Developing young tridents 2

In the last post we looked at one way to start working with raw seedlings. This time the trees are a year more advanced. Again, the following is just one possible way to move these small trees toward better bonsai.

Here are 3 typical 2 year old trident maples that were root pruned and cut down last winter.

The tree on the left has some really good trunk movement. Most of those bends would probably disappear if this one was grown on to thicken the trunk. I think it will make a better small bonsai. The others could grow as either small or larger trees.

My initial aim with young tridents is to get good nebari – we’ll look at that later – then to get good trunk taper and some bends. Wiring is not the only way to put bends into trees. Pruning seems to make much more natural looking bends so look for places to prune that leaves the best bends in the tree.

Pruning is also the best way to introduce taper into young trees that have little. Look for places where the trunks fork into a thick and a thin leader or branch. Cut off the thicker one and you’re left with a better tapered tree.

Here are the same trees after pruning for movement and taper. Note that I have not tried to keep branches at this stage. For the first few years everything is about developing a good trunk and better roots.

These trees could now be root pruned again and potted on into larger containers or into the garden to grow even faster. Growth in containers may be a little slower but I find that I have much better control over the development, especially in smaller sized bonsai.

Next time we’ll skip ahead another year to see how these trees might develop.

Developing younger stock

It is no wonder that newer bonsai growers are a bit confused and have to post so many online questions about dealing with relatively undeveloped stock. That’s what you have to work with but experienced growers only ever post and talk about techniques for working with well established bonsai.

So here’s some ideas and technique that I use on much younger trident maples. Please be aware that young trees like these can be developed into almost anything and different techniques could be used depending on the desired outcome.

Starting with really young seedlings:

These are typical 1 year old trident maple seedlings that I’ve just dug out of our garden so have never been trimmed top or roots. Please ignore the leaves on the left hand seedling. these were dug a little earlier than normal for this post. Usually tridents are root pruned while they are completely dormant  (July – September here)

My first step is always the roots. Good nebari is important for bonsai, even more important in maples. Many trees are far more tolerant of root pruning than we give credit for. Tridents are among the hardier species so roots can be trimmed quite hard. Try to cut strong down roots just below a good layer of lateral roots that will form your future nebari. If there are few laterals just cut the main root a little below soil level and most trident seedlings will respond with plenty of new lateral roots. Luckily these seedlings already had quite good roots. you may be able to pick up where I’ve also removed a few higher roots which were growing just on one side.

Finally I usually prune the tops. This will force several new shoots next year which should give me more choices for trunk movement and for creating taper.

Now just pot your seedlings up in your preferred bonsai mix or a good commercial potting mix. These little sticks could go into either 11cm or 15 cm pots.

More starter stock in the next post.

Development pruning

I understand that not everyone has old, well developed bonsai so while it is nice to see the sort of pruning I showed in the last post, many of you are just starting out with much younger trees.

I picked out this trident maple because the trunk has good movement right down low. I think it has potential to produce a good bonsai.

As it is currently it is not particularly good. Lower trunk has some taper and attractive movement (blue section below) but there is little taper above the green line. The upper trunk sections are quite straight (red section) and do not complement the bends down lower.

It may seem drastic to many beginners but sometimes the best way to move forward is to go back a bit so I’ve reduced the trunk to remove the problem areas.

I’ve pruned this one just above some small branches that have good potential to become new leaders and/or branches.

I have not decided which of those will be the new trunk. The one toward the left will bring the trunk back toward the base of the tree which may be good for balance but the one toward the front will bring the trunk line slightly forward and probably continue the leaning trunk line. I’ll leave them all to grow a bit first and see what starts to look good before removing the spare ones.

Some will be wondering why I haven’t just left the whole tree intact because this tree does need to grow and thicken and pruning is generally thought to slow growth. In my opinion, fast growth is not the be all and end all of bonsai. I’m actually aiming at a smaller tree, probably in the shohin size range – under 20 cm tall so a trunk maybe 3 cm diameter will be adequate. The current character of the lower trunk is likely to disappear with rapid trunk thickening. Allowing the whole trunk to thicken will also mean I’ll end up with a much larger cut when I eventually prune the trunk (those straight sections will still not look good even on a thicker trunk). I’m also hoping for a more elegant, flowing tree to take advantage of that leaning lower trunk so I am more than happy to grow this one just a bit slower to avoid large scars and thickened sections.

