Help - Create Japanese Maple Bonsai Forest

jbost

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I am a novice and am hoping someone can help. I would like to create a bonsai forest and have 5 small Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) trees that are about 10-12 years old, their trunks are about 1" and they are about 20" above soil level. Attached is a picture of the trees in their present container. I have purchased an 18" x 10" x 6" training pot and plan to remove the trees from the present container, prune foliage back by about half, and place in the training pot. My question is what kind of soil - should I use bonsai soil or a regular garden soil or a mix? should I root prune? (never done that but I can research). My plan is to continue pruning to reduce leaf size for about a year and then see how they are doing next year. I do not want to lose these little trees so any advice to keep them alive - and thriving - is very much appreciated. I live in Zone 7 (Atlanta, GA), any tips on overwintering, also during our hot summer days, perhaps only morning sun? Thank you!
 

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j evans

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Welcome! Someone with more knowledge will pipe in soon. Lately I'm Dr. Doom.
 
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Nice trees to start a group planting. I would wait till next spring before bud break to do that kind of repot and drastic root pruning. Reducing the top this year should be no problem though. I'm sure more experienced than myself will have suggestions.
 

Shibui

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I also think it is a bit late to be bare rooting these trees this season but if you can just lift the entire root ball out of this pot and into the new one that's fine any time.
Root pruning is one of the fundamental keys to producing good bonsai. Really good visible surface roots is not quite as critical in a group as in a single tree but you will need to cut quite a lot of roots to get your trees apart and then more to get them together in a good arrangement so spend this year finding out.
A good group planting needs several features:
1. Random spacing. Most beginners start off with evenly spaced trunks which makes the group look like park rather than a natural forest. I find it best to have at least one pair of trees really close together to emphasise the randomness of the spacing.
2. Random trunk thickness: natural forest is made from trees of all ages. A bonsai group planting should be too. Looks like there is already some difference in size of those trunks but might be worth looking for some smaller, thinner trees to add to those you have now.
3. Different heights: Looks best if the thickest tree is at the focal point ( a bit off centre). Also looks best if the thickest tree is the tallest so prune your candidates accordingly.
4. Looks best if all the trees have a similar theme to their shape. In a natural forest all the trees are subject to the same weather so trees in a harsh landscape will all be stunted and bent. In a benign area all the trunks will be taller and straighter. Bonsai groups look better when all the trunks and branches follow a similar theme so you need to assess each tree as you place it in the group to try to find the best place and front so it compliments the rest of the trees. In reality this means that not all trees can be put in a group planting. Sometimes the trunk shape just won't fit in ell no matter how many times you turn it round or lean it over. i start with way more trunks than I want in the group to allow for the ones that just won't compliment the others. With a lot of luck all of your trees may be OK because they have already been growing together so should already have similar shapes but it will be worth having a critical look at each trunk now to see how they might fit together next year.

The larger and deeper the pot the less critical soil becomes but use the best soil you can for any trees in pots. They will grow so much better for it.
In the meantime feed regularly and water as often as required to keep these ones healthy over summer. Regular trimming as they grow will help build branches and ramification but you need to recognise that you will be removing some branches completely when you assemble the group so the trees fit together naturally.

Can't help you with overwintering as I probably have a much warmer winter and my trees stay outside all year round.
BTW it is worth adding your location to your profile so you don't have to keep reminding us where you are.
 

