How exactly do you develop good taper?

Harunobu

Chumono
Messages
694
Reaction score
764
Location
Netherlands
USDA Zone
7b
I think we all know exactly what we mean so I won't post any pictures.

If you let a tree grow normally you will get a straight trunk. The older the tree, the taller and the bigger the diameter of the trunk. A bonsai should often ideally be six times as tall as the diameter. Now you can't just decide 'I want a 70 cm high bonsai', calculate that that means you need a trunk with almost 12 diameter, and then go out and get/buy a tree that has a trunk that big and cut it down to 70 cm.

How exactly do you get that almost pyramid-like structure? Do you need to have a sacrificial leader branch go off lower down the stem? If so how do you get rid of the scars?

Or do you just create the bonsai with the height and branches, maintain it like you would a normal bonsai and eventually it will age and gain that impressive taper?

Another idea I can come up with is that you chop the trunk several times. Say you want that same 70 cm 12 diameter bonsai. The first branch will be at 22 cm. Then you let it grow till it is 12 in diameter, the you chop it off at 22 cm. Then you let it regrow and at some time you prune it to make sure it has only 1 leader. Then you let that one grow until it has the correct diameter at the right height. Say 30 cm height and 16 in diameter.
Of course this is just an idea I might try if I had no other way to find out. It seems it will take a long long time.

Or maybe a process similar to the one mentioned before except rather than growing out a new apex you use an existing branch to be the new apex?

Reason I want to know this is because I want to collect one or more Scots pine(Pinus sylvestris) from the forests here. I am growing from seeds mostly right now. You see nice looking but somewhat spindly bonsai. I can collect trees that will look exactly like that. I can fix the branches in place, grow it out a bit. But will it ever start to look like those really impressive bonsai? Those that really look like an ancient huge tree in small form? I am young and I want to aim at that. But I don't know the process. It is going to take 20 or 30 years or more, fine. I am going to try.
I know in Japan they often collected 100 or even 400 year old trees from the wild. This is not possible where I live. All forests are artificial and all trees are eventually harvested for the timber industry. There are no rocks or hillsides. It is hard to find a young tree that is not perfectly straight, but possible. But no tree is going to be old. Let alone old and small.

So I have no real clue what exactly to look for when I don't know what to do with it exactly.
 

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
11,724
Reaction score
31,579
Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
Big topic, lots of questions, and I'm sure you'll have many responses. Here are a few items to consider:

1. You get the idea of developing taper; yes, you do build a trunk one section at a time through sacrifice branches. Read more here: http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/trunks.htm. Brent's article is about as succinct as it gets. Now, grow some trunks in your yard and it will crystallize for you in a couple seasons.

2. When you go collecting, you are looking for qualities in a tree that make your candidate tree a good bonsai. Start with nebari, anything you collect should have great or very good surface roots, a round trunk (or character that you can accentuate), with taper. Branches are the last consideration. I listed these in this order hardest-to-fix to easiest-to-fix parts of the candidate tree.

3. If you collect a small tree and put it into a bonsai pot, it will ALWAYS be a small bonsai. They do not grow into large bonsai over time. Deciduous trees will develop some taper and improve their bases over multiple repottings...so long as you work on the roots properly. If you put a flawed (bad movement or taper) trunk in a pot and develop branches, you will always have a flawed trunk with nice branches around it. To correct it later means you undo a LOT of work. Start with building the nebari, then trunk, then branches last.

4. If you are collecting seedlings, #2 is less important; time is most important. You will be waiting 10-20 years for pine trees to develop into something you can start to work on (and these are bad starter trees if you're new...click here for a good article about this: http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/pines.htm). With deciduous trees, it will be shorter, but you're still looking at 5-10 years. I'd stick with these for now.

I'd encourage you to collect the best trunks you can find, and shorten your time line considerably. Here are a few pines and junipers from a recent collecting trip: http://www.nebaribonsai.com/Nebari_Bonsai_112109/Collecting_Trip.html. I only collected trees that were easy to collect intact root systems, had interesting trunks with movement and taper. I'll fix the branches, but most of these trunks are "good-to-go". This means that once they have recovered from being collected, I'll be able to do some styling on the branches and they will be convincing bonsai in just a couple years.

Hopefully this helps...and maybe brings about some more specific questions...
Regards,
Brian
 

grouper52

Masterpiece
Messages
2,371
Reaction score
3,585
Location
Port Orchard, WA
USDA Zone
8
Those are good ideas, Brian.

Harunobu, where are you? It matters for several reasons. If you live in the tropics, there is some chance that you can grow great trunks in a few years. Otherwise, not as likely.

In any event, it is a lengthy process, and collecting will get you great material more quickly. Since the local forests are poor options, can you travel to someplace better: it may be a long ways, but not as long as waiting forever to grow one yourself.