Autumn pruning

I generally start pruning my deciduous bonsai as soon as the leaves have fallen off in Autumn. That’s mainly because it is easier to see the structure of the tree when all the leaves are gone. Not all trees drop leaves at the same time so that allows me to spread the work over a few weeks.

This trident group is one of the first to be bare this year.

Lots of growth over the summer. Long shoots that were hidden under the canopy of leaves, many branches have become crowded and some thick branches near the top of some trees.

Shoots with long internodes are eliminated wherever they occur

Long internodes will not produce good ramification in future
Cut off all shoots with long internodes

Crowded branches are thinned out to leave space for future growth.

Too many sub branches here
Removing a whole section shortens the branch and gives more space for growth next year

Here’s the apex of one of the trees in this group. Lots of thick branches growing from the same place so most need to be removed

very congested apex
same area after pruning

Long, straight shoots are either shortened or eliminated

Some long shoots have grown over the summer.
after pruning the long, straight shoots.

After pruning. Branches have been reduced a little and thinned out to allow room for next year’s growth. There are still a few branches near the tops that are slightly thicker than I would like but with nothing to replace them at this stage I’ve left them. Need to monitor those areas next summer to try to encourage some thinner shoots as replacements.

Autumn colour

It is now well into Autumn at Shibui Bonsai. Cooler weather and shorter days mean less time spent keeping trees watered. Some of the Shibui Bonsai trees have responded to the cooler nights and put on Autumn colours. Here are some photos from the past few weeks to show you what I’ve been seeing this year.

Trident maple

Trident group



And a few more trident maples showing Autumn colours

We have not had any really good cold nights yet this autumn so colour on the deciduous trees is a bit subdued this year. A couple of Japanese maples have simply turned brown rather than the normal bright colours they are famous for.

As soon as the leaves fall I will begin end of year pruning and thinning.

Bonsai week workshop 2

The final workshop will now be under way at Bonsai week in Canberra and I’m sure today’s group will get as much out of it as we did yesterday.

Saturday’s group had representatives from across NSW and Victoria, representing a range of bonsai clubs. We presented a range of tree species and development for the visiting instructors to work with.

before the workshop

I had help from Sandra Grlica in the morning. She chose to work with this juniper which has a couple of tight turns in the trunk as a feature.

She identified 2 good options, both using the same side of the tree as front but with different balance for the proposed bonsai. One had more foliage to the right, the other, which I chose to follow, moved more left.

This side was chosen for the more subtle view of the tight bends. The twist will be emphasised with shari to be developed over time.

part styled
Final result

A slight change of angle to emphasise the left movement.

As with most workshop trees, branches will need to grow and fill in. Future development will probably include: widening of the shari and possible extension to emphasise the twist in the trunk; development of the apex, currently made from a single, thick branch.

Thank you Sandra for your help with this great tree.

As an interesting aside, Heike commented that she would have chosen the other side of that tree ( see picture below) as her preferred front because of the more visible bends. Another example of different preferences – not right or wrong, just different possibilities. Which side would you have emphasised?

The other side of this tree before styling

Heike van Gunst worked with me in  the afternoon session. Heike chose to style the other upright tree that I had on hand.


There are 2 opposing spiral branches at the top of the tree. Heike chose to use the other side of the tree as the front and used thicker branch going right to develop a semi cascade bonsai.

reduce the larger sacrifice branches to short jins

Initially the the larger sacrifice branches were reduced to jins. Later more were removed to give even  more emphasis to the right movement. The resulting jins gave a natural path for a connecting shari of dead wood.

Heike connecting the jins with a narrow shari

The end main part of the trunk already had nicely flowing, natural curves so did not need wiring. Remaining branches are long with lower parts quite bare of foliage but the twisted trunk means that dramatic twists in the branches to bring foliage closer to the trunk don’t look out of place.

A guy wire was enough to compress the main trunk a little more and bring the end of the trunk down just under the level of the trunk base.

Plans for future development: remove the larger root on the left when tree health and vigour makes this possible; Develop 3 main foliage areas with some spaces between; continue to develop the shari over a number of years to give more natural texture to the dead wood.

Bonsai Week Workshop 2019

Our National Bonsai and Penjing Collection is hosting another week of bonsai activities in Canberra. Workshops with international practitioners allow us to exchange ideas and learn new techniques and ideas.

