Japanese Beech: "choose your own adventure"

Brian Van Fleet

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If this tree was yours as shown, what, if anything, would you do with it? What do you like or dislike? What would you change?

It's an imported Japanese Beech and is 32" tall in this photo.

I'm going somewhere with this...and will jump back in when some replies come...this could be fun.
 

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jk_lewis

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That's the most UN-beech-like beech I've seen in a very long time. Beech have rounded, or vase-like shapes, like elms or some maples.

I'd remove most of that pointy top.

My virtual skills are quite limited, but this is closer to the shape it should be:
 

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Dav4

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I like the image you have with the tree right now. While I agree that the apex could be less pointy/more blunted, I wouldn't reduce it to the degree of the virt JKL provided. I'd maybe just reduce the apex only slightly by removing that one wired banch creates the "point" of the apex (I don't have any virt skills-sorry). The lower branches would improve with some thickening, as well. I'd try a different pot, oval being best, maybe cream colored. I'd try to expose more rootage if possible. Nice tree.

Dave
 

johng

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Hey Brian, Overall this tree is not bad. No bad scars, decent branch placement, beginning to ramify reasonably well...especially for a beech. However, to my eye it looks very much like a young tree. For me it is this young characteristic that makes this tree lose its appeal. Many of my own trees have this same problem...too tall and skinny to ever look really old and ancient. Is it nice, of course, but as it is it just doesn't appeal to my personal taste...perhaps some of that may be the result of just reading "Gnarly Branches...":)

If this tree were mine I would hope to have several more from which I could build a forest planting. Otherwise, I think I would put it in the ground and try to develop some character over the next 10-20 years.

I am interested to see what you have in mind.

John
 

cquinn

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I like the image you have with the tree right now. While I agree that the apex could be less pointy/more blunted, I wouldn't reduce it to the degree of the virt JKL provided. I'd maybe just reduce the apex only slightly by removing that one wired banch creates the "point" of the apex (I don't have any virt skills-sorry). The lower branches would improve with some thickening, as well. I'd try a different pot, oval being best, maybe cream colored. I'd try to expose more rootage if possible. Nice tree.

Dave
I agree with this, remove that wired up branch. With proper bud selection this sping, it'll grow into a beaut. This actually looks like most japanese beech I've seen in my japanese bonsai books.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Thanks for playing along!
So far, we have:
  • Un-beechlike
  • Beechlike
  • Young
  • Reduce and/or round the apex
  • Decent ramification
  • Change Pot: oval, maybe cream
  • Expose some nebari

Attached is my assessment from owning the tree, let's wait for a few more replies and then we can proceed...
 

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jk_lewis

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This actually looks like most japanese beech I've seen in my japanese bonsai books.
That's because -- despite our hero worship of any kind of Japanese bonsai -- their trees are very artificial and sculpted. They pay no attenton to what a species actualy grows like. Now, if that's how you like your bonsai, that's fine and dandy.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Ok...to keep the thread moving along; let's address the apex, cleaning up the bar-branches, and changing the pot to a cream oval first.

Now what do you see (besides let it grow!!!)?
 

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johng

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"Now what do you see (besides let it grow!!!)?"
Honestly,
I see a tree now with a scar that will likely never heal without being allowed to grow significantly.
I see 4 levels of bar branches
I see branches wired like this tree is a conifer.
I see an apex that appears to flow away from the viewer.
I see a tree, given the species, that is at least 10-15 years from being a decent bonsai.

not trying to be a jerk here at all, just giving you one person's evaluation based on my own experiences. For me, I always struggle with evaluating material and trying to decide if something has the potential to be specimen quality or not. Of course we can always apply "techniques" to improve material but those efforts never seem to measure up to the real thing.

As I mentioned earlier I think this tree could make very good forest material...perhaps even for a mixed forest planting.

John
 

Smoke

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I am a super advocate of someone ruining the look of a tree now to make it superior in the future. Pruning back hard to make a better branching system is usually the way to go.


except.....

Beeches!

Beeches bloom only once per season. You do not defoliate beeches, you prune beeches. Ramifying takes twice as many years to ramify a tree as does say a maple since even the shortest growing areas will allow one defoliation when necessary.

I would say that the tree looks much better before you pruned it. I do not see how keeping the pairs of horizontal bar branches will improve the shape of this tree. Maybe you could virtual the bones as it is now and show us where you intend to take it. I think it may look similer to what you had before your ambitious pruning. BTW, beeches should always be wired with paper wrapped wire. Even the thickness of the paper will cushion the bark and allow for growth and not scar the bark. Be cautious of the wire, even a few wire scars will ruin this tree for decades.

