US National Arboretum


The Art of Lime Sulphur:
Jin and Shari Maintenance

image of Bonsai

The dead branches of a bonsai, called jin, and exposed wood, called shari, are characteristics associated with the driftwood style of bonsai. They evoke the harsh conditions trees in nature are exposed to at higher elevations. As a tree's bark is slowly worn away by the elements, its wood is bleached by the sun over hundreds of years.

A bonsai artist can recreate this driftwood effect much quicker than nature by removing bark from the trunk and branches with a sharp knife and applying a solution of lime sulphur to bleach the wood white. Lime sulphur is not exclusively used with bonsai. Typically it is diluted and used as a pesticide on dormant deciduous trees. However, in bonsai it is applied undiluted to the dead wood on conifers, once in the summer and again in the winter. The benefit of lime sulphur is twofold. First, it bleaches the wood giving the impression of great age. Second, it preserves and protects the dead wood from fungus and insects.  

image of Bonsai Lime Sulphur treatment

When applying lime sulphur it is important to work in a well ventilated area and to wear safety goggles and rubber gloves.


image of Bonsai Lime Sulphur treatment



Before the application process, the dead wood should be cleaned with a brush and water to ensure the lime sulphur will be absorbed into the wood. A toothbrush is ideal for removing any stains that have developed.  



image of Bonsai Lime Sulphur treatment


Once the dead wood has been cleaned, the lime sulphur is applied with a paintbrush. It is important to prevent any lime sulphur from getting into the soil as it may damage or even kill the tree. According to John Naka’s book, Bonsai Techniques, a hot, dry day is the best time to treat the dead wood since the lime sulphur will dry more quickly, thus reducing the risk of soil contamination.  


image of Bonsai


After the application process has been completed, the lime sulphur is left to dry. Be careful to avoid watering any areas that have been treated with lime sulphur until they are completely dry, as it can be washed off with water and into the soil.

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Last Updated October 1, 2007 5:43 PM