Acer Palmatum - Looking for feedback/ideas

Discussion in 'Maples' started by music~maker, Dec 4, 2017.

  1. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Hey everyone,

    I just defoliated one of my maples and decided it's time to ask for a little input.

    This started out as a trunk chop experiment from pre-bonsai stock that I got back in 2009/2010. I've learned a ton from the process and would definitely do a number of things differently if I were to do it again, but I do enjoy the quirky little trunk that I've created, and think that it is an interesting foundation to build a crown on top of.

    Just to set a little context, the original inspiration for this tree's development were some of the methods described in Peter Adams' Bonsai with Japanese Maples.

    Here is the album that shows the current state:
    https://bonsainut.com/media/albums/acer-palmatum-1-nov-dec-2017.930/

    Also, here's an album with some snapshots of how it got to the stage it's at:
    https://bonsainut.com/media/albums/acer-palmatum-1-2010-2016-history-snapshot.931/

    I've achieved what I wanted from the last stretch of growth, and I'm at an inflection point. I've cultivated a lot of possibilities and there currently are a lot of directions that I could take this.

    So what do you think? What is your preferred front? What direction would you take this next and how would you proceed? I have a number of things in mind, but want to see what you guys can come up with. Virts welcome if you have the time. I'd love to get a good discussion going on this one.

    I'd particularly love to get input from @Smoke, @Brian Van Fleet, and @MACH5 if you guys have time to comment, but I'm open to hearing from anyone who'd like to throw in their 2 cents. The next chop could end up lopping off somewhere between 2-5 years of growth, and I don't do that lightly. I'll be analyzing this throughout the winter, and want to be sure that I don't overlook any good possibilities.

    Bonus points if anyone has some suggestions for how to improve the big ugly root. I've got a couple ideas, but am curious to see what you guys suggest.

    I'll keep the thread alive and will post updates over time as I continue to work on the tree.

    Thanks!

    ~MM
     
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  3. KiwiPlantGuy

    KiwiPlantGuy Mame

    Messages:
    198
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Hi Music Maker,
    Well done on your tree this far in its journey. From a complete beginners perspective I am keen to watch this thread develop and learn along the way.
    So I would like to try my hand at a few opinions ( from gut feelings and no experience lol).
    1. I see a smaller (shorter) tree, somewhere above the third trunk chop would be my apex starting ( too straight and boring up higher IMO).
    2. I would be sorry to see your ramifications all gone but I wonder if you shortened the first 3-5 branches and tightened up the internode gap whether it would look (gut feel) nicer?
    3. My fear is that you may not have been cutting back hard enough in Winter and tree kind of got away on you.
    I hope you can take my comments with the right grains of salt ( Bonsai beginner talking), and I very much look forward to the heavy weights of the Maple Bonsai world sharing their opinion.
    Charles
     
  4. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Thanks for the feedback, @KiwiPlantGuy!

    1. Yes, good eye. Above the third chop it definitely gets straight and boring pretty quickly and there are no branches on the right side anywhere along that line until you get near the top. That's what I most want to correct. I kind of like it at roughly the height it's at (minus the obvious sacrifice branch at top), but the top half of the tree isn't very good yet. I don't want a tree that only looks good when it's in leaf. If I knew for sure I'd get the buds where I want them, I'd probably chop an inch or so above the third chop and go from there. That was my original vision for the tree back when I made the third chop. But now that it's grown in, my concern is that if I don't get the budding that I want I'll end up down a five year rat hole correcting the problem that creates.

    2. The current ramification was chosen as much for functional reasons as artistic ones, so not too attached to it. I'm perfectly willing to chop off whatever I need to in order to get the tree to the next level.

    3. Right or wrong, that was very much on purpose. I've been in a trunk development mindset, and my intention was to thicken up the trunk and help heal over that ugly root scar. My philosophy on cutting back is that it's kind of pointless to cut back hard and then have to grow everything out again just to get to the point where you can thicken the trunk. I've been very carefully managing taper by keeping the amount of branches and the corresponding thickness of them at each level of the tree in proportion to how thick I wanted the tree at that point. It seems to have worked - the trunk has in fact thickened over time, and I've been able to keep the taper in proportion along the way.

