The Trident Maple Projects (yes, another two…)

The Trident Maple Projects (yes, another two…)

Trident Maple #1

Trident Maple #2

As if I wasn’t busy already, I decided to add a couple more project trees to my plate.  Let’s hope I don’t regret it in the future.  ;o)  In this post, I’m going to chronicle two Trident Maples I’m going to develop throughout my apprenticeship here at Aichi-en.  The trunks have already been developed and I’m mainly focused on branch development and ramification. I hope to give some insight for those of you that have Trident Maples and not quite sure how to develop the branches and get them nice and dense like you see in the show books.  As the two trees progress over the year (assuming all goes to plan…) I will update you on their progress with plenty of pictures.  Since I’m talking about pictures, there is going to be about 60 pictures in this post, so I’m getting you started right and hopefully you have a bit of time to go through the whole post.  I thought about dividing this post into a few parts but I always been annoyed by the words, “to be continued,” so I’m going to lay it all out right here and now.  I got a nice warm cigar lit and I’m ready to get down to business.  Let’s get started.

Trident Maple #1 Root Over Rock

Let’s have a look at the three other sides


The Back

The other side

Instead of having two Trident Maples that are similar such as in my last post about the two Rough Bark Japanese Maples, I decided to change it up a bit and develop one root over rock.  If you’re not familiar with a root over rock tree, it’s pretty much a tree that has grown it’s roots around a rock.  Simple huh?

As you can see from the pictures, the leaves have already started to push.  This okay for Trident maples because they are very strong trees.  If you plan on repotting a Trident maple with leaves already pushing, be a little less aggressive with the roots and all will be fine.

Getting Rid of the Bad

Though the tree looks like it has plenty of branches already, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s structurally good.  We have to take into consideration branches thickness and taper when developing the branches on a deciduous tree.  We can develop a dense tree but if all the branches are too skinny or too thick, it doesn’t look as realistic or natural.  Before we get to the branches though, we have to check out the trunk and see if there’s anything that needs to be changed or fixed there.  Let’s have a look.

Here is the base of the tree.  Pretty good base but it can be cleaned up a bit.  I especially like the root on the left that is flowing down over the rock and into the soil.

Here’s a shot further up the trunk.  The first thing I decided to do was clean the trunk of flaking bark and green algae.  I used the tool pictured to lightly peel off the loose bark.  Bark will normally start to form on Trident Maples at about 10-15 years.  This particular tree was grown in the ground for over 20 years and has been in a bonsai pot for the last 10 or so years.

As I peel the bark, you can see that it reveals a nice orange reddish color.  After a few weeks, this color starts to fade and turn grayish.

Once I peeled off all the flaking bark, I took a brass brush and lightly brushed the trunk to remove the dirt and algae that’s developed over the years.

Here’s a shot of the tree with a clean trunk.  Another nice technique in removing dirt and algae from the trunk is to use water and an electric toothbrush.  It actually makes the job much faster and easier.

As I cleaned the bark, I noticed some old small scars.  I’m not a big fan of scars on Trident Maples so I’m going to get these scars to heal up.  Some Bonsai enthusiast out there likes to show off scars and dead wood on Tridents but I think these small scars are more distracting then interesting.

What I did was taking a small carving too and re open the scars.  By doing this, the tree will sense the open wound and want to heal itself.  I did this to all the small scars I could find on the trunk.

Next thing I did was cover the fresh wounds with cut paste.  This step is important because the tree will heal much faster this way.  Just think of a cut on your finger and using a band aid.   Using a band aid always makes a cut heal faster.  If I don’t use cut past, the wound will start to heal but may not close completely leaving me with what I had before.  I expect these scars to heal by Summer.

Now To the Branches

The following photos are examples of what I decided to cut.  Obviously I can’t talk about every branch scenario out there, but this will give you some good examples of areas to cut.  Ideally, branches on trees should be growing away from the trunk.  The best structures are always a simple structure so if you keep that rule in mind, you will develop beautiful branches. This tree had it’s main branches wired years ago and the rest of the small branches were developed by cutting only.  The cuts were quick and not much attention was neccesarily placed on how good they looked.  Let’s fix that.

Noticed where I cut?  There was a long branch that was growing off to the left and I decided to cut it off and allow the smaller (developing taper) left over branch to grow away from the trunk.  This will hopefully help create some back budding on the long main branch as well.  In the future, if I get something to back bud, I may cut more of this branch back.  For the time being, I’m going to stop here.

