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Restarting a Trident Maple

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

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.

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.

Just kidding!

 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!

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