#2 Trident Maple Project (con’t)

#2 Trident Maple Project (cont)

Trident Maple Project #2 (July 2012)

As promised, here is an update of my other Trident Maple project.  The last post I wrote about this tree was in June of 2012.  Please click here if you would like to see what I did back then.  I’ve worked on this tree twice during the Summer in July and August, but due to the busy schedule I hadn’t gotten a chance to write about it.  Instead of writing two post about this tree, I will put the two Summer visits into this one post.  Now that it’s Fall and the leaves are starting to change on the deciduous trees here, we will be working on this tree one last time to wrap up the year.  That post should be out in December.  But enough about the future, lets take a look into the past and see what I did first in July, then in August!

Beginning of June 2012

Just to re-cap, this is what the tree looked like after we defoliated/wire and cut it in June 2012.

Mid July 2012

Here is the tree about a month and a half later after we defoliated it.  As you can see, many of the branches pushed new growth. Note how there are long shoots and short shoots?  Why is that?  Unbalance?  The reason is, that shoots that were cut back last June, divided and produced two shorter shoots whereas branches that were not cut back, produced a single long shoot.  An example of an un-cut branch would be the main branches that were allowed to run.

Here’s a shot of the main branch. Within a months time, the wire is already biting in.  Note how the wire isn’t biting into the adjacent branch? Since the tree decided to make the thicker branch the leader, it will take more food and slow down some of the adjacent branches.  I’m not too worried about the scar on the branch because I want this branch much thicker in the future and the scars will disappear by then.

Here’s the branch after removing the wires.  Within a few weeks the grooves will heal and callus.

On to some of the branches. Here’s a long shoot that grew since the last cut.  Time to cut it back!

I basically cut the branch back to one internode (Remember that I’m trying to develop more branch division at this point as oppose to developing branch thickness).

Here’s a good example of two new branches growing since I cut the branch back in June.

Again I cut both branches back to two internodes to get more division.

Another example of a branch that was cut back last time and two new branches forming.

I cut back both branches to one internode.  Now we’re starting to see the results of our work.  Look further back in the branch and see how one branch divided into two, then those two branches dividing into four! Easy huh?!

Here’s an example of how a branch was cut back and only one of the buds produced a branch.  This can sometimes happen if the bud was disturbed or too stressed.  I could have accidentally bumped and stressed the bud when I applied the wire.  Sometimes a heavy hand is the reason why sections of a tree  isn’t growing well.  We must be more careful next time!

I cut the growing branch back and hopefully the slow bud further back will start to push.

Here’s a new branch that has grown from the inside of the tree.  This branch is perfect because there is a big hole in this area of the tree that needs filling.

I wired the new branch and put some curves into it.  I placed the end of the branch in the middle of the open area so that branches can grow on both sides eventually filling the entire area.  If I put the end of the branch too close to the branch on the right, half of the branch would end up being shaded and only the opposite side buds will grow new branches.  That can make filling this hole take much longer.  Also, structurally speaking, it would look a bit strange with branches only growing on one side.

Here is the tree after its second defoliation, cut back and some wiring.  I placed light fertilizer on the soil and put it out under shade cloth because we’re moving into the middle of Summer.  If I don’t put the tree under shade cloth, young branches may burn and even the trunk may burn and create dead areas.  That’s something we definitely don’t want.  If for some reason, you have a trident that has the trunk exposed to the sun, one thing you can do is place  a wet white piece of cloth on the trunk to reflect back some of the sunlight.  That will keep the exposed trunk cool and prevent it from being burned.  New leaves came out quickly and the tree was full again within 3 weeks.

End of August 2012

For most of the Summer, I watered the tree 2-3 times a day.  It was not often that the soil was completely dry and was always a bit damp when I watered.  Deciduous trees for the most part can handle wet conditions.  It seems that they rather enjoy having their soil wet all the time.  Just a re-cap, the soil mix I used for this tree is 80% akadama, 10% pumice and 10% coarse river sand.

Here is the tree at the end of August!  Looks like the tree exploded!  It grew really strong and as you can see, lots of leaves and lots of new runners.  By this time, the leaves have hardened off which means it’s time for the third and final defoliation/cut back of the Summer.

Here is the tree after I cut off all the leaves.  That was easy!

Before I got to work on the new shoots, there’s a branch that has always bothered me from the start, but I never addressed it.  I guess I was hoping it would turn out better as the development continued but instead has become much of an eye sore.  Note the downward curve of that thick branch?  That curve seems a bit strange because it’s so strong but then levels off quickly.  It’s the only branch that does that so it really catches people’s attention.  Lets remedy that!

