Root Over Rock Trident Maple Project (con’t)

Root Over Rock Trident Maple Project (con’t)

If you would like to see the first post I wrote about this tree, please click here!

Do you remember this tree?  It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about this Trident Maple.  For the most part, I’ve been posting about my other Trident Maple Project that’s not on a rock.  This picture was taken back in April and it was the final result of a much-needed repot, some branch removal and wound management.  I set it outside in the warm Spring sun but unfortunately because of the repot, the tree took some time to really start pushing strongly.  The tree hasn’t been repotted for about 10 years according to Mr. Tanaka so anytime you dig into roots like that, it’s going to stress the tree heavily.  So while I was working on my other project trees this Trident was allowed to grow during the rest of the Spring and most of the Summer.  I fertilized the tree lightly till it started to pick up again and that’s when I gave it all the food it would take.  The tree started to grow very well during the Summer and at about the end of August,  I felt the tree was strong enough to be worked again.

I should have gotten this post out much earlier so I do apologize for the delay.  Being home for most of September and getting back in the mode of the apprenticeship has taken up much of my time of late.  I guess it’s better late than never so here it is.  The first update of this root over rock Trident maple project!

To Your Health!

Here is what the tree looked like at the end of August.  It grew some…  Trident maples can take lots of sun during the developing years.  This tree was unprotected throughout the hot Summer days with no problems at all.  Of course, I made sure to keep it well hydrated.  Refined trees on the other hand with thin delicate branches need to be protected with shade cloth.

Health is priority #1 in Bonsai.  If the tree isn’t healthy, it’s not going to respond to the work that we do to it.  Since the tree was slow to grow during the Spring and early Summer, I let everything on the tree go so that it can regain its vigor.  If I had started stressing the tree too early by cutting or defoliating, I may have lost many branches or even the whole tree.  Sometimes we just have to forget about the tree for a while and let it run wild!  As you can see above, a strong growing tree is the result.


Here is the tree after we cut off the leaves.  Note how we didn’t defoliate the leaves on the main branch?  If you remember from the original post, I need this branch to get thicker so we’re letting it continue to run till I get the desired size.  Of course, a branch with leaves, left to run is always stronger than a branch with no leaves, left to run.

Wound Management

Remember when I reopened all those half-healed wounds on the trunk?  I applied cut paste to get the wounds to heal completely.  This picture was taken back in April.

Here’s a shot of the top four wounds in August.  I scrapped the cut paste off so that you can see the closed callus.  As the calluses starts to age, they will change color and blend in with the trunk.  Before long, they will just become small muscular bumps on the trunk (which actually makes the tree look older).

Cutting Time

With all the new growth on this tree, it’s definitely time to cut some new shoots back.  Shoots that are usable as new branches are wired while others that are too thick are cut off completely.  Here are some examples of things we did.

As you can see here, there is a strong thick branch growing straight up.  We could put wire on this branch and try to bend it down but it will have an excessive amount of an up and then down curve.  If the branch was thinner we might have been able to get away with using it but in this case, just a bit too thick.  Time to cut!  The nice thing about working on a deciduous tree is that we never have to be afraid to cut.  The tree grows new branches all the time!

Now the branch is gone!  Of course, we sealed the wound with cut paste after.  Now that the strong branch has been removed, the other small branches left behind (good and usable branches) can continue to develop.

*side note*

One basic horticultural concept to understand in Bonsai is that when a tree decides to make a branch a new leader, it will take food away from the surrounding branches.  Trees always want to grow bigger when they are small and young.  Usually these branches are the ones that seem to thicken faster than other branches and are usually growing straight up.  We have to be careful with these branches because even if we try to control it by cutting it back, the tree may respond by back-budding on that same branch and creating a new stronger leader.

What I found on deciduous trees is that if these strong leaders start to form, it’s best to cut them off completely and develop the moderate or medium strength branches instead.  This will keep the growth of the branches balanced and actually make it easier for us to develop our bonsai.

Here is an example of an old cut point back in April.  Note how multiple branches started to grow from the same area.

I cut the cluttered area back slightly and got it back down to two branches.  That makes life so much easier.  😉

Lets see if you can spot the branch that I cut off?  I promise you that the next photo IS different.

Take your time.  I couldn’t even see it at first either!  Haha.

Okay, if you still can’t see it, look at where my middle finger is.  See how the small thin branch is gone?  So why do you think I cut this branch off?  I mean, it’s small and a back bud right?