Paradox

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I am a novice and am hoping someone can help. I would like to create a bonsai forest and have 5 small Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) trees that are about 10-12 years old, their trunks are about 1" and they are about 20" above soil level. Attached is a picture of the trees in their present container. I have purchased an 18" x 10" x 6" training pot and plan to remove the trees from the present container, prune foliage back by about half, and place in the training pot. My question is what kind of soil - should I use bonsai soil or a regular garden soil or a mix? should I root prune? (never done that but I can research). My plan is to continue pruning to reduce leaf size for about a year and then see how they are doing next year. I do not want to lose these little trees so any advice to keep them alive - and thriving - is very much appreciated. I live in Zone 7 (Atlanta, GA), any tips on overwintering, also during our hot summer days, perhaps only morning sun? Thank you!
It is too late to repot these trees now. They are already leafed out. The best time to repot and root prune is in late winter/early spring as the buds start to swell. However they are in quite a deep pot there so tranisitoning them to a more bonsai shaped training pot like the one you describe for a couple of years is a good idea. When you repot at the right time, you can root prune quite a bit off, but try to leave some smaller feeder roots there. It is also a good idea to prune branches at the same time, just make sure you leave nodes below the cut so there is a place for new buds to grow.

Personally, I would not use garden soil, but a mix that is appropriate for maple trees in your area. Find out what other bonsai hobbiests that keep maples in your area use. There are some people here in GA and states around you that could help with this.

To keep them alive and thriving. Id try to put them in a place where they get morning sun the dappled shade in the mid and late day when it gets really hot. They will have less of a tendency to get burned leaves that way. Also make sure they get water when they need it, not on a strict schedule. Although in your area, youll probably have to water them at least once a day, maybe twice when its very hot. Youll need to watch them and figure out what your watering schedule should be based on your soil mix, the depth of the pot, and time of the year, and rain events.

Also as mentioned, please put Atlanta, GA on your profile so we dont have to keep asking you where you are and it will make it easier for us to give you appropriate advice.
 

Adair M

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I am a novice and am hoping someone can help. I would like to create a bonsai forest and have 5 small Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) trees that are about 10-12 years old, their trunks are about 1" and they are about 20" above soil level. Attached is a picture of the trees in their present container. I have purchased an 18" x 10" x 6" training pot and plan to remove the trees from the present container, prune foliage back by about half, and place in the training pot. My question is what kind of soil - should I use bonsai soil or a regular garden soil or a mix? should I root prune? (never done that but I can research). My plan is to continue pruning to reduce leaf size for about a year and then see how they are doing next year. I do not want to lose these little trees so any advice to keep them alive - and thriving - is very much appreciated. I live in Zone 7 (Atlanta, GA), any tips on overwintering, also during our hot summer days, perhaps only morning sun? Thank you!
meanwhile, look into joining the Atlanta Bonsai Society. We have monthly meetings - usually. Lol!!!

yesterday, we held a Zoom question and answer session for the membership since we can’t hold our regular meetings.
 

jbost

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Nice trees to start a group planting. I would wait till next spring before bud break to do that kind of repot and drastic root pruning. Reducing the top this year should be no problem though. I'm sure more experienced than myself will have suggestions.
Nice trees to start a group planting. I would wait till next spring before bud break to do that kind of repot and drastic root pruning. Reducing the top this year should be no problem though. I'm sure more experienced than myself will have suggestions.
Thank you for your comments - I am so glad I found this forum and people willing to take the time to help. I have had suggestions to wait til late winter next year before repotting, as well as to go ahead and place in the training pot now with as little disturbance as possible, with little to no root pruning and keeping the soil intact. I am hoping that would be a route I could take. Thanks again!
Welcome! Someone with more knowledge will pipe in soon. Lately I'm Dr. Doom.
Thank you - I have had a great response.
 