Here’s a further look at the tree with that strange branch.

Here’s the tree with that branch removed.  That’s much better!  Now it’s only a matter of filling that hole with a better branch.

I went through the tree and did the same cut back I did in the previous months.  Here are some example of the trees developing more small branches.  At this point, the branches are too small and short to wire.  In the future when the small branches continue to develop and lengthen we can wire them out and position them.  So for the moment, all the new branches a bit messy but the focus right now is just getting branches to divide.

Here’s the new branch that I wired last time.  I removed the wire and the branch is holding its curve.  I then cut the branch back to promote the back buds to grow new branches.  Lets get this area filled!

This time around, I defoliated/cut back and removed the wire from the tree.  Again, I put some light fertilizer on the tree and set it back under the shade cloth.  Once Fall arrived, I placed the tree in full Sun.  The work on this tree is just about done for the year.  The last thing I will be doing is removing the leaves once the tree start changing colors.  I’ll give you all an update once I do that in December.

Wire Removal

So why do you think I removed all the wire now?  Was it because it’s biting into the branch?  Some were but most were still okay but I removed the wire anyways.  There are two reasons:

1. If we remove the wire and accidentally break or crack a branch, it is still warm enough for the tree to heal and recover.  If we removed the wire during the Winter and accidentally break or crack a branch, the tree will have a hard time to heal and could bleed out sap for a period of time.  If that happens, the tree can become very weak during the  Winter.

2. If we keep the wire on and Spring arrives, the tree will aggressively grow and could cause many of the wires to bite in very badly.  If we were to remove the wire before Spring, we can potentially break branches and cause bleeding issues, or stress the branches from de-wiring the tree and end up slowing the Spring growth down (though that could be a good thing, it’s never really an even stress of the whole tree).

A Look Back of the Summer of 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

Looking at all three pictures, it’s hard to tell that there has been much change in the tree.  Especially with all the long shoots and leaves that were grown and removed throughout the Summer.  Mr. Tanaka says that ramifying a Maple is a long-term project and that the results are always slow at first.  After 3-5 years though, we will start to really notice the results of our Summer work.  It makes sense because the branches are multiplying every time we cut it so next years branch yields should be much higher every year. 1-2-4-8-16 etc!

That long-term development is something that many people have a hard time understanding.  Most of use wants to see instant results now so it’s hard for us picture how a deciduous tree can become so ramified.  Either we quit and say the technique is not working or we start working with trees that can give us more instant satisfaction such as Junipers and other types of conifers (except pines ;)).  We have to keep working at it and continue to develop the tree because the end results are very much worth the effort.

My vision for this tree is to continue its branch development and make the tree several inches taller and several inches wider on both sides.  Hopefully if all goes well, those several inches will be filled with many small branches.

Here’s an example of a Trident Maple that has been grow and developed at Aichien.  This tree is about 50 years old.  The main branches took several years to develop and the densely ramified branches took over 10 years to develop.

Bonsai Time

10 years may seem like a long time, but think of it this way.  We get to have fun working on this tree for 10 years!  Isn’t that why we started practicing bonsai in the first place?  Isn’t developing the tree the fun part?  10 years isn’t that bad when you’re having fun and you know what they say about time moving faster when we’re having fun ;).  At the end when the tree is finally developed to the point that it’s just maintenance work to keep the shape, it can get pretty boring ;).  So go out to your back yard and have some fun developing your Bonsai!

Thanks for reading and please read the comment area below because there’s always good questions and a few extra tips!



Since many of the post I write are informational post, sometimes people like to refer back to old post to get some tips.  I have now made it easy by setting up a new page that indexes all the post I’ve written by categories.  Just look up at the menu bar at the top of the page and click on the link.  I hope this helps make it easier for you to find what you’re looking.  Thanks!

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28 thoughts on “#2 Trident Maple Project (con’t)

  1. Mac Caruthers says:

    Super demo with the maple — Whats the statis of “Remember Me” – Mac

  2. Donald Meeker says:

    Peter. I live in the SF Bay Area. My wife does a lot of import export of live plants. It can be a tricky process, particularly if there is soil involved. Any little bug, spider mite, aphid whatever can cause the plant to be confiscated. Very expensive to have fumigate. Check with Agriculture Departments in both countries for details, permits, restrictions etc. Follow to the letter. I have a large trident that I have been trying to develop more ramification for ten years. Wish I had your valuable information ten years ago. Great stuff, I’ll put it to work. Don

  3. Mark says:

    When is it better to partial defoliate or fully defoliate a trident? Great post.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks Mark!