This year we have expert advice from 2 visitors – Heike van Gunst and Sandra Grlica.

I have been lucky to get a place in one of the workshops this year. With an entire day to fill we are able to take several trees to work with. I’m having trouble narrowing down the possibilities so I’ll take a few extras for the ladies to choose from.

Here are the trees I’ve selected

These junipers have all been developed over the past 9 years with repeated wiring, bending and twisting to produce wild looking trunks. Some have also had initial shari started. Experienced readers will note some long sacrifice branches that I’ve been using to increase trunk thickness and, in some cases, to develop thicker branches that may be used for additional jins.

Really looking forward to the weekend activities and to whatever the ladies can develop from the trees.

follow up report and photos after this weekend.

2019 Wodonga show

Our local bonsai club put on a display of bonsai at this year’s Wodonga show.

We talked to plenty of people and hopefully opened a few more eyes to the great art of bonsai.

Trident group, Seiju elm, olive, Seiju elm, Shimpaku juniper, Shimpaku juniper, trident maple Japanese black pine
Japanese red pine, Olive, Deodar cedar, Japanese red pine, Azalea, trident maple
Willow leaf fig, trident maple, Port Jackson fig, Trident group, trident maple Root over Rock
Shohin display – Japanese maple, trident maple, cotoneaster microphylla, Seiju elm, Port Jackson fig, Japanese black pine
Japanese black pine, Japanese maple, Leptospermum(?) sp, Shimpaku juniper (phoenix graft) callistemon sieberii
Kunzea parvifoila, European(?) black pine, Ficus rubiginosa

Thanks to Theo for organising the venue and passes and to Ian for contributing trees and spending the day helping to promote bonsai.

Olive carving

Our bonsai club has access to some areas with lots of feral olives so we have had several ‘digs’ to obtain advanced material. One of the paddocks is quite steep and rocky so I suppose these are literally ‘yamadori’ (Japanese word meaning from the mountain).

club members at an olive dig

Here’s one a couple of years ago. You can see that the original middle trunk was converted to dead wood to leave room for the better trunk to develop. A small stub was also left on the smaller left trunk.

A couple of years ago

Last year I felt that the branches had developed enough structure to merit a proper bonsai pot.

I also decided the jin was just a bit boring. Looking at images of ancient olives I saw impressive old trunks with hollows and dead wood. A little carving on the trunk below the jin adds a whole new dimension to this tree.

I can see an opportunity to add some more texture and character to the jinned branch itself but that will have to wait for another day.

While checking another of these developing olives I noticed a dead patch on the trunk

More banksias

A couple of my smaller bonsai banksias started to develop dieback in some twigs toward the end of spring.

Many people would assume that, because these are banksias, the dead shoots would be the result of phosphorus toxicity. My experience with this genus led me to a completely different conclusion.

I have noticed that banksias have very dense fine roots that develop very quickly. Here’s what I found when this one was removed from the pot.

It definitely needs repotting.

First, trim back any long, fresh shoots.

When I cut through the root ball I found exactly what I was expecting – a dry patch in the middle.

That area is dry despite a thorough water last night and again this morning. The roots are so crowded that water has great difficulty penetrating which means the tree starts each day without a full pot of water. The dead shoots have nothing to do with P toxicity. They simply show a lack of water.

The remaining roots were trimmed quite a lot.

Note that there are no visible proteoid roots on this banksia because it gets regular fertiliser. Proteoid roots appear when banksias are short of nutrients and tend to disappear when the trees are fertilised regularly so paradoxically, regular fertiliser actually helps reduce the chance of P overdose for banksias.

Then back into the pot with fresh mix.

My experience with banksias as bonsai shows that the roots grow so fast that these need repotting every year to prevent them becoming root bound and having difficulties with water absorption. Fortunately they also seem very tolerant of the repotting process during the warmer months. This repot was carried out during a string of 40+C days in early January. New shoots continued to grow and more buds have sprouted since the repot. As usual, the freshly repotted tree went straight back to its usual position on the bench. The area is covered with light shade cloth this year but no other ‘aftercare’ was given.

I’ve found banksias to be very rewarding for bonsai. Why not have a try? Shibui bonsai normally has banksias available in a range of sizes including field grown trunks – see our banksia catalogue – h