jbost

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I also think it is a bit late to be bare rooting these trees this season but if you can just lift the entire root ball out of this pot and into the new one that's fine any time.
Root pruning is one of the fundamental keys to producing good bonsai. Really good visible surface roots is not quite as critical in a group as in a single tree but you will need to cut quite a lot of roots to get your trees apart and then more to get them together in a good arrangement so spend this year finding out.
A good group planting needs several features:
1. Random spacing. Most beginners start off with evenly spaced trunks which makes the group look like park rather than a natural forest. I find it best to have at least one pair of trees really close together to emphasise the randomness of the spacing.
2. Random trunk thickness: natural forest is made from trees of all ages. A bonsai group planting should be too. Looks like there is already some difference in size of those trunks but might be worth looking for some smaller, thinner trees to add to those you have now.
3. Different heights: Looks best if the thickest tree is at the focal point ( a bit off centre). Also looks best if the thickest tree is the tallest so prune your candidates accordingly.
4. Looks best if all the trees have a similar theme to their shape. In a natural forest all the trees are subject to the same weather so trees in a harsh landscape will all be stunted and bent. In a benign area all the trunks will be taller and straighter. Bonsai groups look better when all the trunks and branches follow a similar theme so you need to assess each tree as you place it in the group to try to find the best place and front so it compliments the rest of the trees. In reality this means that not all trees can be put in a group planting. Sometimes the trunk shape just won't fit in ell no matter how many times you turn it round or lean it over. i start with way more trunks than I want in the group to allow for the ones that just won't compliment the others. With a lot of luck all of your trees may be OK because they have already been growing together so should already have similar shapes but it will be worth having a critical look at each trunk now to see how they might fit together next year.

The larger and deeper the pot the less critical soil becomes but use the best soil you can for any trees in pots. They will grow so much better for it.
In the meantime feed regularly and water as often as required to keep these ones healthy over summer. Regular trimming as they grow will help build branches and ramification but you need to recognise that you will be removing some branches completely when you assemble the group so the trees fit together naturally.

Can't help you with overwintering as I probably have a much warmer winter and my trees stay outside all year round.
BTW it is worth adding your location to your profile so you don't have to keep reminding us where you are.
Thank you for such a complete and detailed answer. I appreciate so much your sharing with me and taking the time. I will print your answer for next year when I can begin placement, root pruning, etc. You mentioned perhaps now taking the entire root ball and placing it in my training pot which is 18" x 10" x 6". I wish I could do that but there are roots coming through the drainage hole of the current container (which is fairly deep perhaps 18" tall), so I would have to remove a lot of the feeder roots. Do you think that removing those roots would be ok? I don't know how deep the tap root goes and I would not want to disturb that at this time. Thanks again!
 

jbost

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meanwhile, look into joining the Atlanta Bonsai Society. We have monthly meetings - usually. Lol!!!

yesterday, we held a Zoom question and answer session for the membership since we can’t hold our regular meetings.
Thank you for your response - it is good to know.
 

sorce

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Welcome to Crazy!

I reckon you can get froggy with them trees iffin you wanted.

But just thinking about them and a future forest composition will serve you better than trying to reduce leaf size, which might just lead to a few more years of development time.

They look quite uniform in leaf, and different in size! Nixe.

Welcome! Someone with more knowledge will pipe in soon. Lately I'm Dr. Doom.
I hope that's not about that Boxwood.

Sorce
 

j evans

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I hope that's not about that Boxwood.

Sorce

The Kingsville boxwood and I also lost 1 JM about 5 years old and 4 JM that were about 2-3 years old. Just not doing a good job with the trees lately.

Sorry I copied, can't figure out how to quote.
 

Shibui

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Thank you for such a complete and detailed answer. I appreciate so much your sharing with me and taking the time. I will print your answer for next year when I can begin placement, root pruning, etc. You mentioned perhaps now taking the entire root ball and placing it in my training pot which is 18" x 10" x 6". I wish I could do that but there are roots coming through the drainage hole of the current container (which is fairly deep perhaps 18" tall), so I would have to remove a lot of the feeder roots. Do you think that removing those roots would be ok? I don't know how deep the tap root goes and I would not want to disturb that at this time. Thanks again!
Here is where it can get really difficult. I can't see what you can see. I cannot assess how many roots are coming out of the current pot or where they go. In general it is Ok to just chop off roots that are growing out the drain holes. There's nearly always plenty of good feeder roots inside the container that can sustain the tree.
I had no idea the current pot was so deep. Reducing the roots from 18" down to 6" will remove a lot of roots. An experienced grower could probably do that to those trees now but I'd be very reluctant to tell you it will be OK. The fact you are asking these questions means you are not an experienced or skilled grower so there is a good chance that the trees would not survive that much root reduction while they are growing like this.
Leave them be for summer. Just do some pruning and maybe remove some obviously redundant branches this year.
I have to keep reminding newbies that bonsai is a marathon not a sprint. A year is nothing to a bonsai so you must learn to be patient and wait for the trees and the correct season.
 

