Balcony gardens – Introduction to Bonsai – Part 5

Adding bonsai to balcony gardens – what tools do you need?

In this blog, Chris Xepapas from Heritage Bonsai discusses the tools you need to create and maintain bonsai. While there is quite a selection of specialised tools which have been developed for use with bonsai, most can be improvised from common garden or household implements. Bonsai tools are readily available online – check out and for pictures and pricing of the items described in the blog.  landera_bonsai_blog


There are many tools used for bonsai creation and maintenance. I will list both bonsai tools and alternative tools that can be used that are readily available and more affordable.

Scissors – There are many varieties of scissors with different purposes for bonsai. General purpose trimmers include:

  • Long handled scissors which allow the user to get in amongst the branches without their hand breaking any delicate parts.
  • Leaf trimmers- used to defoliate a tree.
  • Root shears – used to cut roots when repotting trees.

All the above scissors can be replaced with ordinary household scissors, although the effectiveness of the job will be reduced.

Branch cutters – available in different sizes and used to remove branches. These can be replaced for most purposes with a pair of secateurs, although this will limit how close you can cut to a trunk line.

  • Knob cutters – used to remove stubs left when a branch is cut off. Unfortunately, there is no tool that can replace this one. Sometimes called a concave branch cutter, it is almost like a surgical tool because it is extremely sharp and precise. It can cut right up to the trunk of the tree, leaving no snag at all.
  • Wire cutters- designed to remove wire. You can use general wire nippers but care must be taken not to damage the bark.
  • Jin pliers- used when creating jin (dead branches ) on bonsai. Any pliers can be used.

Bending jacks – specialized bending tools/clamps used to bend thick branches and trunks.

There are many more tools for specialized jobs but the above are the essentials for bonsai work.


  • Heal paste – this comes in various brands and types. It is applied to open cut wounds to aid in the healing process, and also used to prevent rot on bare wood.
  • Raffia – for protecting bark on a tree when heavy wiring and bending is required.
  • Fertilizer – also available in many forms but be warned – apply it in diluted doses.
  • Pots- once again, available in many forms and depending on your style, and tree species, depends on what pot you use. Generally a conifer would require a earthenware pot, whereas a maple would look good in a glazed pot.
  • Turn table or lazy Susan – used when working on a bonsai and allows you to spin the tree around freely and effortlessly. Available in many sizes and types; generally a cheap $10 turn table will do the job .

Most tools and accessories can be substituted with every day garden tools but the fact remains that the Japanese tools are superior and a pleasure to use. I would strongly advise NOT to use Chinese bonsai tools. They are crude at the best of times and you would risk damaging your trees.


Chris Xepapas

Heritage Bonsai Tasmania