaning you should use half peat moss and half perlite. 

Oak Bonsai Container

For the container, keep in mind that bonsai trees require a small, compact container that will constrict the root system and keep the tree small. 

For an oak sapling bonsai, you want a container to be about 1 gallon (4 liters). 

It should also have ample drainage at the bottom so that the roots won’t get damaged. 

How to Prune an Oak Bonsai

The next step to bonsai an oak tree is to begin pruning the sapling. 

When you do your first pruning session, you’ll shear/clip off branches and leaves. 

To do so, you can use either scissors or pruning shears, as long as they are clean. 

So, use rubbing alcohol to wash the blades before you begin pruning to avoid spreading disease to your new bonsai tree. 

Additionally, ensure that your tool is sharp before you begin pruning. 

Oak Branch Pruning 

The offshoots – also known as branches – of an oak sapling are the first pruning target. 

Begin shearing off the larger, thicker branches so that the bulk of the growth is out of the way and you can see the smaller offshoots. 

And note that you should be going for the shoots at the top of the tree rather than the bottom ones. 

By doing so, you’ll leave room for the smaller branches to be shaped and molded while the trunk and bottom shoots thrive.

Oak Leaf Pruning

Once you’ve cleared out space by pruning the branches, you can clip off some of the foliage, too. 

For oak bonsai, I suggest really being generous with the number of leaves you remove, starting close to the middle of the tree and working towards the tips of the branches. 

Leave some of the foliage in place near the tips of the branches, though. 

How to Shape an Oak Bonsai

Once you’ve done the bulk of the pruning, you can move on to shaping your bonsai tree. 

Shaping is the fun part of making bonsai trees, as you can take some creative liberties and sculpt the plant into something new. 

Some growers choose to use wire marketed for bonsai trees, while others just use aluminum wiring for this step. 

Start by cutting your wire to the correct length – you want it to be longer than the branch or trunk you’re applying it to (about ⅓ longer). 

You should also choose wire thickness that is proportionate to the thickness of the branches or trunk (i.e., thicker wire for thicker stems and vice versa for thin branches). 

Begin to wrap the wire around the branches and trunk, coiling it around the tree at an angle and in rings that are close together. 

But just be careful not to wrap the wiring too tightly around your tree. 

If you do, it’ll cut into the bark and cause damage. 

Next, for the trunk, start at the bottom and work your way up the sapling.

Then, to shape the branches, you should begin at the trunk and work your way outwards toward the tips of the branches. 

Once you have applied the wire to the tree, you can begin to shape it by bending the branches. 

Do so gently without bending them past their elasticity so that they can start to grow into the shape you desire.  

How to Maintain an Oak Bonsai 

After you’ve finished the initial pruning and shaping session for your oak bonsai, you’ll want to let it rest away from harsh light for a couple of weeks. 

The tree needs to adapt to its new container, soil, and growth patterns since you’ve trimmed it. 

From then on, you should take care to water it as needed 

And remember that you need to water your oak bonsai whenever the top layer of soil gets dry. 

You also need to keep it in direct sunlight for several hours each day and make sure not to let it dry out. 

Further, you will need to fertilize your oak bonsai throughout the year with a basic, balanced (1-1-1) NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer blend. 

Your fertilizer should also contain other nutrients, including copper, nickel, calcium, and iron. 

However, don’t over-fertilize your oak bonsai, or you could destroy its roots. 

Continual Pruning and Shaping of Your Bonsai 

As time goes on, you will need to continue to prune the branches and foliage of your oak bonsai tree. 

I suggest following essentially the same steps you did in the first bonsai training session, including leaf and branch pruning, as well as wiring. 

Additionally, if you want your tree to maintain its small size and delicate design, you’ll have to eventually re-pot it into a smaller container in the second year. 

Final Thoughts

Luckily for oak lovers, these trees aren’t too difficult to bonsai. 

You just need to start by pruning the leaves and branches of your oak sapling. 

Afterward, wrap some wire around the bark to bend and train the shape of the branches. 

Then, with continual care and maintenance, your oak bonsai will take on the beautiful design you want.

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