The reason why I cut this particular back bud off is because if I allowed it to grow, it would produce a third branch in the middle of two already usable branches.  Now if one of the two larger branches were unusable, then I would have kept the small new branch and cut off the bad branch.  So instead of allow the little branch to grow and taking up food, it can now be directed at a different branch that is being developed.

Here is an example of a thick old branch that will not back bud.  It’s the whitish branch that is arching down with the strong new branch at the end.  I cut this branch back in April to see if anything would back bud but only the bud at the end grew.  Since this branch is at the top of the tree, the internode is just too long.  The good news is that there is a new branch that’s growing right underneath.

*another side note*

Anytime you cut off a large older branch to promote back budding and the only place it buds back is at the base of the branch, that automatically tells you that the tree would rather grow a new branch instead of back budding on the old branch.  In that case, it’s time to remove the old and use the new.

Here is the old branch removed.  Unfortunately, the new branch that grew underneath also has somewhat of a long internode.  We’ll wire it down for now but I have a feeling I’m going to have to cut it back again in the future and grow a new smaller branch at its base.  Again, the sacrifice to structure we have to make for the tree to get stronger.  It’s okay though, remember what I said about deciduous trees earlier?  😉

Here’s example of what we can do with a straight branch with no taper.  It’s time to cut it back to one of the many small side branches that are growing.   Do you see that strong leader branch at the end?  If we want small side branches to grow well, we definitely need to cut this guy off.

That feels better!

Perhaps some of you are wondering, why not cut to the smaller branches further back?  That is a good question!  The reason why is because I want the thickness and length of this branch.  If I cut the branch too far back, there would be a short internode on such a thick branch.  That would not look very natural at all.

Here’s a new branch that is growing straight up and thick!

That was easy

Here’s an old branch that is stiff and cluttered.  It would be difficult to bend this one into place.  Working with older branches can be unpredictable because they may have gotten damaged in the past and we can’t see the damage anymore or the tend not to respond to work like a new young branch.  In this case, there is a new branch that’s growing right beside it.  So as I said before, this is a sign from the tree that it doesn’t want to spend its time on an old branch anymore and is focused on the new.  You know what to do!

That’s much cleaner.  Now all we need to do is wire the new branch into place.

We were fortunate to have a visiting apprentice by the name of Matej Planinc here during August and I left the wiring to him.  Matej is from Slovenia and was with us for three weeks.  He was a working machine and got lots and lots of practice on developing Trident Maples.  I just found out that he recently graduated from the Faculty of Law in the University Ljubljana with honors.

Good for you Matej and congratulations!

So here is the tree after the good work of Matej.  Some branch were cut to build more branches whereas other areas were allow to elongate and thicken.  The work on this tree is done for now and it was placed under shade cloth to ride out the rest of the hot Summer.  We put some fresh fertilizer as well because we know the tree is going to be hungry when the new leaves start to come out within a week and fully open in 3-4 weeks.



It’s now close to the end of October and the tree has completely leafed out.  Once the weather started to cool down, I placed the tree out in the full sun again to allow it to build up more strength.  The next time we work on this tree will be in late November when the leaves start to turn.  At that time, I will remove the leaves, remove the wire and do some light pruning.  This tree still has a ways to go but we’ll keep at it and continue to show its progression in the coming years!

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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!


Coming up next!

I revisit my other project Maple. Here’s the tree before work in the beginning of July

Here is the same tree before we worked on it again at the end of August.

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11 thoughts on “Root Over Rock Trident Maple Project (con’t)

  1. Great Post! excited to see the next!

  2. Fabrice says:

    Hi Peter, it is a nice work and I have few questions.
    1) why doing such word in this period, was it ok to do it in the begining of the spring ? What are the pro and cons ?
    2) why do you need to defoliate a part of the tree: for fine work ?because it’s easier that way (and wiring) ? because it allowed you to see the structure of the tree or because you want at this stage smaller leaf ?
    3) when you have the choice on working on 3 buds for the future, one weak one medium and one strong, which one do you prefer because I was told always if you have the choice to work on strong bud to have alway a strong tree.
    Thanks a lot for your attention

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hello Fabrice,

      Thanks for reading the blog! Here are the answers to your questions.

      1. This work particular post was done in August. Doing the same thing earlier in the season is perfectly fine. On most developing Trident Maples, we can do this type of work several times during the Summer period. In this case, the tree was left to grow during most of Summer to gain strength because of the stress of being repotted. For healthy and established trees, doing this work early in the Summer is good because the tree will be full of leaves and a lot of the interior branches that are being developed are in the shadows. If we wait till the late Summer to do this work, the shaded branches would have died off already.