jbost

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I apologize for my delay in replying - but appreciate very much your suggestions. As you mentioned, the current pot the trees are in is quite deep - about 18". I understand I should not do any transferring to a training pot until early next spring. For now, I can cut the roots coming through the drainage hole but my concern is that I believe the trees are quite root bound as I need to give them a lot of water every day or they become dry especially at the bottom. This will worsen as our Atlanta summers become hotter. I can keep the pot in a shady area to reduce stress but am wondering if it would be ok to repot the trees with new soil, using the same pot, and just do a very light pruning of the feeder roots. Also not sure about fertilizing. Thank you!
 

jbost

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It is too late to repot these trees now. They are already leafed out. The best time to repot and root prune is in late winter/early spring as the buds start to swell. However they are in quite a deep pot there so tranisitoning them to a more bonsai shaped training pot like the one you describe for a couple of years is a good idea. When you repot at the right time, you can root prune quite a bit off, but try to leave some smaller feeder roots there. It is also a good idea to prune branches at the same time, just make sure you leave nodes below the cut so there is a place for new buds to grow.

Personally, I would not use garden soil, but a mix that is appropriate for maple trees in your area. Find out what other bonsai hobbiests that keep maples in your area use. There are some people here in GA and states around you that could help with this.

To keep them alive and thriving. Id try to put them in a place where they get morning sun the dappled shade in the mid and late day when it gets really hot. They will have less of a tendency to get burned leaves that way. Also make sure they get water when they need it, not on a strict schedule. Although in your area, youll probably have to water them at least once a day, maybe twice when its very hot. Youll need to watch them and figure out what your watering schedule should be based on your soil mix, the depth of the pot, and time of the year, and rain events.

Also as mentioned, please put Atlanta, GA on your profile so we dont have to keep asking you where you are and it will make it easier for us to give you appropriate advice.
It is too late to repot these trees now. They are already leafed out. The best time to repot and root prune is in late winter/early spring as the buds start to swell. However they are in quite a deep pot there so tranisitoning them to a more bonsai shaped training pot like the one you describe for a couple of years is a good idea. When you repot at the right time, you can root prune quite a bit off, but try to leave some smaller feeder roots there. It is also a good idea to prune branches at the same time, just make sure you leave nodes below the cut so there is a place for new buds to grow.

Personally, I would not use garden soil, but a mix that is appropriate for maple trees in your area. Find out what other bonsai hobbiests that keep maples in your area use. There are some people here in GA and states around you that could help with this.

To keep them alive and thriving. Id try to put them in a place where they get morning sun the dappled shade in the mid and late day when it gets really hot. They will have less of a tendency to get burned leaves that way. Also make sure they get water when they need it, not on a strict schedule. Although in your area, youll probably have to water them at least once a day, maybe twice when its very hot. Youll need to watch them and figure out what your watering schedule should be based on your soil mix, the depth of the pot, and time of the year, and rain events.

Also as mentioned, please put Atlanta, GA on your profile so we dont have to keep asking you where you are and it will make it easier for us to give you appropriate advice.
Apologize for the delay in getting back to you - but thank you for the suggestions. I will wait til late winter next year to transition. For now, I am concerned the trees are root bound and perhaps I need to repot with new soil - the soil at the bottom dries out quickly and I don't want to lose any trees over the summer. I will give it morning sun only to reduce stress, not sure about fertilizing but if I repot I would think it would be ok. Thank you!
 
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