Alternatively, go around neighborhoods looking for great trees in people's yards and ask if you can buy them or replace them with something more attractive you can buy cheap from a local nursery. Look in little abandoned lots or wild spots at the periphery of towns, before you get into the manicured young forests.

Also, consider buying trees with great trunks at nurseries or online.

Growing them takes space in the ground, and a lot of patience, and if you don't have that, I would recommend the other methods I've mentioned. Even if you can grow them for years in the ground, and I do, you will want some good material to work on meanwhile.

Another possibility for taper - don't grow it - carve it! Old beat up stumps can often be carved into beautiful bonsai with stunning taper. Quick, easy, and often impressive.

Hope that helps.

G52
 

Harunobu

Chumono
Messages
694
Reaction score
764
Location
Netherlands
USDA Zone
7b
I just made a couple of pictures of potential trees:

Tree 1:




Tree 2:




Tree 3:





These trees are about a meter high and diameter is somewhere between 1 and 2 cm.

There's few trees that are very different from the average. There's none that have noticable taper. The forest floor is covered with a thick layer of moss and/or compost so you can't really judge roots unless you dig in a bit.
The thick stems are all over 2.5 meter and higher.

Does this have any potential? I guess it is better than nursery stock and surely faster than seed. But maybe I can look around some more.

I am in the Netherlands, btw. In this forest there are douglas, Scots pine, oak and birch. There are many thousands of young plants on the forest floor. They must remove all plants among the large ones every once in a while. Otherwise, you would have trees of all sizes.
 
Last edited:

Klytus

Omono
Messages
1,305
Reaction score
22
Location
Singing Pines Tyneside-England
USDA Zone
8a
It looks like an annoyance,you find them and it's like the foresty agency has been planting trees with bad graft unions.

You just can't get away from these terrible roots.
 

rockm

Imperial Masterpiece
Messages
9,684
Reaction score
12,395
Location
Fairfax Va.
USDA Zone
7
You cannot reduce pine for taper the same way you reduce decidous trees. If you chop off all the foliage on a pine, it will die. These trees can be cut back above the first branch leaving that branch and its foliage.

That said, these trees don't really have all that much potential, especially if you chop them.
 

Klytus

Omono
Messages
1,305
Reaction score
22
Location
Singing Pines Tyneside-England
USDA Zone
8a
I was reading in,'The Tree Guide'it is possible to coppice at least one Pine,Pinus Rigida the Northern Pitch Pine.

There is a little drawing of sprouts on bole and another with irregular crown and leafy sprouts.
 

Attila Soos

Omono
Messages
1,804
Reaction score
33
Location
Los Angeles (Altadena), CA
USDA Zone
9
Harunobu,
The trees on your pictures are useless for bonsai. The reason is simple: they lack young shoots close to the nebari. No shoots, no taper.
If you find a tree with plenty of young shoots close to the nebari (I mean at least 3 or 4 shoots WITHIN two inches from the nebari), then you can use that as a 15 - 20 year project.

Sometimes you can induce new budding on these young trees. Here is what I would do, in order to induce new growth. In the spring, right at the time when these trees start pushing new green, cut them back all the way to a 3-4 inch length. There will be no green left, and there is a strong chance that the seedling will die. But since they are very young, they often grow new buds on the trunk, and survive. Do not collect these trees until the next spring. Then you will have a young tree with lots of fresh green at the base, good for collection.
I bet that if you cut back 5 or 6 trees, you will get at least 2 to survive.
 
Last edited:

Harunobu

Chumono
Messages
694
Reaction score
764
Location
Netherlands
USDA Zone
7b
You mean 2 inch above the forest floor? Because most trees roots start about 2 inch below the compost/humus as you can see on the picture. I can look for that next time.
 

Attila Soos

Omono
Messages
1,804
Reaction score
33
Location
Los Angeles (Altadena), CA
USDA Zone
9
You mean 2 inch above the forest floor? Because most trees roots start about 2 inch below the compost/humus as you can see on the picture. I can look for that next time.

No, the tree should be 3 to 4 inches long from where the root base starts. So, you have to uncover the buried trunk a little bit, to allow the light to penetrate. Also, you have to experiment with trees of different age. The younger the age, the more chance that it will survive. And the season is important, if you do it now, they will die for sure. But if you do it right at the time when they start pushing new growth, there is a better chance.

P.S. I see, your question was referring to looking for low branches. Yes, the 2 inches is from the root base, which means that you need new shoots right at the level of the forest floor.
 
Last edited:

Attila Soos

Omono
Messages
1,804
Reaction score
33
Location
Los Angeles (Altadena), CA
USDA Zone
9
By the way, the distances where the new shoots need to be, depend on how tall you are planning to make your final bonsai. If you are planning to create small/shohin bonsai, the distances need to be on the sort side. If you want large bonsai, then you can have internodes higher on the trunk.
 

