Chopping a maple for the first time?

sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)March 17, 2013

Last autumn I bought a maple (A. palmatum) from Westonbirt, and though I knew at the time it wasn't very well-shaped the colour of the foliage was a very uniform deep red and it was holding its leaves longer than most of the others on display. It's still a young plant, and there's plenty of time to shape it. Here it is in all its whippy glory:

The bottom of the plant below that triple fork is a little over 1cm thick.

This is the work I'm planning on doing:

Remove the topmost shoot, plus the short thin one sticking out of the back (or I may leave that one for the moment). Air-layer the left side of the fork to try and get a second plant. Once that's either failed or succeeded, cut the stub down to the point where the plant can start to grow over the wound.

I have no plans right now for the right side of the fork. It probably also needs a trim, but I don't know where to cut it.

Does that seem fine? I've been doing a bit of reading on keeping trees in pots, but I have zero actual experience.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Actually, I think you should plan on the tiny shoot seen coming off the trunk to the right, just above the plastic bag (in the picture immediately above) as your eventual leader. Where the tree now trifurcates, I would prune off the right branch (so it can't shade the little branch) and the main branch growing up the center of the trifurcation. I would then let the tree grow unencumbered by pruning until next spring, when I would look at it again and decide on what's best for the future, based on what it does this year. If you want some movement in your eventual leader, you could wire it or perhaps tie it off to the larger branch you'll leave as a sacrifice branch to help fatten the trunk.


This post was edited by tapla on Sun, Mar 17, 13 at 17:53

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 5:52PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

That would be the most efficient way of dealing with that messy trifurcation...

Can the right branch be pruned to a few pairs of leaf nodes for later propagation, or does the whole lot need to come off so that all the resources on that side are going to the small shoot?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 8:46PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If this is one of the dissectums, there is little chance of propagating other than an air layer or under very controlled conditions, which include mist. If it's not a dissectum, chances of propagation via cuttings increases dramatically.

If you were so inclined, dealing with the trifurcation would be no more difficult than eliminating any one of the 3 branches. If you want a tree asap, just remove the middle branch and rub off all the buds that appear at the crotch as they appear.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 9:26PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

Am I coming across as a little impatient? I can wait for a nicely-shaped tree, I'd just prefer to try and propagate what I'm cutting off.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 10:42PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

No, you're not coming across as impatient at all. It's just that I try to respect and allow for the fact that most growers do want things to happen asap. I'm patient - eventually you would have let me know, even if inadvertently, what sort of frame of mind you're in as far as how quickly you want things to move forward.

If you want to propagate, you might want to consider starting an air-layer now.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:11PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

Edited to avoid double post: see bottom of post.

Okay, chopping and repotting done.

That main stem was vertical when it was put in and staked, but it got gradually pulled to the side as I was working the nylon rope around. Ah well, at least it's thoroughly secured. The rope is resting on a bit of peat pot, which in turn is resting on about an inch-long stub. (I don't have anything both strong and narrow enough to take it all off.)

I also did a bit of root work while I was at it.

I hate it when they do this! Couldn't the nursery people at least chop off those circling roots before slotting the plant into a bigger pot?

Here's what was left after chopping off both sets of pot-circling roots and cleaning the rest down:

I planned to take a photo after doing that side and before flipping it over, but I guess I didn't. The other side before pruning:

And after:

And the bits I cut off, just for completeness. Lots of mass, but not many fine roots.

Seems like I got it at the right time -- some of the buds about 2/3 of the way up the branch I layered are just starting to move:

Edit: After thinking a little more about the balance above and below ground, my gut instinct is to trim down the layered branch and rub off the buds below the layer. That branch is one I'm not keeping permanently, and I'd like the plant to agree.

This post was edited by sutremaine on Wed, Mar 20, 13 at 22:49

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 2:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Just think of how many people plant their trees out with all those encircling and eventually girdling roots and end up wondering several years down the road what went wrong?

The root pruning looks good. Your eventual goal, if you're interested in getting things jut right, would be to eventually have all the tree's roots radiating evenly from the base, all at approximately the same ht. In subsequent repotting sessions, you can actually cut the bottom of the tree and attached roots off, leaving roots at your chosen height. You would also prune off roots above the level where roots radiate horizontally from the base of the tree.

A young maple I've worked on a little to get the root base. For experienced growers, the value of young trees being purchased as future bonsai depends almost entirely on their nebari (visible roots & root flare):


    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 10:17AM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

Thanks for the compliment on the root pruning -- it means a lot coming from you. I did try to start cosmetic work on the nebari, but there was no combination of roots that looked good both horizontally and vertically. So I settled for opening up some space in the most crowded areas.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 3:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You know ..... the two things most critical to the success of a bonsai practitioner are understanding how soils work, and knowing enough about how plants work to be able to keep them alive for the long term .... and soils are also a key element in being able to keep your plants happy. You should give it a try, if you have the inclination to.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:11PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

The intention was to maintain it as a sort of jumbo bonsai, for two related reasons. One, there's no room for a full-sized tree in the garden. Two, if I'm going to keep the tree in a container and look after its health, I might as well look after its looks while I'm at it. Bonsai seems like a good place to start, being the art of keeping trees in (very small) containers, though it's easy to get distracted by the more aesthetic aspects.

Anyway, after nearly a month of inactivity and winter dragging its heels, the leaves are starting to come out. Starting. The air layer got chopped off to just above the level of the stake due to rot (small patch, a bit more than half a centimetre round), and while I didn't think anything could be done with it I trimmed it down and jammed it a couple of nodes deep into the dirt.

I'm really hoping these buds will suddenly pop into leaf with a run of warm sunny days. So far it's been either warm and wet or cool and sunny. I haven't really seen much of the plant so far -- it was bought at the end of October (they'd already started on a few stems of the 2000 year old lime... I wonder what the arbetorum maps will look like next year?), the leaves dropped shortly afterwards, and it's been a giant twig since then.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 8:18PM
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