bendem
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Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Hi -

I live outside Richmond, Virginia. About six weeks ago, we had a forecast for an ice storm. There was a small Japanese Maple in my backyard that was located underneath some tall trees in my backyard, and it had lost some branches after snow- or ice-covered branches from surrounding trees have fallen upon it. Since I was concerned the maple could get wiped out by falling branches, and the idea of doing bonsai sounds appealing, I removed the tree from the backyard and have kept it in this really ugly "pot" inside my unheated garage.

Image

Image

OK, so the pot is actually a five-gallon bucket. I've drilled holes in the bottom for drainage purposes and have watered it three times so far since bringing it into my garage. My plan has been to let the tree go dormant this winter while I figure out what to do next. I've had the tree for about 7-8 years, having bought it from a nursery. At its highest point, it's about 19" tall with the "V" where its two main branches split off at about 12" of height. Its trunk is pretty skinny at about 1" at its widest.

So ... I am wondering if this tree has any potential for bonsai use. If so, do you have any suggestions on how to get started? Thanks in advance for any advice you can share.

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

bendem,

Hello and welcome to the forum. It probably would have been better to leave it in place for the remainder of the winter but that's water under the dam now. Glad to see that you have it located in an unheated space.

Do you know if this is a grafted tree? If it was purchased as a named variety then it will have been propagated asexually and likely be grafted. This is relevant to your course of action.

Norm

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Now (in the winter) you will need to research what is bonsai soil and replace the soil in your pot with a much faster draining mix. It is possible to use cactus mix as a short term fix.

I would not be suprised that you will need to enlarge the drain hole and use a hardware cloth screen to keep soil in the pot.

The garage is as good a place as any till spring.

Get-make a wooden chop stick to test your soil for moisture. Your tree is dependent on you supplying this tree with only the water it needs.

Can you reverse the size of a Japan maple to bonsai proportions? Yes you can.
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

So in order to "reverse the size" what would you do in the spring, when it has been brought out and starts growing again? Can you do a complete trunk chop on it or would you cut it down by stages? I know "Japanese maples back-bud readily on old wood and heal well from hard cutting, although it takes time for the bark to fully roll over the cut" [https://www.allshapesbonsai.com/blog/pla ... nese-maple].

I couldn't really tell from the picture, but it looks like possibly there is a graft union site just below the curve in the trunk. If that is true, bendem would want to cut just above the graft union site to keep the tree the same kind, right?

Incidentally, welcome to the Forum, bendem!!
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Thanks very much for all the feedback (and welcomes) so far.

Gnome: Shoot ... I wish I knew the answer as to whether it has been grafted. I think it was sold from a local nursery (e.g., Southern States) as a fairly inexpensive, standard Japanese Maple. Does that help at all toward making a semi-educated guess as to course of action?

tomc: I can certainly do that. I picked up the book "The Bonsai Workshop" by Herb Gustafson (received good reviews on Amazon.com), and it has a chapter on potting (includes the potting process, bonsai soil, etc.). But since I am coming at this sort-of bassackwards (pulled it out of the ground in winter without first having a plan), I haven't been sure if I should follow "winter dormancy" guidelines, "new bonsai" guidelines, etc. When I change out the soil and make the changes regarding the hole / screen, should I leave the tree's roots alone during the dormancy period?

rainbowgardener: In case it's helpful, here is another photo with a close-up of the area to which I think you're referring.

Image

thanks again!

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

bendem,

Is the foliage red or green? Is the leaf shape typical for a Maple or do they have a more delicate/lacy appearance? If it is a seedling you can cut it back hard and the emerging foliage will be the same as before.

On the other hand, if it is grafted and you cut below the union you will lose the foliage characteristics that it had prior. Even if you cut above the graft (as RBG describes) there is no guarantee that it will respond as desired.

I have an Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' that I chopped well above the graft but nothing emerged and now the tree has one shoot from below the union. I have lost the foliage that I had wished to preserve and will now have a simple green Maple. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just not what I wanted.

Norm

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

bendem wrote:Thanks very much for all the feedback (and welcomes) so far.

Gnome: Shoot ... I wish I knew the answer as to whether it has been grafted. I think it was sold from a local nursery (e.g., Southern States) as a fairly inexpensive, standard Japanese Maple. Does that help at all toward making a semi-educated guess as to course of action?
To my old eyes your reverse taper (swelling) at the base looks like lawn mower 'bumps'. It-they will affect the front of your tree and how you train it long term., But should not become cause of a beheading as Norm is fearful of.

It is possible to ground-layer the entire top off the tree, but I would not want this tree to be your first trial of this kinda air-layer. Lets just shake off the garden dirt you used, and replace the dirt with very fast draining dedicated bonsai soil.
bendem wrote:tomc: I can certainly do that. I picked up the book "The Bonsai Workshop" by Herb Gustafson (received good reviews on Amazon.com), and it has a chapter on potting (includes the potting process, bonsai soil, etc.). But since I am coming at this sort-of bassackwards (pulled it out of the ground in winter without first having a plan), I haven't been sure if I should follow "winter dormancy" guidelines, "new bonsai" guidelines, etc. When I change out the soil and make the changes regarding the hole / screen, should I leave the tree's roots alone during the dormancy period?

rainbowgardener: In case it's helpful, here is another photo with a close-up of the area to which I think you're referring.