Here’s an example of branches that grow straight up.  Sometimes these branches can be wired and bent down and outwards but this short stub is too thick to bend.  Also, there are four branches coming out from one point.  Let’s clean this area up.

I cut the branches growing up and I applied cut paste afterwards.  Branch structures always look cleanest when they divide into two.  Sometimes three branches growing out of one spot is okay but it should look clean and they’re usually the smaller branches.

A bit difficult to see but this is the back branch of the tree.  There are several branches growing upwards.  Some are too thick to bend whereas others are so straight up that if I bent them down, they will have a strange curve on them that looks unattractive.

Here’s the same area with three branches cut off.  Looks better already!

Here is the tree after I did a bit more cutting and repotted.  I put the tree in a larger pot to allow the roots some extra room to grow.  I’ll talk more about the repotting process on the second tree.  As you can see, the tree isn’t as full as it was.  I kept the branches I could use and got rid of the others.  At this point I am finished and I’m going to let the tree grow throughout the Spring.  I will fertilize the tree in a couple of weeks and revisit the tree in the Summer.  At that time, I plan on wiring the branches that I have and any new ones that has grown.


Here is a quick before and after.

Trident Maple #2

The four sides of Trident #2


The side

The back

The other side

On this Trident, I followed the same steps as I did with the first Trident.  Let’s take a look at the trunk.

Here’s a shot of the trunk with the bark cleaned off.  I also showed the tool I plan on use to cut the branches.  It’s a spherical concave cutter.

There was only one scar on the trunk so I quickly took care of that and moved on to the branches.  This tree has a lot more usable branches then the last Trident Maple but there was still some that I needed to cut.  In this photo, you can see a cluster of branches growing from one spot.  This is a problem needs to be addressed.

I cut off the bulk of the knob and kept three branches.  This scar will heal and create a little bump but in the long term, will smooth out and make the branch look interesting.

My hand makes an appearance here to make the branch easier to see. :oD This branch is a bit thick to be so far from the trunk.  There are lots of back buds so it’s time to cut and promote some smaller branches to develop.

I cut the branch back to a bud that is starting to grow.  Depending on how the other branches grow, I may cut off this entire thick branch in the future.  For now, I’ll leave it there.

Here’s an example of a leggy branch.  The thickness is okay but it’s so long with no division in the branch.

I cut the branch to a pair of growing buds.  These buds should grow into branches during the Spring and I should be able to wire them in the Summer.

Here is an example of developing taper.  There are two branches that have divided and a thick third branch in the middle.

I cut the center thick branch off and kept the smaller side branches.  These two branches should elongate in the Spring and I will wire them in the Summer.

Here’s a shot of some thick branches growing out of one spot on the trunk.  Normally we only want one main branch coming off the trunk.  Sometimes two is okay.

I cut off the thick third branch that was growing up.  I tend to keep branches that are growing down or level first because they are the most difficult ones to develop.  Branches that grow upwards are easy to make and only taken into consideration after the downward and outward branches are developed.

More examples of thick branches growing straight up.

Better already!

As I move my way to the top of the tree, there was a big problem at the top that needed correcting.  Here is a shot of the top before the cut.

On this side shot, you can see that there are two branches growing up creating two apexes.  Deciduous trees in general should only have one apex.

I cut of the thick branch that was the second apex and left the rest as side branches.  Now we have one apex.

Here’s what the apex looks like after I cut off the second apex from the back.

I went through the top and cut back some leggy branches as I did with the lower branches and this is what the tree looks like now.  Much cleaner.  Note there is a triangular shape to the canopy.  This will allow light to reach the bottom branches and stay strong.  There’s still much work to be done but that will be in the future.  Let’s repot!

First thing I did was cut off the tie down wires.

Note how I cut the wires completely flush.  This will insure that they don’t get caught on the drain holes of the pot and make it difficult for me to pull the tree out.

Since the pot was so shallow, the tree came right out.  Look at all those nice roots I’m about to cut…

I took my root rake and started to rake the bottom roots out first.

Once I raked the bottom roots out, I used my root scissors and cut the bottom nice and flat.

This is to show you just how flat the bottom is.

Next I started working on the side roots.  I used this root hook to break apart the tight compacted roots.

Once I raked all the side roots out, I looked at the root spread (nebari) and there were some things I needed to fix.  Just like branches on the tree, we want the root spread to grow out and away from the trunk.  In this example, there is a thick root growing back into the trunk.  Now is the time to fix this problem.