Klytus

Omono
Messages
1,305
Reaction score
22
Location
Singing Pines Tyneside-England
USDA Zone
8a
The last one i would dig and plant up for later.

The trouble with new sprouts on old main stems is not that they do not emerge where once there was a whorl on some pines but that the snow ice shears them off.

What's no good for Bonsai is good for Niwaki.
 

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
11,724
Reaction score
31,579
Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
Does this have any potential? I guess it is better than nursery stock and surely faster than seed. But maybe I can look around some more.

I am in the Netherlands, btw. In this forest there are douglas, Scots pine, oak and birch. There are many thousands of young plants on the forest floor. They must remove all plants among the large ones every once in a while. Otherwise, you would have trees of all sizes.

Sorry, but these aren't good candidates for the reasons listed...you'll spend too much effort and, if they live, will always be not good candidates. Get out of the forest and look along the edges, rocky outcroppings, and near easements where root systems are better contained, the conditions are a little more rugged, and the trees have more character.

Of the trees you named, Scots pine are about the only species that make good bonsai...the others are laden with difficulties; mostly controlling leaf size, acclimating to a pot, and losing big branches.

Do you see any hawthorns, hornbeam, beech? They are infinitely better suited species as bonsai.
 

treebeard55

Chumono
Messages
763
Reaction score
84
Location
north-central Indiana, USA
USDA Zone
5A
Haronubu, first, this photo may illustrate what Attila was saying about low shoots. This is an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra,) nursery-grown, less than 5 years old. It's planted as part of our landscaping to bulk up for a few years. (My only option for in-ground development.)

The yellow line is about 6 inches from the soil, and that's where the trunk will be chopped in the future. The shoots below it are what I'll use to develop a bonsai. I'm looking at 10-15 years for this project. (Which is about as long as I care to take on, at 58! :p)
 

Attachments

  • YardAustrian.jpg
    YardAustrian.jpg
    226.6 KB · Views: 88

treebeard55

Chumono
Messages
763
Reaction score
84
Location
north-central Indiana, USA
USDA Zone
5A
(Sorry, my "second" got interrupted by my parents' arrival.)

Brian and Attila have been giving you the brutal truth, Haronubu. I agree with their assessment of the tree in the pictures you posted: it will never be a good bonsai. (I say that with one qualification in mind -- my "two" below.)

At the same time, let me offer a couple of thoughts, not in opposition to what they've said, but alongside, so to speak.

One, you could collect that Scots pine in your pictures, and use it for a learning tree. You could use it to learn about pine management -- timing of pruning, selection of buds, fertilizing, and so on. Let it be the tree on which you make your mistakes! (I have a small nursery-grown ponderosa that I bought for exactly that purpose.) It will never be show-worthy -- don't expect that -- but it could still serve a very useful purpose, if you want to go that route.

Two, there is one style variation where taper doesn't matter: bunjin, a.k.a. literati. You would have to work visual interest into the trunk, and develop the branching, but it could probably be done. Just remember, if you choose that route, a statement of Susumu Nakamura's: "To do a bunjin is easy. To do a bunjin masterpiece is hard."
 
Last edited:

Smoke

Ignore-Amus
Messages
11,563
Reaction score
19,745
Location
Fresno, CA
USDA Zone
9
If you do work with some leaf droppers, this might be a good read. If you wish to work with pines and junipers, be prepared to spend some real money to "buy" what you want. The learning curve on those species is tireless.


http://bonsainut.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3149
 

Harunobu

Chumono
Messages
694
Reaction score
764
Location
Netherlands
USDA Zone
7b
I understand that the pine is the only species to work with. I just wanted to tell that pine is all that is worth collecting imo. Maple I have to do by seed or cutting, which I am doing. I also have Chinese elm seeds.

There's some more trees, of course, but they occur less frequently and I can't ID them all. And for deciduous trees, I don't think they look as well as maples. And of course I also didn't see anything spectacular.

Is it just the lack of lower branches that is the problem? Or are they also still too thin and young? I understand fatter and older is better, but is it just an question of time or a lack of potential? Most of those pines all have really long internodes and just a few branches.

There is still chances of finding an old small pine somewhere, I guess. But there is just little that can keep a tree small. There's basically only wind damage.

Also, I am a student so I don't have the money to buy something that's valuable. I can buy cheap nursery stock, if I have to though. But good old prebonsai, no.
 
Last edited:

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
11,724
Reaction score
31,579
Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
Is it just the lack of lower branches that is the problem? Or are they also still too thin and young? I understand fatter and older is better, but is it just an question of time or a lack of potential? Most of those pines all have really long internodes and just a few branches.

Lack of lower branches mainly; then lack of character. But here are the better questions...what drew you to those trees that you posted? What about them made you stop and consider them? Do you think these qualities will lead to great bonsai? Practice looking for character in trees that you can accentuate in pots and you'll develop a better eye for good material; even if the lowest branches are a little too high.
 

Similar threads

Top