Tag Archives: Cutting back

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!

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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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