Trident Maples can take a lot of root work so I’m never afraid to cut.  Since this tree has a lot of feeder roots, I was definitely confident in cutting off bad roots.  If scars like these are beneath the soil line, I don’t use cut paste.  The moisture of the soil will keep the wound moist and I’m hoping for some roots to grow out of this cut.

Here’s another example of a root growing back into the trunk.

Problem solved.

Here’s an example of a root growing along the trunk.

Now you can see with the bad roots removed, the left over roots show a more natural root spread that moves away from the trunk.  As I repot the tree in the future, I will continue to fine tune and develop the root spread.

Last thing I did was cut off the leggy side roots.  This will force the roots to divide and ramify.

Now that is a tidy looking root ball!

Here is the tree after I tied it into the pot.  Again, I put the tree in a larger pot to give the roots some space to grow.  I didn’t show the tie down procedure but will in the future on a different post.  I also tilted the tree to the right a bit to show off some of the buried root spread on the tree’s right and since the flow of the tree is going to it’s left, I wanted the apex a bit more on that side.  Next I watered the tree and placed it in a nice sunny area.  Like the first Trident, I will fertilize in a couple of weeks and revisit the tree in the Summer.


Another quick before and after

Well there you have it!  Two more trees in the production line.  I’m looking forward to the continued development of these trees and lessons I’ll learn from them.  As I write more about them in the future, I hope that you too will learn some lessons and have some ideas of what to do on your own trees.  As always, please feel free to comment on this post and share your thought, observations and questions.

The 500 mark!

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and Thanks for reading.

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28 thoughts on “The Trident Maple Projects (yes, another two…)

  1. Candace says:

    Peter, Your posts just keep getting better, which is difficult to believe since they have always been great. You are inspiring me to do a bonsai-along, or maybe a maple-along – getting a maple in similar state and trying to follow your methods on development with my own tree. Why sit on the sidelines? Thanks again for the amazing effort to help us all learn more and better bonsai development techniques.

  2. Ron Anderson, Santa Cruz says:

    Love the after tree photo, has great potential. Love your blogs Peter….very good teaching….some seems very familiar! Good to see this info being shared

  3. Alexandra says:

    Thank you very much for your detailed description and for your time.
    This is very generous of you.
    But, that’s what bonsai is.

  4. […] of Peter Tea’s freshly worked-on Trident maples. You’ll have to use your imagination to get a feel for what […]

  5. Peter Tea says:

    Thanks as always everyone for reading!

    To good Bonsai and having fun!

  6. Fr. Tom Davis, OSA says:

    Awesome post Peter! Your pictures and comments really help me to see and understand why it is that you have done what you did to correct the problems you see… very helpful, as I have a couple of Tridents I’m working with. Many thanks Peter for the hard work and knowledge you share!!!

  7. Sandy Vee says:

    Peter, I really learn a lot from your posts and appreciate the time you take to give so much detail.

  8. Mike Arakaki says:

    Thanks for taking the time during the work to take step by step pictures, I really appreciate your efforts and continue to learn a lot!

  9. Connie Hi says:

    Thoughts of Tridents run through my head, because I have one that needs more work. It is nice to see you in action on yours.

  10. LANDRAU jean-paul says:

    Bravo Peter, vos posts sont très intéresent, ils nous apportent beaucoup, un grand merci. jean-paul

    • Peter Tea says:

      Merci d’avoir lu le blog de Jean-Paul! Je vais continuer venir. J’ai utilisé Google translate et j’espère donc que cela est correct. Prenez soin.

  11. bonsaijapan says:

    Great post Peter! The first tree certainly has an interesting first branch. It will be good to follow its progress and see how you work it into the overall design.

  12. Julie Trigg says:

    Great post! Thank you! I eagerly read every tidbit and loved the closeup shots! I too, wondered about the “nice sunny spot” after the repotting, because in my area they would be baked in two hours. I usually do open shade?

  13. Nguyen Nguyen says:

    thank you verry much Peter every time I’m reading you post i alway learn more , and when you feed them a bout 10 day or more after repot ? and what kind a Fertilizing . Can you post and giving some tip working with shimpaku thank you verry much . Nguyen

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Nguyen, The food that we use is organic rapeseed powder that we put in tea bags. They are not very strong and is around 5-5-5. I plan on doing a post in the future about fertilizing so stay tuned for that.

      The next time I work on a Shimpaku, I’ll write a post about it as well. Thanks!

