Restarting a Trident Maple

Restarting a Trident Maple

Now that I’m settled back in Japan I’ve been busy repotting, wiring and cutting back trees. It’s back to business as usual and I’m already starting to forget what day it is again!  I’m really looking forward to my second year as an apprentice.  This time around, I’ll get to practice techniques I learned last year and probably pick up a whole new set of techniques this year.  I’ll be sure to keep you all in the loop!  Let’s get this year started!

Last Fall I asked Mr. Tanaka if he could give me a Trident Maple project for me to develop from scratch.  Since I’m surrounded by so many great deciduous trees in the yard, I wanted to create one of my own during my apprenticeship.  We walked around the nursery together and he finally pointed to the tree pictured above (I know, not much to look at…at the moment).  ;o)  Mr. Tanaka says that this tree was an air layered off the top a large Trident Maple.  The air layer didn’t do well and many of the branches died.  The good news though is there are no dead areas on the trunk, the trunk has good movement, taper and age.

Let’s take a look at the tree from all sides.

Tree’s left


Tree’s right

The Plan

Originally we were planning on cutting off every branch in the Spring to force new growth.  The branches on this tree are either too long or too thick.  Many times in Japan, when deciduous trees go through a major change in branch development, the professional will wait till just before the buds start to grow and lop off every single branch to a stub.  Doing this will force the tree to push new adventitious buds either on the branch stubs or the trunk itself.  The new growth will be the future branches of the tree.

I asked Mr. Tanaka if lopping off the branches in the Spring was done because it’s the strongest time of year for the tree.  He shook his head and said, “no, the strongest time for the tree is in the Summer.”  I then asked why this wasn’t done in the Summer then, and he said that the new growth would be too vigorous and uncontrollable.  Hum….  interesting…

Spring vs. Summer

Trident Maples grow most vigorously in the Summer in Japan.  The main reason for that is because of the heat and humidity.  There is humidity in the Spring but not the heat.  Now lets think about the area you live in. If the Summers in your area is hot and dry, Summer might not be the strongest time for the tree.  In that particular environment, it turns out the the tree is only strongest in the Spring.  Would it be correct then, to say that developing a Trident Maple in an area where there are not ideal Summers take longer?

Before you answer that question in your head or out loud, here’s an example for you to think about.  Two Trident Maples are being developed in the Bay Area of California and the State of Arkansas.  In the Bay Area, the Summers tend to be warm and dry whereas in Arkansas, the Summers are warm and humid.  In the Bay Area, a Trident Maple can be defoliated in the Summer 1-2 times.  In Arkansas, a Trident Maple can be defoliated in the Summer 3-4 times.  So who has the advantage and who’s going to develop a refined tree faster?

*The Bay Area might not be the best example because of the many micro climates of California but you get the point.*

We always have to consider what our own local weather is like before we develop a tree.  What works well for others in different areas, might not work well for you in your area.  Understanding how a certain tree reacts to certain weather conditions can increase or decrease the time it takes to develop them to refinement.  Techniques also changes as depending on the weather as well.  We can learn all the techniques out there but sometimes they can only be applied to a certain extent or inapplicable because of the differences in weather conditions.  Does this mean we should only work on trees that grow perfectly in our environment? Of course not! There are way too many cool trees out there for us to just focus on native growing trees.  Of course there are always a certain tree that just won’t do well in an area so we skip those few trees.  At the end, the important lesson here is not about the time it takes to create a good Bonsai tree but the understanding of why it takes a certain amount of time and certain types of techniques.

The revised plan

A week ago I brought the tree into the workshop and looked it over.  Mr. Tanaka and I took a closer look and decided that the Trident still isn’t very strong.  If we go ahead and cut off all the branches, new growth might not come out.  We both decided that the tree needed to be healthier first by repotting it to maximize root growth.  In the rest of this post, I’m going to show what I did to the tree to prep it for stronger growth.  By next Spring, I should be able to go ahead an cut off all the branches.

Here is a photo to show the bark is peeling on this tree.  It normally takes about 20 years before a Trident Maple starts to loose it’s bark.  The hardest part in developing a tree has already been done for me!  The trunk is old, has good movement and taper.  All I have to do is develop the branches (the easier part).

