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The Trident Maple Project and Summer Maple Work

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

After a long day of De-candling and pulling needles, it was good to get back to the leafy trees.  The hours after dinner are considered my free time and I took that opportunity to revisit this Trident Maple Project!  Normally, I would have gotten to work on this tree earlier but I decided to allow some branches to extend to strengthen the tree.  After all, I did cut off a bunch of branches and repotted it a little late in the season.  If you would like to read about the cut back and repotting of this tree last April, you can visit that post by clicking here.  The early Summer evenings are cool now and it is a good time to get some work done.  I grabbed my camera and got right to it.  In this post, I am going to share how I defoliated, cut back and wired this Trident Maple.  I will also talk more in-depth about the concept of defoliation and have some pictures as to how we do it here at Aichien.  Lets have a look at the tree!

So the tree has grown quite a bit of foliage since  mid April.  The first thing I did was examine the tree and check the overall health.  Things we look for is overall growth and vigor.  Depending on the health and strength of the tree will determine is we should proceed with a specific technique.  If the tree isn’t doing very well, then we would split off from normal routine work and move into health rebuilding mode.  Overall, this tree is growing well and is healthy.

My Goals at This Time

My goals for this tree at this point is to defoliate all the leaves and cut back any branches that are either too long, too strong, or un-needed.  I also plan on wiring branches to space them apart more evenly to allow for better branch development.  A couple of extra curves here and there couldn’t hurt either.  I pulled out my nice sharp scissors and got right to work.  Here are some of the things I did.

What? Not all cuts on a tree are final???  Well… yeah…

Haha!  Anyways…

Tricky huh?  Lots to think about when cutting.

To quote Mr. Tanaka: “If you want to make great Bonsai, you always have to be thinking.”  I guess Aichien is a no zombie zone as well.

Callus on Trident Maples can be fairly thick and looking at the callus now, I wish I had made the original cut deeper.  I may have lucked out though because older Trident Maples tend to have a more muscular feeling on the trunk and bulges here and there are normal.  Perhaps this callus can be used as a feature as opposed to a fault.  I guess only time will tell.


I’m not going to get too deep into how I wired this tree, but here are some basic things to know about wiring deciduous trees.

Aluminum wire

Normally deciduous and broad leaf evergreens are wired with aluminum wire.  Reason being is that the wire is soft and the thickness of the wire helps in distributing the pressure of the wire along the surface of the branch.  Deciduous and board leaf evergreens tend to have thin bark so excessive pressure will damage the branch.  Also, since Aluminum wire is soft, the wire size used to bend a branch typically needs to be a 1 to 1 ratio.  If the branch thickness is 2mm, then the wire will needs to be about 2mm as well.

Summer Heat

I re-applied sphagnum moss on the soil surface and put the tree back in its spot. There is no need to protect the tree at this point because the Summer hasn’t gotten very hot just yet.  If I worked on this tree at the peak of Summer, then I would keep it under shade cloth till the temperature started to fall.  Normally, Trident maples can handle a lot of sun and heat.  We have Trident Maples in Bonsai pots that sit out in the full Summer sun with no problems at all.  The temps in Nagoya during August (hottest month) can reach 104F (40C) with humidity in the 70-80 percent range.  The difference is that those out in the hard sun is still in development and tend not to have soft thin ramified branches.  All the really refined trees are under 50 percent shade cloth during the Summer.  Hopefully in the future, This tree will be good enough to put under shade cloth. ;o)  The work for this tree is now finished.  I’ll revisit this tree again the next time I work on it.

Bonsai Techniques

When studying Bonsai, the most important lesson to learn is when and when not to use a particular technique.  Many times, people will talk about different types of bonsai techniques but forget to mention when it’s actually appropriate to use them.  This causes a lot of confusion and undesirable effects to ones trees and often leaves people feeling disappointed.

Some of the most basic concepts in Bonsai can be extremely complex with multiple variables.  To quote Boon Mankitivipart, “Basic doesn’t mean easy.”  Just because someone pinches or defoliates a Trident Maples doesn’t mean the tree is actually getting any better.

