Preparing for exhibition


Exhibition and display are the high points of Shohin-bonsai. Preparing for the display is very important. If one neglects to prepare both the bonsai and related items for exhibition, the display will not express the beauty of the art; the artist will be unable to show the audience or the bonsai proper respect.


It is essential to time pruning and trimming so fresh foliage is at its peak for the exhibition. This means that each artist must have enough knowledge of his/her trees so the timing of the preparations is right.

Preparing for a show a week ahead of time is far too late. Preparation of trees must be started at least two months before an exhibition to make sure that the trees have enough time to generate new growth – after pinching the foliage pads, for example.

If branches need to be corrected, it must be done so wire can be removed before the exhibition. A tree with basic wiring still applied is not acceptable for exhibition.

The smooth bark of juniper trunks can be lubricated with vegetable oil, to bring out the reddish brown colour of the tree. Others prefer the paper-flaked bark as it is, depending on the species and personal taste.



Flowers are typically arranged in large groups by Westerners, who are impressed by quantity and large coloured areas. Bonsai aesthetics appreciates the individual flower and its beauty more than large groups of flowers. The same aesthetic preference is seen in Japanese gardens at temples.

When exhibiting a bonsai, `disturbing´ flowers are removed to enjoy the beauty of the remaining flowers, bringing harmony and balance to the tree. This is especially important for Shohin and Mame-bonsai, where flowers can easily dominate the overall picture.

Contradictions are often found when dealing with Japanese aesthetics, like when watching Satsuki azalea exhibitions. At these events, the flowers are sometimes overwhelming in their presentation. The preference is to thin the flowers to represent their beauty through simplicity; a higher focus on the beauty of the single flower and the tree is then achieved.

Thin flowers 1-2 weeks before the exhibition, so the stems will have time to wither and fall off. Clear out any faded stems that have not fallen off by themselves before the bonsai is exhibited.


Moss is used as a primary cover of the soil’s surface, and is therefore of major importance. Moss also adds a natural feeling of grass or fields to a scene. There are many different types of moss, long-haired as well as tight growing species, which allows the bonsai artist to select the one best suited for the type of tree exhibited.

Keeping moss on a Shohin-bonsai all year round can have advantages, as well as disadvantages. The advantage is that moss retains much needed humidity for the plants, and the disadvantage is that black pines, for example, don’t thrive with constantly wet soil. Birds will remove the moss in search of insects. They might break the thin branches, leaving the roots exposed, or knock the trees off their stands.

Moss can be developed for exhibition purposes, and if planted two months before the exhibition, it will have time to settle well, without looking arranged. Place the tree in a safe place to avoid birds and sun drying the moss. A white plastic `tent´ covering only the moss (not the tree) can be improvised, to provide shade and maintain the humidity needed for the moss to develop.

Selecting trees

Selecting Shohin or Mame-bonsai for exhibition is a task that must be well planned, starting with plenty of time before the trimming of the trees. Making some practice displays to experiment with different combinations is important, in order to select the trees that work best together. When the trees are finally chosen, preparation to refine the shapes to exhibition standards can begin.


Pot choice must be considered. Shohin and Mame-bonsai grow in larger containers during training periods, and will have to be repotted into display quality containers that fit the tree. Azaleas, for example, need a larger pot when in bloom, than when exhibited in autumn without flowers. Therefore, a careful repotting to make the volume of the tree and pot balance may be necessary.

The colours of pots also have to be adjusted individually, so there is harmony between trees and pots, as well as between pots. No colour or shape must be the same; having a good selection of exhibition quality pots available to choose from will be an advantage.

Final preparations

The final preparation before an exhibition is cleaning the pots of dirt. Some pots can be freshened up with vegetable oil, which makes a matte unglazed pot stand out, but take care that it doesn’t look too oily.

Picture kindly provided by The All Japanese Shohin Bonsai Association.