    If I had to do it over again, I would most definitely grow the tree out in a larger pot or the ground for probably at least 2-3 years before the initial chop. Given that I didn't do that (this was a trunk chop experiment after all), I had to take a different approach to getting some thickness on the trunk. When thickening the trunk this way, I think of branch growth vs. pruning as a gas pedal or a brake in terms of what impact that branch will have on the trunk. Consequently, there are lots of things that could easily be viewed as sacrifice branches here.

    I think I've kind of hit the limits of the current system of branches to add thickness to the trunk without screwing up the taper somehow. I feel like I'm probably at a point where it's time to chop back hard again and see what I get, then let some new branches start to add some wood to the tree from different locations.
     
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  5. KiwiPlantGuy

    KiwiPlantGuy Mame

    Messages:
    198
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Hi Music maker,
    Thank you for your explanations, as my thoughts/analysis was my way of trying to understand the whole “growing a bonsai” concept as you have been at it far longer than me.
    Where my thought processes go slightly wrong ( perspective maybe) is that I have watched trees/shrubs grow all my life as from that I get my opinions etc. What I see around here and other sites is that if the leaves and roots are the engine of the car ( bonsai metaphor ) why do so many growers cut off half the engine and expect the tree to grow just as well. I am agreeing with your #2 as per growing the upper branches for a purpose.
    So, I have great faith in your tree and it’s age that it will respond strongly to any drastic pruning. I just wonder whether you might like to put this tree into a bigger pot just for a year or so to give it all chances of success etc.
    Sorry if I am hogging your thread and hopefully others with many years of experience will share their advice too.
    Charles.
     
  6. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    tbf, there are definitely times where cutting back hard does make a significant difference in design and is necessary. For deciduous trees, it's not so much about cutting off half the engine if you do it at the right time, and the roots push strong growth after the cut-backs (as opposed to a juniper, where you really are cutting off the growth engine). So it's really more about your specific goals in many cases. When thickening the trunk, it's just a physical reality that adding more girth to the trunk in any reasonable time frame requires letting some branches run long. I've definitely been dancing the line with this one because I've been trying to maintain proportions while simultaneously adding to the trunk. It's unquestionably a slower process that way, and it's been a bit of a balancing act.

    Yes, I think I can probably prune this back very hard and get buds where I want them, but I'm being a little extra cautious given that I have 7+ years into this one. When I get a minute, I'll draw a picture of the various locations I'm considering pruning for further discussion.

    Also, that's not exactly a tiny pot that it's in now. The original pot from the history photos was just a 12" tulip pot, and I grew the majority of what you see today in that. The interior dimensions of the current pot are 20" x 14" x ~4", which was a significant step up in overall volume (the tree itself is currently 5+" wide at the base, ~22" high, and 44" with the sacrifice branch). Also, part of this particular experiment is to see just how much trunk development I can get away with in a pot. It really surprised me to see just how much growth I got in the 12" pot, and I wanted to continue that experiment in something a bit bigger.

    There's definitely a trade-off involved, and I've made it consciously. If I went much bigger on the pot, it would either be really inconvenient to move around, or I'd have to go to a nursery pot, which would set me back on where I'm at with root development. At this point, if I really wanted faster growth, I'd probably just put it in the ground or a grow bed for 2-3 years.

    It's pretty well established in the current pot (re-potted in March 2016), and seems to be getting decent growth rates. I'll probably lift it out in the spring to see where it's at, but I'm guessing I'll maybe do a bit of light clean-up and go right back into this one. My original plan was to do most of the remaining development work in this pot, and then start working it down to a bonsai pot from there. I think that it's big enough to fuel the amount of growth I'm looking for, and the chops I'm considering now are so much less drastic than what I originally did, so I think this pot should be OK.

    It's always worth considering pot size though. It's one of the major gas pedals/brakes that we have for regulating growth rates, and it's usually the first thing I recommend to people myself.