      Fully defoliating and partially defoliating a tree depends on how fast you want it to grow. If you fully defoliate a tree, the new leaves and branches will grow faster than if you partially defoliate the tree. Refined trees tend to be partially defoliated whereas developing trees are fully defoliated.

      It seems strange that taking all the leaves away will make the tree grow more, but it does work out that way. It’s all about understanding how the tree manages stress and how much stress it can take. Just enough and the tree will grow stronger. Partial defoliation, though stressful for the tree, is not quite enough to get it to really push strong growth. The partially defoliated trees will normally grow new leaves to replace the lost leaves and sit there for awhile. Some areas will produce runners but not as much as if we were to defoliate the entire tree.

      Good questions Mark. Thanks and take care!

  4. […] but quite common in Japan.” Just in case you need another example, this Trident maple from Peter Tea Bonsai blog will do nicely. In Peter’s own words: “Here’s an example of a Trident Maple that has […]

  5. John DeMaegd says:

    I notice at the end of the work that you said you were putting the tree in the full sun in the fall. Why would you put them in the full sun then? I have already put my trees into winter storage wich is almost no sun.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi John,

      After I defoliated the tree in late August, I put it out in the full sun because the weather is still warm during the Fall. The tree will push out new growth. At the end of Fall or early Winter, the new leaves will start to change color and that’s when I’ll work on the tree again, removing the leaves and some slight pruning. After that work, the tree will stay dormant till Spring. In our area, we don’t have to put the trees in winter storage because the temps drop to about 30-32 F only. All we do is put them under a overhang to slightly protect them from the frost.

      I hope this clarifies things John. Thanks and take care!

  6. Stewart says:

    Thanks for the detailed notes adn photos Peter. I really enjoy seeing you’ve posted again and want to express my appreciation at your continued efforts to post!
    Well done mate!

  7. Hi Peter.
    Wow, what a vigorous grower! (both you and the tree 🙂
    I really enjoyed these maple posts.
    When (if) one manages to get a maple to that fantastic level of ramification as shown in the last picture, how do you maintain it like that?
    From what I have heard, some deciduous trees need their branches re-invigorated by pruning back hard and developing the outer twigs again, every 10-15 years or so, to maintain health. I imagined the owner of that last tree going: “Ok, done!” and cutting back to stubs to start over. Is it sustainable to just hold the growth back or does it need some level of pruning?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jonas,

      Thanks for the compliment!

      Once the maple gets this refined, it can stay that way for many many years. Normally the tree is partially defoliated one or twice a year. This will help keep the slightly interior branches healthy. At this point, the tree grows very slow and it’s all about maintain shape.

      When a tree gets this ramified for an extended period of time, the tree is only allowed to grow very slowly. This can weaken the tree year after year. After awhile, all it takes is forgetting to water the tree to a sudden heat wave and the branches will easily start to die off.

      There are a couple of options you can do. Either thin the tree out more frequently to maintain vigor, or allow the tree to dense up and at one point needing to restart the branches to reinvigorate the entire tree. Pros and cons for either method. Method 1 gives you a stronger tree but less ramification. Method two gives you a very dense tree but a strong cut back needed every 15-20 years and the tree being more sensitive to stresses (too hot, too cold, too dry, etc).

      Of course, there are other factors involved such as soil composition. Our ramified deciduous trees are in 70-80 percent akadama, 20-30 percent pumice and corse river sand. Water retention very much affects how the tree grows and how well you can ramify the tree. Overly wet soil causes the tree to grow slow and dense ramification is almost impossible. Soil that is wet but is slightly dryer will cause the tree to grow stronger, hence allowing us to cut it back more often to create ramification. The soil mix we use above is considered the drier mix for deciduous.

      Good question Jonas! I hope my explanation helps. Thanks and take care!

      • Ray says:

        Hi Peter, I live in Vancouver bc, I believe we might only get twice a year defoliation due to shorter growing season. How long is the season where you are?

        Great information!!


  8. Lonnie says:

    Peter you are awesome! I love your comment about enjoying the process, I could not agree more. I have a lot to learn with maples and am looking forward to working with you when you return! I have a few trees that I’m applying these lessons to. Thanks again for all the blog post, I read them all many times over.