Otherwise, congrats on owning a Japanese beech, when perfect there are few bonsai that are more impressive.
 
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rockm

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American beeches only produce a single flush of growth per season. Asian and European varities produce more and are more vigorous in general--more akin to hornbeam (which are relatives) than to American beech.

I've found that American beech while it does have thin bark does not really need paper wrap on wiring, if you use softer wire--or even copper. Depends on how you wire as what you wire with. And scars don't take decades to heal, but that of course, depends on the scar. In my experience, with slower growing American Beech, large pruning wounds callus vigorously and even push new buds--which is a pretty rare thing for a tree to do.

I'd say this tree had more potential pre-pruning, but the pruning didn't destroy it. It does have a "beechiness" to it. Bar branches are part of that...just because they're bar branches doesn't really negate them. If they're bar branches that are distracting, yeah, they're bad. If they're bar branches that "work" what's the problem?

Younger beech are indeed pointy at the apex. Older trees too--sometimes. Depends on the growing circumstances.

Here's a silhouette of an American Beech that appears in tree guides:
http://www.paconserve.org/alcoa-trees/images/silhouettes/s_amer_beech.jpg

I'd hollow out the large pruning scar at least half an inch deep, to give the callus tissue some room to fill in. If you don't you will have a large callus ring that wil become a large lump of callus ring...
 
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cquinn

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Ok...to keep the thread moving along; let's address the apex, cleaning up the bar-branches, and changing the pot to a cream oval first.

Now what do you see (besides let it grow!!!)?
I think beech look better in blue pots, the cream and the color of the trunk wash out.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Cool...now that I have your attention, I should say that these photos are 5 years old...and I've been very busy.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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So after I whacked the $h!t out of it, removing everything that was fundamentally "wrong" with the tree, I was left with a bit of a skeleton. Al, glad you weighed in...taking it back this far (which wasn't far enough) was nerve-racking...it gets worse...

Here is how it spent '06:
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Look at the original image again. It looks great as a thumbnail image, but a cursory inspection will quickly reveal that wiring the branches hid flaws that would only get worse.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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So, recognizing that the apex (that several of you pointed out already) needed to be replaced, I decided to layer it. Hey, it worked in the magazines...
...didn't work for me :mad:

But, at least it was growing a little...
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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Then, in that 20" cream oval pot...the soil collapsed and the roots rotted...

So, the weak branch structure got a weak root system to match. I lost most of the left side of the root system.

Here is a series of the 2008 repotting...OUCH! I gave it about a 25% chance.

I also removed the failed attempt at layering the apex, and wired up the branch that jkl identified as the new leader in his virt. (good eye, guy!)
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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The darn thing lived.

With a new apex, and taper to boot...along with the illusion of a thicker trunk (being 10" shorter). It stood a chance.

I left it alone in 2008, and here is a shot from the end of the growing season. This pot is 16" wide.
 

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Brian Van Fleet

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American beeches only produce a single flush of growth per season. Asian and European varities produce more and are more vigorous in general--more akin to hornbeam (which are relatives) than to American beech.
I spent YEARS thinking I'd only get one flush per season with this tree. It is almost as prolific as an elm; providing 2-3 flushes a season.

I've found that American beech while it does have thin bark does not really need paper wrap on wiring, if you use softer wire--or even copper. Depends on how you wire as what you wire with. And scars don't take decades to heal, but that of course, depends on the scar. In my experience, with slower growing American Beech, large pruning wounds callus vigorously and even push new buds--which is a pretty rare thing for a tree to do.
I have let a little wire dig in, and it will scar, but I've also found that branches are a delight to wire, and that they "hold" by the time you should remove them...so I haven't found a need to use paper.

I'd say this tree had more potential pre-pruning, but the pruning didn't destroy it. It does have a "beechiness" to it. Bar branches are part of that...just because they're bar branches doesn't really negate them. If they're bar branches that are distracting, yeah, they're bad. If they're bar branches that "work" what's the problem?


I'd hollow out the large pruning scar at least half an inch deep, to give the callus tissue some room to fill in. If you don't you will have a large callus ring that wil become a large lump of callus ring...
I've been digging out that hole in the back and filling it in. So far, it's closed about 20%. It has plenty of space to close over, but I still suspect (to johng's point) it will take years to complete.

Each year, I expose the cambium, add another ring of cut putty, then put paste over the whole wound to prevent rot; here is a series of that process from '09. This year, I filled it with epoxy putty as well.
 

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