Building branches

colley614

Shohin
Messages
268
Reaction score
166
Location
Wirral, England
Hi everyone,

I've been keeping twigs in pots since 2019. I'm at a stage now where I really want to add to my knowledge a lot.

The thing I've noticed lately is everything I find I'm using for information is basically initial styling stuff like setting up the trunk and primary branches. This is where all my trees are up to really. But there doesn't seem to be much information about refining the branches and apex of trees after the initial styling.

I was watching a video last night and the guy styling the tree said that as we work the tree it will dictate what the next steps and limitations are of the styling of the tree and it dawned on my that to him it was like chess and he was considering his next moves and I didn't have a clue what his possible next moves were.
 

Wires_Guy_wires

Masterpiece
Messages
4,742
Reaction score
7,598
Location
Netherlands
That's exactly what happens; you start with a left-right-left alternating pattern on the main branch. Then you prune the left-right-left shoots to do the same. Then you wire them so they fan out.
You repeat the process until you're happy.

And then, years go by and these branches have extended so far that it looks out of scale. Now you cut back hard and start all over.

Refinement is as difficult as you want it to be. The key is to have one branch forking into two, two forking into four, four into eight, and so on. I think Bjorn Bjorholm has a couple videos explaining this process on maples and chojubai/quince. I think it was a summer pruning or maintenance video.
 

colley614

Shohin
Messages
268
Reaction score
166
Location
Wirral, England
That's exactly what happens; you start with a left-right-left alternating pattern on the main branch. Then you prune the left-right-left shoots to do the same. Then you wire them so they fan out.
You repeat the process until you're happy.

And then, years go by and these branches have extended so far that it looks out of scale. Now you cut back hard and start all over.

Refinement is as difficult as you want it to be. The key is to have one branch forking into two, two forking into four, four into eight, and so on. I think Bjorn Bjorholm has a couple videos explaining this process on maples and chojubai/quince. I think it was a summer pruning or maintenance video.
This is were my understanding is wrong. I thought bifurcation started at the first nodes on the primary branch. Much to learn I have!
 

River's Edge

Masterpiece
Messages
4,100
Reaction score
10,333
Location
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
USDA Zone
8b
This is were my understanding is wrong. I thought bifurcation started at the first nodes on the primary branch. Much to learn I have!
Basically there are recommendations for patterns that suit the species you are working with. They are based on the growth patterns of the species, such as bud formation, internode length, tendency to back bud for example. As you gain experience the artist begins to adapt the pattern to suit the particular tree and design. If you would like a reference book that sets out some branch building techniques I can recommend " Bonsai Maples " written by Andrea Merrigioli. Another good reference is Chapter Seven of Principles of Bonsai Design written by David De Groot. These are just two examples and most of the better Bonsai books will address this topic. It is important to remember that the basic principles remain similar however adaptation is need for individual species characteristics. In short, pay particular attention to detailed approaches for the species you are working with.
 

Bonsai Nut

Nuttier than your average Nut
Messages
10,885
Reaction score
22,330
Location
Charlotte area, North Carolina
USDA Zone
8a
pay particular attention to detailed approaches for the species you are working with.
I agree. Two important points for the OP:
(1) You are not a passive participant. Make sure you include wiring in your design mix. It will be difficult to reach the potential of your tree without wiring the branch. With wire you can shorten a branch, raise or lower it, or otherwise create ramification that cut and grow methods will not allow.
(2) A lot depends on the species. Conifers will respond differently than deciduous. Deciduous opposite budding trees will respond differently than alternate budding trees. Pines are different than junipers, etc. There will be times when you will want to increase ramification on one branch, while reducing it (or maintaining it) on another.

I was watching a video last night and the guy styling the tree said that as we work the tree it will dictate what the next steps and limitations are of the styling of the tree and it dawned on my that to him it was like chess and he was considering his next moves and I didn't have a clue what his possible next moves were.

Sort of. When styling a tree the first time, you start from the base and work your way up. The nebari and trunk line define the front of the tree - because they are the hardest elements to change. Then your primary branches. Then your apex. Then all the secondary branches fill in the design. Do not make the mistake of judging a tree by its branches - which sometimes are the most obvious elements. I have seen trees with beautiful branches and a flawed design because the trunk and roots are not complementary to the branch design. Years of work wasted because someone started with the branches instead of letting the roots and trunk define the tree.

It is import to note that the work you have already done will define the work that you are about to do. You don't get to the apex and just decide what you are going to do with it in a vacuum... the apex will be defined by the nebari, trunk, and primary branches. In some cases you may find that the nebari and trunk are great... and all the rest has to go and you need to start over with ALL of your branches as well as your apex. So it is not like chess in that you may decide to throw away half of your pieces at the beginning of the game... in order to regrow them later :)
 
Last edited:

colley614

Shohin
Messages
268
Reaction score
166
Location
Wirral, England
I agree. Two important points for the OP:
(1) You are not a passive participant. Make sure you include wiring in your design mix. It will be difficult to reach the potential of your tree without wiring the branch. With wire you can shorten a branch, raise or lower it, or otherwise create ramification that cut and grow methods will not allow.
(2) A lot depends on the species. Conifers will respond differently than deciduous. Deciduous opposite budding trees will respond differently than alternate budding trees. Pines are different than junipers, etc. There will be times when you will want to increase ramification on one branch, while reducing it (or maintaining it) on another.