  9. Ray stagner says:

    Outstanding lesson on developement. Can’t wait to started…

  10. Brian says:

    Having just discovered you and your weakly email service, I anxiously await for thursdayevery week. I live mid Vancouver Island, ,(eastcoast), so I know you’re familiar with the yamadory we have In abundance. My question to you is, I have noticed some of our trees in some of yours and Ryan’s,and other Pacific Northwest artists collections and wonder how you get them into Washington. I have yamadory
    that I have trained for over 20 years and would love to participate in some of your events, but have found it so difficult to bring trees back and forth besides having a secret compartment in my truck that I can smuggle them across the border for the event. I sure would not want to lose one. Now that I know where you are on line given some time I hope to keep up this line of communication and maybe we can have some fun with it. I have a good friend (David Rowe), that I think has worked with you in the past. Nice man, beautiful trees. Until next time.


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for reading the blog. I’m not sure how people are bringing trees into the states from Canada because I’ve never done that before, so I can’t really help you there.

      We might have some of the same material that grows in our side as well and that could be why we have some of the same trees?

      Ryan Neil and Michael Hagedorn is putting together in show called the Artisan Cup in Portland if you want to get your tree to that show. I believe they have all the details on how to bring materials in from other states but not sure about countries.


      Thanks again Brain and I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more helpful. Take care

  11. dirk van dreven says:

    Thanks for another great post!
    One question though. why are leaves cut in the fall in stead of just leaving them on the tree until they fall of?
    Dirk van Dreven

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Dirk,

      The reason why we cut the leaves off in the Fall is to force the tree to go into dormancy slightly sooner. In this way, food from the tree isn’t being lost while the tree is changing colors. This makes for a stronger tree when the Spring season arrives next year.

      I will go more in depth about this topic at the beginning of December when we start removing the leaves on the maples here.

      Thanks for reading Dirk and take care!

  12. Connie Hi says:

    Thanks for the post on Maples and ramification. I am headed for the backyard now to start mine. Good Day

  13. Once again Peter thanks for an excellent article. Very very informative

  14. japanesepots says:

    Great post Peter! As always, it’s great to see the development of the tree over multiple sessions throughout the year. As you know, it’s the daily maintenance and work and that makes great bonsai, it’s great to see it documented!
    I really love that last root over rock trident maple. If I’m not mistaken, it’s owned these days by Matt Ouwinga of Kaede Bonsai En, though it still resides with you guys under the care of Mr. Fujiwara.

  15. Omar says:

    Peter reading your posts really moivates me to ant to continue to work on my trees and trynew things. I love maples and have been using theses techniques and have notied very similar development. You are so righ this all takes years not months. The key is defoliating, although I have never defoliated more than once in a growing season. This coming summer I plan to defoliate more. Thanks for the encouragement and keep up the good work

  16. Ray Norris says:

    Hi Peter, thanks for the detail on defoliation. i have 1 trident and need to develop strong branches and ramification. in vancouver,bc. i have only managed to get 1
    defoliation in early july. your tree looks great. looking forward to the next blog.

  17. tmmason10 says:

    Thanks for the update Peter, the tree is looking great. This is a great guide to ramifying maples and can’t wait to see how they progress

  18. cherylas2009 says:

    Hi Peter,

    nice post. I am getting some good information on tridents from your posts.

  19. Peter Tea says:

    Daniel Dolan ask:

    I have 3 Trident Maples all defoliated for the 2nd time in mid August and all came back strongly. These have been on my South facing balcony but only receive about 4-5 hours of direct sunlight…..even less now.

    My concern: they are all still completely green. Whereas my 5 others have changed color in October and are now leafless.
    Any observations…..are they doomed for any reason?


    Thanks for the question Daniel,

    When Tridents are defoliated, they always turn color later in the Fall Season. The reason being is that the trees that are defoliated have newer and stronger leaves than ones that were not defoliated. They will eventually turn though and fall off the tree. I noticed that defoliated trees seems to keep their leaves about a month longer than those that were not defoliated.

    The cool part is that defoliated trees tend to produce better fall colors than non-defoliated trees. Keep and eye out on your trees and see if that’s the case for you. Back in California, I defoliated one big Trident maple for a customer three times during the Summer and when the end of November came around, he got the best Fall color that he’s ever seen from the tree! It was awesome!

    So no worries Daniel and enjoy the extended Fall season! Take care!

    • Daniel Dolan says:

      The timing of your reply was perfect as was your information…….all three Tridents began turning yellow just yesterday.
      Best regards, D/D

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