    Nope, not at all. All good, and happy for the discussion.
     
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  7. Dav4

    Dav4 Imperial Masterpiece

    I, too could see this shortened by a third or so. I also would want to cut the main branches back hard, as they are a bit too straight and lacking taper for my tastes. The lower 2/3 of the trunk has good taper and movement, and the base is nice, as well, though it might benefit from a root graft or 2 at the next re-pot. I think this is the best side of the tree as is, but the straight upper section of trunk above that 3rd branch moving to the left (new apex?) has to go. Good luck with it
    . palmatum.jpg
     
  8. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Yes, that's definitely one of the better fronts. When I started this, my intention was to create a fairly classical looking informal upright, and I think it's moving in that direction if I want it to. I let the branches run long to thicken them up and also to develop the trunk, so no big deal cutting them back. The theoretically ideal places to cut back don't have any obvious buds, though, so that will be a bit of a leap of faith that I'll get what I want. It's a strong tree though, so I'm sure I'll get something I can work with no matter where I cut.

    So let's play with this as the front for now. Here's a virt that shows the places I'm considering for the trunk cut back. I could make a decent case for any of them, even #6, depending on where I decide to take things for the 2018 growing season.

    Before I lay out my rationale for each of them, I'd be curious to get some thoughts on where you'd chop back to and why (or anyone else who'd like to weigh in, for that matter).


    Root grafts are definitely an option that are on the table. I've never done one before, so this may be my excuse to learn. I may practice on something I'm less attached to first.
     
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  9. Dav4

    Dav4 Imperial Masterpiece

    How about thread grafting a new apex between lines 5 and 4... and you can root graft at the same time.
     
  10. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    That is definitely something I've considered, but I'd ideally like to get there by chopping and triggering buds.

    My rationale is that those kinds of chops usually seem to result in a new apex as well as some new side branches, and I like how that looks. You can see the results of that in the three places that I've already chopped. If I thread graft, I'd get the apex, but I might not get the other branches where I want them when I cut back later. I'm open to it, but I definitely have some concerns. But if I chop to 4 or 5 or somewhere in between, and I don't get the apex I want, I then have a different problem to deal.

    So doesn't seem like a slam dunk to me either way. My original vision was definitely to have a leader right in that spot though.
     
  11. Dav4

    Dav4 Imperial Masterpiece

    If you want the apex in a particular place, put it there. Otherwise, it's a gamble to get buds to pop in the best place. You can always graft the side branches, too.
     
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  12. Marie1uk

    Marie1uk Chumono

    Messages:
    675
    Location:
    UK. Yorkshire
    Exactly what I was thinking Dav4... even down to the word 'gamble' I had typed out before seeing your last post. Maples are dead easy to thread graft - you don't even need to remove any bark or match cambium if you do it with a small donor shoot. You have nothing to lose by attempting a graft slightly above the internode notch but you may lose a season or two waiting for a bud to pop at the right place. Why wait?
     
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  13. thumblessprimate1

    thumblessprimate1 Masterpiece

    Messages:
    2,770
    Location:
    DALLAS
    I'd chop in the spring at about the 4 mark. You'll could get a bunch of whips to choose from that you could then use for thread grafting the following year at somewhere near the 5 mark. You may even be able to approach or thread graft in the same year, but it could be a more difficult.
     
  14. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Yes, that may be a path I prefer, and I could actually live with an apex at 4 if one showed up in the right place. It's hard to tell from the photos, but the tree definitely has a nice, 3-dimensional feel to it right up until around the 2 or 1 mark.

    It kind of falls apart after that because there's no good apex, but I do kind of like the curve between the 3rd chop point up until around the 3 or 4 mark. If I actually had a decent apex around 2 or 1, I'd seriously consider just letting that be the tree and building ramification from there.
     