      For this tree, I had to sacrifice the interior branches such so that the stronger branches can grow and strengthen the tree. Once I cut the stronger branches back, new buds will start to grow on the interior and we can developing them next year.

      2. The reason why we defoliate is different for developing trees and refined trees. You can read more about here in a previous post.

      For his tree, the reason why I defoliated it is to make the wiring easier and to force it to push new growth. Defoliation can be difficult to understand and explain because it can do two opposite things to the tree. In one case, defoliating the tree can slow it down giving you smaller leaves and branches (refined trees). In other cases, defoliating the tree can cause the tree to accelerate its branch development (developing trees). Understanding how different trees handle stresses that we apply to them is key to Bonsai, but is also very difficult to understand because the line between good stress and bad stress can be so blurry due to all the variables in the trees health, growth habits, sun, water, soil, fertilizer, stage of development, etc.

      3. It really depends on the type of tree and understanding how to balance the tree. There are going to be times where we keep any one of those strength of buds. Balancing a tree is all about getting it to grow uniformly so that the strength is equal from top to bottom. On certain trees, we have to keep the weaker buds at the top and the stronger ones at the bottom. On other trees, it’s the complete opposite (Azaleas or any shrub type trees). If you only kept the strong buds, it is true that the tree will stay strong. Is this something we want though? When we only keep strong branches, they tend to be thicker and tend to want to elongate quickly. This may be good when we’re first developing our trees but what happens when we don’t need strong growth or thick branches? In refined trees, the tree is already in good shape so we want to slow the development and focus developing the small twiggy branches. In that case, we’re looking more at keeping medium and weaker buds. The tree can grow slow and still be healthy. By no means am I suggesting that we keep our trees weak and sick.

      Very good questions Fabrice, and I wish I could be more complete in answering them because there really is so much to say. Hopefully it will help for now. These types of topics can be very complex and requires a lot of practice and experience to understand them. It’s very rare in Bonsai that the answer is yes or no and that the real answers are always, “it depends.”

      Thanks again Fabrice and take care!

  3. Daniel Dolan says:


    Concerning the large lower branch whose leaves you retained and “let it run”……does this apply to the winter and the next growing season……..or will this branch be pruned at any point this fall or sometime during the next year? Put another way…….do you ever prune this branch or simply wait until its the correct size ……no matter if this might be 3-4 years?

    Did you receive my question at your email about Soft, Hard and Baked Akadama?

    And while I am at it…………why are there virtually no vertical Suiseki?

    Best regards,


    • Daniel Dolan says:

      Though my comment regarding Suiseki was partly in jest…….an image search for Suiseki does produce a few more vertically accented viewing stone…… point being that they are not Japanese. Do you feel there is a cultural/artistic reason for this?

      • Sam Edge says:

        Daniel there are many vertical suiseki some being very famous having originated from both China and Japan. You might check out Matsuura’s book to see some spectacular vertical stones. and Vertical stones tend to be found in the styles of Iwagata-ishi, Taka-ishi, and Monyo-ishi, and Sugata-ishi.

        Hope this helps,

        • Daniel Dolan says:


          I know your excellent Blog devoted to Suiseki……I should have thought to consult it before asking my question. Thanks much. You might remember we corresponded when I was Newsletter Editor for Midwest Bonsai Society. Best Regards, D/D.
          Now………how come you never see 2 stones posed in some aesthetic dialogue together in the same suiban?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Daniel,

      I plan on letting the lower branch run throughout the Winter and into the next growing season. The reason why I don’t cut it back is because it does have buds all over it so when i do cut it back, they will activate and I can then develop them. If it takes 3 years to thicken, then 3 years it will run.

      On conifers, sometimes we have to cut the branch back and allow a new leader just so that we can get some back budding to occur. Once they come out and grow slowly, we can let the main branch run. Then when the branch is thick enough and it’s time to cut back, we have some branches to cut back too. This technique takes longer to thicken the branch but we get that time back because we already have some developing branches closer to the trunk.

      Thanks Daniel and yes I got the email about the akadama. I’ll reply to it soon. Take care!

  4. Jeremiah Lee says:

    I am giving you the “Most informative Bonsai Blog Award” Congrats!

    • Jeremiah Lee says:

      Peter, is it pretty safe to remove the leaves of any deciduous in late November?

      • Peter Tea says:

        Hi Jeremiah,

        Thanks for the kind words! Instead of removing the leaves in November, just look for leaf change instead. If about 50 percent of the leaves have changed, you can go ahead and cut the leaves off. If you want to enjoy the Fall color, then keep them on till they start to fall off themselves, then go into the tree and remove all the leaves.

        Thanks and take care Jeremiah!

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