How To Create Deadwood On A Bonsai Tree

In nature you will find huge old trees with the most amazing deadwood featuring on it. This deadwood is created by very extreme weather events, impossible to recreate for a bonsai tree. Luckily, there are a few really interesting techniques to create deadwood on a bonsai tree, adding age, struggle and character to the tree! This guide article I break down exactly how to make deadwood on your bonsai!

There are two techniques used to create deadwood on a bonsai tree. ‘Jin’ is where a branch has deadwood and ‘Shari’ is where deadwood runs up the trunk of the tree, both add huge character to the tree and can be used very well together to create the appearance of an aged tree. Keep reading to find out more…
Photo From Pinterest.

How Deadwood Is Created In Nature

There are a number of causes of deadwood in nature and they all tell a very interesting story about the rough conditions the tree has had to survive through. These causes include:

  • Lightning
  • Natural dying back
  • Droughts
  • Storms
  • Cold Snaps
  • Intense Wind
All of these natural conditions cause the wood of the tree to eventually die. Once dead, that exposed wood will gradually be bleached by harsh sunlight, creating a beautiful contrast against the rest of the wood. Although the majority of the causes of deadwood are weather related, we are still able to create the same effect by hand without having to create some droughts or lightning, luckily! Due to the severity of the conditions needed to create this effect naturally, trees with amazing areas of deadwood are usually found in more mountainous areas as they usually have the best conditions.

When Is The Best Time To Create Deadwood?

The techniques used to artificially create deadwood on a bonsai tree can be used all year round, as long as you can guarantee that your tree will not have to endure any cold snaps. Any frosty conditions or cold weather snaps can cause your bonsai a lot of harm if the created wound is not fully healed, so it’s best to avoid doing this process during the winter months.

By far the best time of year to create deadwood on your bonsai is during the last few weeks of summer. This is due to a few reasons, the first being that the wounds being created will have plenty of time to fully heal before the harsh winter weather comes in. Secondly, the tree sap flows a lot slower during this period, meaning the wounds are going to bleed much less.

Photo From Oneirosstore

The Problems Deadwood Can Cause

In terms of health problems that deadwood can cause your bonsai tree, there aren’t too many providing the tree is already strong, healthy and that you do the techniques properly. One potential issue to think on is the fact that it is very hard to undo the deadwood. Once you have committed, your bonsai tree is going to look like that for a very long time so it’s important to really think on where you want the deadwood and how much you want.

When done well, deadwood adds a huge amount of character to a bonsai tree and collectors all around the world absolutely love the appearance. However, overdoing it won’t look great and could ruin the overall look of the bonsai. Another thing to bare in mind is to avoid using the techniques for creating deadwood on deciduous trees. Bonsaiempire says that doing so looks completely unrealistic and the deadwood created will most likely just rot. This means that you should only be performing this procedure on any evergreen trees in your collection.

The Two Types Of Deadwood On Bonsai

There are two different types of deadwood on bonsai trees, known as Jin and Shari. These different techniques achieve different areas of deadwood, so it’s important to know the difference and when to undertake each technique…


Jin is the technique of creating deadwood on whole branches. This technique is used to create the appearance of age and struggle for the bonsai as, as mentioned above, to create a deadwood branch in nature the tree must live through very severe weather conditions. Creating a jin on a valuable tree can add value and give the illusion of the tree being more aged than it actually is. You have probably seen jin on bonsai trees at events and clubs throughout the world – it can create some truly stunning bonsai.

I have recently had my first attempt at creating a jin on one of my less sentimental bonsai trees, so I will update here in a few months with pictures. It’s best to practice these techniques by first creating a jin as this can actually be removed, if you don’t like it or you do it badly.



Photo From Pinterest
Shari is the technique of creating areas of deadwood on the trunk of the bonsai tree. The deadwood will usually run up the trunk of the tree, creating the most amazing appearance. It can really add to the character of a bonsai tree as in nature this process can only be caused by very traumatic events such as lightning. Unlike the Jin, it’s impossible to remove a Shari so don’t try to perform this technique on an expensive tree at first.

How To Create Deadwood On A Bonsai

So, now you know more about deadwood, let’s see how to actually create some on your bonsai tree.

What You’ll Need:

  • Jin pliers
  • Lime sulfur
  • Graving tool

For Creating a Jin –

Step 1 – Locate the branch of the tree you’re looking to use.

Step 2 – Shorten the chosen branch to just an inch longer than you want the final jin to look.

Step 3 – Cut through the bark on the base of the branch you’re working on. Then continue cutting all the way along the branch. This is going to make it very easy to peel that bark off.

Step 4 – Peel the bark off of the jin. If you’re performing this technique during the winter, you may need a knife to help you remove the bark – if you’re doing this in summer or spring you should be fine to just peel.

Step 5 – Take your jin pliers and pinch/crush the end of the exposed stub. Pull them back carefully, pulling back small sections of the wood. This is going to create the most natural jin effect.

Step 6 – Keep pulling back the wood until you’re happy with the look of the jin.

Step 7 – Apply some of your lime sulfur to the jin. This is going to prevent infection, pests and help bleach the exposed wood as happens in nature.

You should now have a jin, looking like the tree branch had broken off in a rough winters storm many years ago. You’ll need to apply more lime sulfur every year or so, to keep that area preserved. If you followed along, leave a comment below and show me the finished product, I would love to see how it worked out for you!

For Creating a Shari –

Step 1 – Make sure you have really thought about creating a Shari. This is not a temporary change and can ruin the look of your bonsai tree if done badly. This has to look natural or the bonsai will look completely ridiculous, so take that into consideration.

Step 2 – Ensure you aren’t going to interrupt the sap flow up the tree as this can damage above branches. Closely look at the bark and you should be able to see some small swollen areas moving upwards. These need to be left alone as they are transporting the sap.

Step 3 – Mark the edges of where you want the Shari to be on your bonsai. Follow the line of the trunk and extenuate the curves of the tree, without interrupting the sap flow. I would advise using a water-based ink to do the marking as it can be quickly removed.

Step 4 – Cut through the bark using a modelling knife. Make another cut a few millimeters away, cutting at an angle so the cuts meet in the middle and the bark between can be easily removed.

Step 5 – Continue removing bark until you’re satisfied with the Shari.

Step 6 – Treat the newly exposed wood with lime sulfur. This is going to preserve the wood, allow it to be damaged by the sun and keep pests away. Beware, it smells absolutely awful!

Maintaining Your Bonsai Tree After Creating Deadwood

Relatively speaking the jin and Shari won’t need too much ongoing maintenance, or certainly not as much as you may think. The best course of action is to give the area a good clean every year using a brush, followed by applying lime sulfur. The lime sulfur is very important as it will keep the deadwood from just rotting away, which could lead to huge problems for your bonsai tree. You may need to slightly adjust your work every few years as bark starts to grow back in but that isn’t going to be a very constant type of maintenance.

Relevant Articles – How To Make A Bonsai Tree Grow Faster / How To Prune A Bonsai Tree

Research Sources –

Bonsai Basics 101 Book

Recent Posts