The first thing I did was go through the tree and looked for dead branches coming off the trunk.  This is a good time to cut them off and get the wound to start healing over.

This is what the wound looks like after I cut off the dead nub.  Wounds on Trident Maples need to be cut in a concave fashion because the callus can be thick and cause a undesirable bump.  Knowing that, sometimes wounds are cut flat so that a bump develops in a desirable area.

Next thing I did was apply some cut paste to the wound.  I expect this wound to close up by the end of Summer.  The wound is about 2.5 cm wide.

Here’s a another dead branch off the trunk but it’s a much bigger branch

I used my big knob cutter and took care of the branch in a flash.  Again, I made the cut concave.

Many people don’t talk about this but when sealing a wound, it’s important to seal the entire outer edge.  This is where the callus starts to form.  Time and time again, I’ll see people seal a wound and only get a section of the outer edge.  If you don’t seal the outer edge correctly, the callus will either form funny or not form at all and die back.  Normally I like to apply the cut paste to the outer edge first, then the center area.  I too expect this wound to heal completely by the end of Summer.  This wound is about 4 cm wide.  I took care of a couple more dead branches and left the living branches to grow freely during the Spring and Summer.

I took the tree out of the pot and did some root work.  Sorry I don’t have pictures of the actual root cutting portion but I believe most of you know what a repotting is like.  If not, I hope to get at least one repotting post with details on cutting roots soon.

Here is the trimmed root ball.  That was quick and easy!

I noticed that on one side of the trunk there was no roots but a big callus area.  Apparently, this section didn’t produce any roots during the air layering.  No problem, we can fix that!

Here’s the fix.  I took a grafting knife and cut into the callus a bit.  Once I bury this area in soil, I have no doubts that roots will grow out of it.  Sometimes you can brush the exposed area with rooting hormones to increase the chances for roots to develop.

This training pot is going to be the new home of this Trident Maple for the next year.  It’s large, deep and has plenty of room for new roots to grow.

I filled the pot with large sized pumice

Next I placed the tree in the pumice, tied it in and added more large pumice.

If you’re wondering what the green thing is, it’s the tie down wires.  Yes, I used green rubber coated steel wire.  Some people have a preference as to what they like to use as tie down wires.  Here at Aichien we use all sorts of wire to tie trees down.  In this particular case, I used this steel wire because it was closer to me then the aluminum wire.  Plus the green color helps roots grow better…

Just kidding!

Next I made a small size mix of 20 percent akadama, 80 percent pumice and used it as my top soil layer.

Next I put some sphagnum moss close to the trunk to help keep the root spread moist and strong.

The last thing I did was water the tree.  I pretty much watered the tree till the water coming out from the bottom was clear.  I put the tree back on the bench and will allow it to run wild for the rest of the year.  Anytime I do something to this tree, I’ll be sure to write a post about it so you can all see it’s continuing development.

 Wait a Minute….What’s Up With the Soil?

 Okay, many of you are probably wondering why I used the soil mix that I did.  Here’s the reasons.

My main goal for this tree is to get it growing as strong and as much as possible.  Drier soil mixes always yield faster root growth.  Large size particles play into the drier mix as well. Hence the 100 percent large pumice.  As I got to the top of the root ball, I added a small amount of akadama and pumice to keep the soil a bit more wet.  Since this area is going to be exposed to the sun and heat, I have to keep it a bit more on the wet side so the tree doesn’t dry out too quickly.  This will also help develop some feeder roots close to the trunk.

Personally I wouldn’t recommend putting a deciduous tree in such a dry mix to anybody because the minute this tree gets too dry, it will become weak and loose branches.  Since most bonsai hobbyist can’t keep an eye on their trees 24/7, I would suggest a mix with more akadama.  If you’re a person with a day job, I would go with at least 50 percent akadama to prevent the tree from drying out too long.  Depending on your local weather pattern, you can reduce or add akadama to your needs.  Are you going to get the same kind of growth as I will with my mix?  Probably not, but you will still get good growth during the year.

I’m looking for maximum root growth on this Trident and I’m paying the price for it by having to monitor and water the tree all the time. The other reason is that I simply am able to do it.  I’m here at the nursery all the time and have the ability to see the tree everyday.  Does this mean that my tree will grow faster and stronger then a tree in a wetter soil?  Of course, but like I said, I’m paying for it.  I think you all may have better things to do then to water a tree four times a day.  ;o)

Next year when I pop the tree out of the pot, I’ll update you all on what the roots look like, but enough about this tree.  It’s off to other things!