  14. Paul Wycoff says:

    Peter, another great post !!! Already there is a 1,000 percent improvement in the trees !!! I am delighted to see that even after buds have pushed to that extent that it is ok to completely root prune.

  15. Rusty says:

    Peter, thank you for another great post. I have two questions about grafting:
    1) what do you think about grafting branches of a slower growing, small leaf trident on to a trunk of a more vigorous variety?
    2) are root grafts used much with trident, or is there a better way to develop a root pad?
    Thank you.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hello Rusty,
      Here are the answers to your questions:
      1. Grafting smaller leaf characteristics on a regular trident is currently being done and have been done in Japan for a long time. This actually works out well and after awhile, you can’t tell that the branches were grafted. I would suggest having a trunk built already and grafting the branches. If the tree is small and different foliage is grafted on the trunk and used to develop the rest of the upper trunk, then there is a good chance you can see the difference forever.
      2. Roots on Tridents can develop rather easily so many times they are not root grafted. Usually, roots grafts are done on Japanese Maples. For Trident maples, what you can do is either expose some of the cambium during repotting in an area you want roots to grow and place moss in that area. Usually roots will grow. Another sure fire way to grow roots is to drill a small hole where you want a root to grow and take a long root from another section of the rootball and stick it into the hole. Use a toothpick or something and wedge it in. Once the root thickens and the hole starts to heal, they will fuse and the root will start to grow and reverse it’s flow direction. The next time you repot, you can cut the connection and you have a root where you want it.

      I hope this answers your question Rusty. Take care and I’ll see you soon!

  16. tmmason10 says:

    Another great post Peter. We all really enjoy this look into working on outstanding material. Looking forward to your tie down post as I have just watched Boons repotting video and like both his z-clips and tie down example.

  17. Hey I’ve been reading your blog for a while so thought it was about time I left a comment. I really enjoy your posts do thank you! I live in the UK and have been learning bonsai under Steve Tolley. Anyway I just wanted to say how informative your blog is and keep up the good work!

    Best regards


  18. warren vosper says:

    Looking forward to following the progress on these trees. I would especially like to see a follow-up post this summer on the scar healing.

    Also, you mention on tree #2 that after pruning and repotting you watered and put it “in a nice sunny area”. Most advice I have read (and which I follow) suggests a 10 day period in the shade to allow the tree to recover before reintroducing to sunlight. Is this more of a beginner -vs- master recommendation?

    Thanks again for your great posts.

    • Peter Tea says:

      That’s a great question Warren.

      If the tree is repotted early in the Spring, putting the tree in a Sunny area is not a bad thing. The roots will start to grow if the soil is warm. If the repotting is into the Spring and the days are getting warmer, then a week in the shade or under shade cloth is a great way to let the tree recover.

      I repotted the trees about 2 weeks ago now and the day time temp then was in the 60’s F so no problems there. Now the temp is in the 70’s F and will soon be in the 80s F. In this case, I would definitely shade the tree.

      I would say protecting the tree after any time of stress related work is a good all around safety net. We just can’t go wrong in protecting the tree after repotting, cutting and wiring. Having better skills and more knowledge of trees will allow people to fine tune what trees needs protection and what trees don’t.

      Thanks for the question Warren. Take care!

  19. […] the original here: The Trident Maple Projects (yes, another two…) « Peter Tea Bonsai comments: Closed tags: aichi-en, apprentice, apprentice-at-aichi, bonsai, dead-wood, […]

  20. Jeff Aldridge says:

    We are all very fortunate to be able to “channel” great trees and great work through your blog. Keep up the good work. The years of care these trees get make it clear why great bonsai command and deserve great prices.
    It would be interesting to know at what point araki are judged and discarded as having little potential. After my first trip to Japan, I gave away half of my trees. The remainder benefitted from extra time and attention.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for the comment! I did the same thing as well the first time I came to Japan and saw a big show. Hahaha.

      Deciding if a material is good or not depends on the person’s creative abilities and vision for the tree. Having said that, for the most part, trees that have no movement, lacks taper are some signs. It’s not that we can’t work with it, it’s just a matter or it taking too much time and it not being cost-effective at that point. Cost effective as in Time vs gains.

      There is a awesome Red pine that that is straight with reverse taper that has won Kokufu before. It’s a incredible tree because the bark is so good. In that case, people overlooked the reverse taper and liked the tree for what it is.

      Take care Jeff!

  21. Brad says:

    Hi Peter, Great progression. Thanks for posting this. Amazing the change already in these trees.

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