Sort of. When styling a tree the first time, you start from the base and work your way up. The nebari and trunk line define the front of the tree - because they are the hardest elements to change. Then your primary branches. Then your apex. Then all the secondary branches fill in the design. Do not make the mistake of judging a tree by its branches - which sometimes are the most obvious elements. I have seen trees with beautiful branches and a flawed design because the trunk and roots are not complementary to the branch design. Years of work wasted because someone started with the branches instead of letting the roots and trunk define the tree.

It is import to note that the work you have already done will define the work that you are about to do. You don't get to the apex and just decide what you are going to do with it in a vacuum... the apex will be defined by the nebari, trunk, and primary branches. In some cases you may find that the nebari and trunk are great... and all the rest has to go and you need to start over with ALL of your branches as well as your apex. So it is not like chess in that you may decide to throw away half of your pieces at the beginning of the game... in order to regrow them later :)
This is my problem, as a newbie, I find a lot of information about getting a piece of raw material and then turning this into the foundation of a bonsai. I don't seem to be able to find much information about the refinement process of building the branches and apex.

With my chess analogy, I simply mean that the guy in the video understood his next possible moves he could take. I am at a stage where I don't understand what possible moves I can make. I might even go as far as to say I don't really know how to set the chess pieces up to start the game.
 

MSU JBoots

Mame
Messages
145
Reaction score
101
Location
Grand Rapids Michigan
USDA Zone
6a
I’m very much a newbie as well. I’ve been watching videos on Mirai live for a couple months. A lot of it is quite advanced but if you watch the “beginner” stuff it’s more my level. I just finished a video that talked a lot about refinement via pinching, pruning, etc. Definitely worth the monthly subscription to me since I can’t join the local bonsai club due to my work schedule.
 

colley614

Shohin
Messages
268
Reaction score
166
Location
Wirral, England
I’m very much a newbie as well. I’ve been watching videos on Mirai live for a couple months. A lot of it is quite advanced but if you watch the “beginner” stuff it’s more my level. I just finished a video that talked a lot about refinement via pinching, pruning, etc. Definitely worth the monthly subscription to me since I can’t join the local bonsai club due to my work schedule.
I love mirai. I didn't realise that they had a monthly subscription. I've just checked it out £15.99 a month is a little out of my price range right now. But I'm very tempted.
 

MSU JBoots

Mame
Messages
145
Reaction score
101
Location
Grand Rapids Michigan
USDA Zone
6a
You can get a week free if you just want to watch a few videos. Check out their forum and there is a post that lists the top videos for beginners. That’s where I started.
 

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
Messages
31,840
Reaction score
43,733
Location
Berwyn, Il
USDA Zone
6.2
To set up the "tree in miniature" image, I believe there are 3 rules you can't deviate from.

1. Your trunk and branches should have similar shapes or movement.

2. Your lowest branches should be thickest and therefore most ramified.

3. Taper.

Why?

1. Unless you can provide the tell of what natural forces caused the change in natural growth habit, this is how trees grow.

2. Unless you can be provide the tell of what natural forces caused the change in natural growth habit, this is how trees grow.

3. Unless you can be provide the tell of what natural forces caused the change in natural growth habit, this is how trees grow.

Enter this phenomena where something even simpler than checkers gets imagined as 8D chess. It has to do with people wanting to sound like they know a lot about a subject, so these waters of great simplicity get muddied with loads and loads of horticulture half truths that have absolutely nothing to help the one thing you must do....

Observe and React.

Cause and Effect.

You are trying to reach a design that holds fast to these 3 rules, there is nothing that can help you do it besides observing the effects of your actions and refining them over time. Time which is very cyclical. This is in your favor exponentially, because the same things are going to happen again and again, which also means any "mistakes" are completely erased at the beginning of the next cycle. Utilize this wisdom to act without fear. Fear comes from the Horticultural half truth noise.

The "How", is also wrapped up in this confusion we've caused about what is "breaking a rule", and this very human thing that is, trying to be the coolest person who can break a rule.

Lot of muddied water there.

The truth is....

How?

By utilizing the few elements of display, that allow us to .....
provide the tell of what natural forces caused the change in natural growth habit.

See, it has nothing to do with "breaking a rule", but rather, the difficulty in utilizing such few elements to provide that tell.

A display without these tells leaves the human brain unable to believe the "tree in miniature" image.

We want to see a tree grow how it grows, or sense the forces of how it changed.

In the mountains, you feel the crisp air, are wary of the shaky ground, feel the UV a little different.

How to enter these many things that are so much more than visual into a simple display to make the image believable?

