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[Help] Starting bonsai from sapling

Posted: Sun Apr 23, 2006 11:49 pm
by gatchaman

I want to bonsai some Crab Apple and ornamental Maple (sorry I'm not sure of specie) saplings and yearlings that emerged last year.

I plan to dig these up and start some training pots this next weekend when it'll be warmer. Then I don't know what to do next... I did just what I've described for the passed two summers and both years the trees have died on me, and I'm not sure why...This year I plan to put a lot more time and patience into the art, starting right now.

My questions are:

1) Is this an appropriate approach (method of propogation)?
2) What do I do next? Can I start wiring it now? Should I shear prune or finger prune? Can I prune immediately after potting?
3) Any tips/past experiences on this method of bonsai that would help me or give me some insight?

I'm at the zone 3 and 4 boundry, just north of Minneapolis.

Thanks in advance for all of your help...

Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006 5:09 pm
by koiboy01
When you pot them up pot them in a good mixture of compost and pea gravel to give them good drainage ,keep them moist but NOT WET and place in a area with dapled shade, and not seeing the plants I wouldn't prune them this year but wait until next year, but bonsai do get a better start if they are left in the ground until their trunk thickens as it could take years and maybe for ever to get a thick trunk in a pot.
Hope this helps.

Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006 6:38 pm
by opabinia51
What I would do is put the trees in regular pots with some good soil and just grow them in the pots for a year or two to allow them to adjust to pot growing. Use organic ferilizers with your trees and your can slowly prune them into a shape similar to what you will want for bonsai. Most likely you are going to want to shorten the trees and as Koiboy said; do some trunk thickening.

So, for trunck thickening: you are going to want to leave all the branches on the area of trunk that you want thickened.

Read all the information that Scott has posted in the bonsai section of the website but, I wouldn't get to excited about doing traditional bonsai just yet. Let your trees acclimatize to the pots first.

Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006 7:28 pm
by The Helpful Gardener
Both George and Opa offer good advice. George's thought on thickening is sound, but one of the beauties of starting with young material is the chance to direct growth with little or no real pruning of branches (Pine enthusiasts insist it is the only way to a flawless tree). With maples, branch selection can be as simple as rubbing off buds and leaf pruning (just spent hours with my Acer palmatum 'Kagoshima' and never touched a larger tool then the leaf scissors)...

Crab apples on the other hand sprout like weeds when cut back, so a good trunk can be bared entirely and you can select the branch you want from the hundreds that sprout. Whack that one wherever you can train a new leader... a sacrificial branch or two ( to thicken like Opa said) near the base will be easy to find...


Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 12:08 am
by gatchaman
George, Opa, Scott: Thanks a lot for the advice--this helps me more than you know.

I have a follow-up question, though, about thickening the trunk... Could you explain and reference me to a introduction on the techniques of thickening the trunk? An personal explaination would be just awesome.

Thanks again.

Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 7:54 am
by koiboy01
If you have seen bonsai where the trunk just looks like a pencil you will realise that it just dosn't look right and really the only way to get a thick trunk is by leaving the plant in the ground this way you can prune and shape to a certain degree and when the trunk has thickened up after a few years you can then dig it up and pot it on. I have several which I have left in the ground for a number of years and shaped them while in the ground and then carefully dug up and potted on,
I would advise if you have any shrubs or small trees in your garden with thickish trunks that you can carefully dig up,pot on and work on, you will get far more pleasure than waiting for your saplings to mature enough to work on,or search round a garden center for something that you think might make a nice bonsai and work on that.

Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 11:03 am
by gatchaman
George, this is great advice. Thank you. I will look around at the places you gives me a few ideas. Also, thanks for the encouragement.

Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 6:06 pm
by The Helpful Gardener
Advanced techniques like air layering and binding a trunk to develop root flare are covered in John Naka's Bonsai Techniques, the most excellent book I have found on the topic.