About 40 years ago Mr. Tanaka’s Great Grandfather started a crop of root over rock style trident maples. Until last summer these maples had been growing in a field owned by Mr.Tanaka. The basic approach to growing these trees was very interesting. Using steel wire, the trees were fastened to their rock. To ensure the tree grew tightly to the rock, the wire was never removed. The tree just grew around the wire. Each year, all of the branches were cut off leaving just a trunk. Some of the trees eventually had a main branch wired down, and then each year the shoots would be cut from that branch. The result is a great trunk and thick main branch that is ready to develop into a nice bonsai. So now, all of the maples are out of the ground and have had a year to grow. Mr. Tanaka decided it was time to start the next phase of development so I have been applying a very Aichien styled approach to each tree.
These trees are a little bit crazy looking at the moment. Lots of strong wild branches growing straight up. Let’s take a closer look at what we are working with and I’ll do a little show and tell as we work through one of these monsters.
First things first. This tree has way too many leaves. It’s hard to even see what we are working with. Total defoliation is safe on this species and it gives a lot better view of the available branches. So I’ll start by removing all of the leaves.
The defoliation process of these trees at this phase in their life is not very gentle. There are a lot of these trees to work on so time is important. I’ll be using the high-speed defoliation method on these maples.
While this may look very rough, there is actually a bit of practice needed in order to properly use this speed defoliation technique. A closer look will show that I have removed the leaves without damaging buds and in many cases managed to even leave the petioles in place.
Ok, now let’s take a look at this tree with the leaves off and see exactly what we are working with here.
A lot of strong branches growing straight up. The next goal will be to get the tree organized by setting the main branch structure. This means eliminating unnecessary branches and bending the good branches down. Additionally, this is a great time to begin correcting the appearance of the trunk. 40 years of cutting off every branch has left these trees with a lot of ugly scars, dead branch knobs, hollows and all sorts of things that don’t look good. Luckily all can easily be fixed, so let’s get to work.
The following three photos are all examples of the type of trunk flaws that can easily be fixed. I have heard conflicting opinions about these so-called flaws being character traits and adding interest to a tree. This of course is all subjective and everyone has the right to do things their own way. I personally like the clean look on maples. Since these issues can be easily fixed, it almost seems a bit lazy not to. Imagine your neighbor refusing to mow their yard because they say it looks “natural”. Yeah it does, but a cut yard usually looks better. A crisp clean maple trunk shows attention to detail and in turn can speak volumes about the character of the person who styled the tree, which is potentially a good way to know that the tree has been well cared for. Something to consider if you’re in the market for a trident maple.
That’s really all it takes. Cleanly cut the entire area open, preferably going deep enough to prevent a future callus bump and apply a generous amount of cut paste to the entire area.
Next the tree can be cut and wired. In an effort to keep this article from going on and on I’ll fast forward through the wiring portion. Just keep in mind that the basics are applied. The idea is to create good structure by allowing no more than 2 branches at any single point. In other words, creating a fork or potential for a future fork. Then wire is applied and the branches bent down and out. For deciduous trees we use inexpensive aluminum wire. Since maples have such thin skin, using hard copper wire can easily cause damage to the branches. This seems to be the standard practice just about everywhere.
All branches wired and bent down. Note the lower branches are still long. They need to build up some more momentum and get much thicker. By not cutting them they will take priority when the tree begins growing new shoots and allocating energy to the strongest areas. The apex has been left uncut as well. This area needs to stay strong, mostly to help heal up the massive would that was at the top of the tree. Eventually all of these branches will be cut very short and the process will start all over again. Each time creating more and more branches that will eventually fill out to make a really nice tree.
Here are a couple of examples of other trees I did in the same session.
The above tree had plenty of branches, just in all the wrong places. The middle right section of trunk was bare. In an effort to fix this in the future, I wired a branch from the top down into the area where a branch is needed. In the future this will be an approach graft but we will save that for another article. For now, the graft candidate will get a little time to grow and get strong in its new position before the graft work takes place. The apex on both trees above was left uncut, like the featured tree. For the same reason, it seems the top of all of these trees has a lot of healing to do.
Well that’s it for this portion of Maple Madness. You may be thinking “these trees don’t look very good” and yeah, you’re right. They don’t look so good now but it’s all part of the process. Luckily there are a few trees from the same root over rock batch here at Aichien that have been in development as bonsai for quite some time. The first is about 5 years ahead of the trees in this article and the second is about 20 years ahead. Since their leaves are still on, it’s hard to see the structure, but the overall shape will give you an idea of how today’s techniques will develop into great bonsai. I’m planning to write part 2 of Maple Madness the next time we work on these trees. It may be a while, but it will be cool to see them progress during my time at Aichien.
More soon, thanks for reading!