Image

thanks again!
If you have the personal drive to note daily how damp the soil is with a chop-stick you could wait till spring. If day to day walks with your tree babies is hard to do, get the soil right first.

People like me who stay on with bonsai, can't get into the back yard soon enough on return to home. I want you ever so much to talk to, touch, pick up, test for moisture, your trees. A year or ten from now you may do that less, but at the front end means you will miss changes you would other wise be able mend.

Be well
Tom C
Last edited by tomc on Fri Jan 10, 2014 12:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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bendem
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Norm: Thanks for your follow up. The foliage is green and has a more delicate / lacy appearance than a typical Maple leaf (at least a standard-size Maple leaf that I'm used to seeing on larger trees).

Tom C: When it was planted outside, the tree was away from lawn mower traffic. I think one if not both of those spots are where the tree previously had branches that were knocked off by falling branches / snow from up above. I'll grab some bonsai soil, make some mods to the bucket, and get some chopsticks at the Asian grocery (may stock up on Sriracha while I'm there).

thanks,
Mike

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Bendem. any over big splinter will do. The "test" is to insert your chop stick and check the buried end for dampness. If it is, don't water, if it aint (wet) its time to water.

A good general direction when shrinking your tree is always leave a leaf-pair (we are talking maples here) at the end of your terminal branch. Often if you prune that end leaf off, that branch dies back. But, but but, you aint pruning the top of this tree till after leafs get the size of a quarter in the spring.

I hate to admit how many Japan maples I killed at my begining, getting the soil and watering right.
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Mike,

I'm just looking for clues concerning a possible graft. At some point you are going to prune it, perhaps rather low. Perhaps now would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the basics of styling.

If you have really gotten the bug you should bookmark Brent's site and read pretty much the whole thing.

Norm

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

I'm no expert, but with the follow up picture, it does not look grafted to me.

So, I know you guys hate to commit yourselves :) , but if it were your tree, about where would you cut it off, once it is well growing in the spring?
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

rainbowgardener wrote:I'm no expert, but with the follow up picture, it does not look grafted to me.

So, I know you guys hate to commit yourselves :) , but if it were your tree, about where would you cut it off, once it is well growing in the spring?
Bendem's tree-wound does not look like a graft wound to me either. Bendem's claim of those wounds being to collateral damage works every bit as well as mine does. (maybe better)

It will in time as Bendem's attention is drawn nearer to the details of this tree; dictate a new "front" (away from the wound), in part or total. A-n-d it could move him to ground layer the entire tree above this wound. But as I have said, its not my tree. I'd be just as happy if he turns in on its bench a few thousand times to find a front with a less obvious belly (reverse taper-to be); and lives with that for now.

I have a soft spot for acer palmatum (Tom points to the top of his head).

Were it mine I'd stick with a long trunk for as long as it took to work myself all the way through why it won't work. Because the big chop for me would be to *girdle the trunk add a wire tournequette, and rub rooting hormone on that wound and repot the tree, deep enough to cover the entire wound.

This "ground-layer" will effectively starve the old root system, and permit a new set of roots to form above the old wound. Voila! no belly on the tree.

I might test fire this a couple times on sacrificial trees, because there aint no going back. Either you do this right or you kill the tree with a ground-layer.

"*Girdle" To remove the outer bark around the entire trunk, usually about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide.
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

Interesting! Thanks very much for a very specific reply. IF someone were to do something like that [and I understand it is pretty radical and not necessarily what you are recommending for someone without a lot of experience working with trees like this-- the point of the suggestion of some "sacrificial trees"], the girdling would be just above the current wound/ swelling? And then you would bury enough above the girdling to provide some area above it from which roots could sprout? The idea being that eventually everything below the wire tourniquet will die and be removed. Then you end up with a shorter tree with a tapered trunk and kind of shallow radial roots.

Very nice.
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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

RBG,
but if it were your tree, about where would you cut it off, once it is well growing in the spring?

I don't know that I would necessarily chop it this coming spring. Mike will have to decide where he wants to go with this tree and that will determine his course of action. This is why I posted the link to Brent's article on styling guidelines. Mike may well decide to spend some time growing the trunk out.

An alternative to layering would be to cut below the wounds and regrow the tree from there up. From the pictures posted I can't tell how much trunk is below the wounds. Another consideration would be the condition of the current roots. If they are terrible, layering begins to look more attractive.

Mike if you are wondering just what a layer is here are some pictures of one I did a while back. Unfortunately Imageshack has lost most of the pictures documenting the process.
https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/vi ... 55#p124455

Norm

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Re: Japanese Maple taken from backyard ... bonsai potential?

I have sat on, and turned gradually several trees around and around on their bench for years talking myself into (or refraining from) ground layering a given tree.

I've done it, successfuly, but its like sky diving, once started is hard to reclimb back into the plane...
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