Some "Hows", please add to the list.

1. Your trunk and branches should have similar shapes or movement.

A heavy lean can indicate an event which could make branches and trunk go from natural to odd, or safely breaking this rule.

2. Your lowest branches should be thickest and therefore most ramified.

Obvious uros in low branches make sense of their lesser ramification.
A simple moss accent on the side of a thinner lower branch can provide a sense of low light, where a tall grass would be contradictory to the believability, because it would indicate high light conditions.

3. Taper.

Taper is King. I think the most important thing to remember about taper is that ....

IT IS THE ONLY THING WE MUST IMPART ONTO OUR TREES TO MAKE THE IMAGE BELIEVABLE.

Leaves just happen, roots just happen, growth just happens, bark just happens, healing just happens....

Taper is the only thing that doesn't just happen when Scaled Down to become a believable image.

I have an entire "hows" for your specific endeavor, which is also very simplistic.
I believe this is necessary precursor information.

Morce.
 

Kadebe

Shohin
Messages
440
Reaction score
550
Location
Tielt, Belgium
USDA Zone
8b

sorce

Nonsense Rascal
Messages
31,840
Reaction score
43,733
Location
Berwyn, Il
USDA Zone
6.2
It is as simple as pruning your tree into a triangle shape.

If you utilize this as the beginning of each cycle, you simply can not fail, because every bit of physics is working in your favor.

The idea is then to utilize your observations to mold the effects of your actions into the subjective design of your choice while holding fast to these 3 rules.

The detail devil is this .....

If we simply cut back to a triangle over and over, we are creating the same amount of ramification in the top and the bottom. This breaks rule number 2.

So in order to keep the ramification less on top we must remove ramification more frequently at the top.

The catch 22 is.... horticulturally, this is going to cause effects....more friggin ramification.
More movement, more taper.

This is where the greatest difficulty lies.

We must negate these effects we cause that break rules. (But we do it to fix rules. Catch 22 reiterated)

How?

This is where you really have to see into the future.

Don't cut back to 2 buds up top. Cut back to one, trust your "fork" will come.

Make sure than one bud isn't going to add too much movement, that isn't present in lower branches. Trust your movement will come.

Health....this is where it is ok to use appropriate horticultural knowledge.

This is also why I specifically worded "keep ramification less on top" as such.

You can "chop" the Apex of a pine once a season.

An elm can be safely cut in the Apex multiple times a season.

The universal need to create a good design regardless of species is simply following the rules, observing the effects you cause, not killing the tree and "keeping ramification less on top".

Methods vary but they can not escape this simplicity. Do not let the noise bring fear.

The easiest way to see into the future is by observing every tree you encounter and try to piece together it's life. Guess at it's age, guess at why it grew how it did. Guess what on it was around 5 years ago, guess what will be gone in 5 years. Guess why the branches move how they do. Guess why they don't. Guess why it's flowering so abundantly. Guess why it didn't the year before.

Then stop guessing and figure out the real answers.😉

We don't have to sit around and wait for each cycle to learn about cause and effect on our own trees.

There are millions of examples around us, and in these screens, to teach us everything we need to know. Using this information has the potential to straighten learning curves.

Resorce.

Sorce
 

Joe Dupre'

Omono
Messages
1,222
Reaction score
2,452
Location
South Louisiana
USDA Zone
9a
All of the above is helpful and correct........BUT....... Remember that bonsai is an art, and should reflect what YOU want in a tree. If you look at the tree and you like it........that's the goal in my book. If you don't like what you see, figure out how to change it. Not everything is going to found in a book. Some things are done because........well..........they need to be done. You cut a branch because it needs to be cut, not for some reason found in a book.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

The Professor
Messages
10,301
Reaction score
20,410
Location
on the IL-WI border, a mile from ''da Lake''
USDA Zone
5b
Left, right back, left, right, back, front, and repeat. It is 3D for the branch layout up the trunk.

It is also 3D for the placement of secondary branches around the branch.

Looking from above, conifer branches have secondaries arranged to make a spear tip or triangular outline. The secondaries should be left right top, left right top, with the top laid out more or less parallel to the primary branch.

Deciduous branches are more spreading fan shape. With left, right, top, bottom, left right top bottom arrangement. The main line of the deciduous primary branch should also move left right, and up and down, the up- down movement of the main line of the primary branch with help with looking old and gnarly.

Smooth rainbow arcs should be avoided.

All this sounds formulaic. The tree should not be fully cooperative. Where the tree refuses to repeat the pattern, the skips, or the extra branch on the same side give a natural look.

So use a formula, but embrace the irregularities that happen.
 

colley614

Shohin
Messages
268
Reaction score
166
Location
Wirral, England
Thanks for all your input guys. I think I need to get myself a lot more material from somewhere so I actually have something to work with. I need to figure out a way I can get hold of some better pieces. The problem is all the pieces I can find that are worthy of work are like £200-£400.
 

Similar threads

Top Bottom