There are three things we need to consider before we use a Bonsai technique:

1. How?

2. Why?

3. When?

If we can reasonably answer these three questions, then we can proceed with the work.  If we can’t, then we have to find out either through experimentation or advice from a credible source such as a Bonsai professional.

Defoliating Trident Maples

Has anybody realized that in this post so far, I’ve yet to mention why I defoliated this tree?  Well, the reasons are much more than, “because it’s a maple.”  Lets talk more about the technique of defoliating and come up with some reasonable explanations of how, why and when we do it.

How? – 

Defoliating is the removal of foliage from a tree.  Using scissors to cut the leafs off is preferred over pulling because pulling can potentially rip small branches off, which is the opposite of ramifying the branches…

Why? –

There are several reasons for defoliating a Trident Maple:

1. Back Budding – after defoliating, a lot of sunlight reaches the interior of the tree and helps promote back budding or strengthening of weak interior branches.

2. Branch Ramification – Though defoliating a Trident Maple doesn’t cause the branches to ramify, the cutting back or pinching of new shoots associated with defoliating creates ramification.

3. Smaller leaves – New leaves that bud out after defoliation tends to be smaller than the original Spring leaf.  This helps in creating a more proportionate looking tree.

4. Slow and control – Defoliating the tree will slow the growth of the tree and makes it easier to control once ramified.

Basically, we can defoliate the tree if it’s for one or all of the reasons above.

When? – 

Trident Maples can be defoliated during the growing season (late Spring to early Fall).  Usually the first defoliation can be done after the Spring leaves have hardened off.  Depending on the local temps, they can be defoliated 1-4 times during the growing season.  They grow very well in hot and humid weather.  In Nagoya, we can defoliate a Trident Maple up to 4 times.  At the beginning of May, June, July, and September.

“When”, isn’t just about time of year, but the health and developmental stage of the tree itself.  Just because we have a Trident Maple doesn’t mean it needs to be defoliated.  Defoliation is done mainly on more developed bonsai where small foliage and tight branch ramifications are desired.  If the tree isn’t at that point yet, then it really shouldn’t be defoliate.  An example is the long branches I left on my project tree to thicken the main branch.  Of course, if the tree is weak and not pushing new shoots, it’s probably not a good idea to defoliate.  At that point, it’s a matter of nursing the tree back to health (shade, water control, light food).

Defoliating Japanese Maple

When it comes to Japanese Maples, the defoliating process a little different.  Compared to Trident Maples, Japanese Maples respond a bit slower.  Japanese Maples also seem to be much more susceptible to pest problems then Trident Maples as well, so stressing the tree too much during the growing season can make it a target for infestations.  Here is a quick look at the defoliating process of Japanese Maples.  The Why is the same but the How and When is different.  Here is the “How”.

Normally we defoliated Japanese Maples only once a year during May. Trident Maples that were defoliated in May will have fully leafed out by June, whereas Japanese Maples will have just started to push new leaves.  If the tree is young and vigorous, we can defoliate a second time but that would be the last.

Japanese Maples are much more sensitive to the hot Summer sun so we protected them under 50 percent shade cloth during Summer.  Other than that, the basic cut back techniques are similar to those of Trident Maples.  Japanese Maples don’t ramify as easily as Trident Maples so many times, they have a much more open and airy look.  This seems appropriate since the trees have a soft feeling to them.  Tridents on the other hand tend to have a stronger feeling to them so they tend to have many more ramified branches.


So let review!  Summer is the time to work on deciduous trees, which includes wiring, cutting and defoliate but not always done exactly the same on every tree.  We should take the time to ask ourselves how a technique is performed, why it’s performed, and when.  Though we may understand a technique, lets always keep our eyes and ears open to new ideas and ways of improving them.

Now if you have some Trident or Japanese Maples at home, take a look at them and see if they should be wired, defoliated or cut back.  Give it a try and see what the results are for you.  Doing Bonsai it is much more valuable and fun then reading about it.  Though I do appreciate that you are reading this post.

Thanks for reading and have some fun creating!

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