  15. KiwiPlantGuy

    KiwiPlantGuy Mame

    Messages:
    198
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Hi Music maker,
    I am going with 3 or 2 for the chop and I wonder whether the branch under 3 might help form the apex etc.
    I don’t know what you would be feeling re chopping 7 odd years growth, but hard to stomach but hey, we will be here to be your cheering on party.
    Charles
     
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  16. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Losing 7 years would mean chopping just above the first branch. I'm pretty unlikely to be doing that, though I have considered it. =) I'm pretty sure I can work with what I've built through the first three chops.

    Here are some options based on what's been discussed.

    This is what it could look like with a new apex at location 2:

    This is what it could look like with a new apex at location 3:

    And this is what it could look like with a new apex between locations 4+5:

    I think any of these could make for an interesting tree. I do kind of like it as a larger tree, so building an apex at location 2 does have some appeal. I could always chop there, fall back to location 3 if it doesn't work out quite the way I want, and then later make some more aggressive moves if I still don't like it. Kind of like a "try before you buy" model.

    Not the fastest way to build it out, but I'm still doing trunk/root development anyway and it would give me 2-3 seasons of extra growth while I'm screwing around getting the trunk the way I want. But another part of me kind of wants to just chop it hard like in the third virt and see what happens ...

    Lots to ponder. Would still welcome additional feedback or options from anyone who wants to throw their hat in the ring.
     
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  17. Marie1uk

    Marie1uk Chumono

    Messages:
    675
    Location:
    UK. Yorkshire
    Chopping below 3 is really risky imo. In the pics I can't spot any active buds in this section drawing sap up to it. You're relying on adventitious buds to form your apical section which is very risky. It could quite easily die back below 5 to the cluster of branches near the curve. If you are going to chop then 3 will give you an active branch that will pull sap up through that budless section & encourage backbudding.

    Chopping trees is like chopping onions - make sure that you avoid tears at all costs ....
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
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  18. Gdy2000

    Gdy2000 Mame

    Messages:
    169
    Location:
    St Louis, MO
    I’m wondering, How do you feel about this area?

    D54EA3A3-4AD7-4423-AEF4-08609470CBDD.jpeg

    It’s always hard when looking at pics, but this doesn’t quite seem to follow the Adams model. Seems a bit too short, no? Would you consider a chop to regrow? Something like this?
    A562ECAE-3992-4AA3-A756-B485674A2D0F.jpeg

    Then regrow more like this?
    C2675B0E-AA20-4410-9873-39803ECB46A8.jpeg
    My 2 cents.

    Good luck, I’m looking forward to updates!
     
  19. twisted trees

    twisted trees Chumono

    Messages:
    987
    Location:
    Finger Lakes Region, New York
    I would prune it at #3 then let that run to achieve a smoother taper. The rest looks fine.
     
  20. Marie1uk

    Marie1uk Chumono

    Messages:
    675
    Location:
    UK. Yorkshire
    Even there is too high if you're following his trunk building guides to the letter - trunk section 1 is considerably shorter than 2 (but still attractive imo). Chopping that low would take a considerable time span to get it to maturity.
     
  21. music~maker

    music~maker Shohin

    Messages:
    347
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    I kind of like that part - it did exactly what I wanted it to there. Plus, not sure I want to rewind time quite that much. I think that would probably add at least another 4-5 years to the project. I've thought about it, and would definitely do something like it if I didn't think the higher levels were workable. If I were going to chop that far down, I'd actually consider going even lower, and maybe chopping somewhere between the 1st and 2nd branch.

    But I think the 90 degree angle change you circled is actually a really interesting feature, esp. in person, so I'd like to at least try and incorporate it into the final design.

    It's using the Adams model in spirit - chop, grow a new level, chop, grow a new level, etc. I don't mind if the proportions are a little out of whack. Real trees have sections that grow a bit long all the time. To me that just makes it look a bit more natural. A lot of really good full-scale trees I see have really whacky trunk structures, and then have proper looking ramification off of that make up the canopy. I'd be OK with something like that, so don't need a perfectly proportioned trunk at every single level. I think it would be easy to follow the Adams model a bit too literally and end up with a bunch of cookie cutter trees.

    You're virt would definitely result in a nice tree, but I'm kind of inclined to try working with more of what I have first.
     
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