Thanks for reading!

P.S. If you are actively reading this blog, I would appreciate it if you subscribe to it (right column of the blog).  This is one of the best ways for me to know how many people are reading.  Thanks!

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19 thoughts on “Restarting a Trident Maple

  1. Donald says:

    Great post as usual. We are all very lucky that you take the time to share some of the information you are learning during you apprenticeship. On this Trident, if most of the branches were approach grafted and you remove them would still get the same results in new growth as if they were natural branches?

  2. […] Restarting a Trident maple by Peter Tea. From bonsai pot, back to training pot. […]

  3. Yet another thoroughly enjoyable and helpful post. Thank you. We are growing our maples here in Northern Ireland in what are, by your standards, cool and wet summers so development is much slower.

  4. Peter Tea says:

    Thanks everyone!

  5. George Haas says:

    Great post from start to finish. Glad to see back at it!

  6. ed curlee says:

    Thanks for your posts. I have a very nice trident maple which, with your guidance will become better.

  7. Dirk says:

    Nice to get info how to start a tree like this. Looking forward for next posts.

  8. Jeff Q says:

    Thanks for the post on developing maples Peter. I’m looking forward to reading your follow up posts on this tree.

  9. Chris Glanton says:

    Excellent post as usual Peter! Great Trident to redevelop with that great trunk and bark. I hate to ask, as it’s always very controversial, but here in the states, do you think that a mix of pumice and turface gives the same growth as pumice and akadama? I’ve resisted trying akadama just due to cost. But I’m willing to try it if it’s really head and shoulders above the use of turface?

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this progress over the next couple yrs!

  10. Jim says:

    Thanks for another great post, Peter – this is great stuff!

  11. Hi Peter,
    The NW is not the place to develop Tridents or Black Pines. We like to purchase them from California. I can’t believe you get closure on a 4 cm wound in one season! The other surprise is root cutting on a budded out tree. I would have only repotted before bud break. Dare I give this a try?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Tom,

      We repot Tridents when the leaves are already pushing. Most professionals here actually prefer to do that. Japanese Maples are a bit more risky but it’s done on them as well. I have found that this sudden stress to the tree will slow the tree down and give you shorter internodes. I don’t think anybody doesn’t want that! LOL.

      Black Pines as well are repotted as the candles start to move. Not really pushing that it’s the only correct way, but that’s what they’re doing here.

      Thanks for the comment Tom. Take care!

  12. john weathers says:

    I just air layered a Trident Maple after a workshop with Bjorn Bjorholm. I hope it comes out well next spring as well 🙂 I really enjoyed your Trident Maple post.

  13. Kristian White says:

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for all the detailed information about tridents. I am looking forward to your next one on this tree. Thanks again!

  14. Sandy Vee says:

    Do you mean on every tree you have to consider the amount of moisture the tree requires and do an individual mix for each tree or only trees in development?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Sandy,

      Yes in a way. Usually there is a mix for deciduous trees and a mix for conifers. Certain trees you can play around with the mix a bit to attain better root and tree development. Depending if the tree is refined or developing can also change the soil. It’s never a one size fits all type of thing but it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

      Just break the trees down to a few categories such as, deciduous or conifers, then refined or developing and size of the tree. If the tree needs more water, then the akadama level should be higher. If the trees need less water, go with less akadama. Particle sizes plays a part of how wet or dry the tree will be and also how fast the roots will grow. Large size particles are drier and roots grow faster. Small size particles are wetter and the roots grow slower.

      So for example, if you had a shohin Trident maples, you would go with high akadama content because the tree likes water. The particle size should be small because small particles hold more water and the roots will grow slow because we need shohin to grow slow to develop small branches.

      Does that make some sense? I guess nobody says Bonsai was easy. LOL! I’ll talk more about soil in a future post as well. Thanks Sandy!

  15. Mark says:

    I look VERY forward to following the progress of this tree since I am growing a few of my own. Thanks for all the info Peter!

  16. cherylas2009 says:

    HI Peter,

    glad to see you are back at it. Interesting post on tridents.

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