Leaders: to side shoot or not to side shoot?

SeanS

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I’ve read mixed opinions online regarding keeping side shoots/branches on leaders. Interested to hear everyone’s thoughts. Some say to cut off any shoots or branches from leaders while growing trunks, others say keep them. My thinking is it’s best to keep as much foliar mass on a leader as possible for rapid wood production, while those that say to remove side branches say this increases vertical growth which produces faster thinking below the growth.

My question is mostly focused on deciduous development, but I’m also interested in hearing opinions on JBP development. Do you keep all apical shoots at the top of a leader or do you only keep the strongest central shoot when developing trunks?
 

Adair M

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It’s NOT foliage mass that produces wood production on the trunk. It’s hormones that stimulates wood production. The apical tip produces those hormones. The stronger you make that apical tip, the more hormones, the more hormones, the more wood in the trunk!

Here is the JBP bed at Telperion farms. (Pre fire):

0AAC5A58-24B1-4CB3-BD28-36D2DDCCC4F6.jpeg

And that’s how they produced stock like:

7175BFF7-5B09-474A-8466-251410A14DA1.jpeg
 

Katie0317

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It’s NOT foliage mass that produces wood production on the trunk. It’s hormones that stimulates wood production. The apical tip produces those hormones. The stronger you make that apical tip, the more hormones, the more hormones, the more wood in the trunk!

Here is the JBP bed at Telperion farms. (Pre fire):

View attachment 398598

And that’s how they produced stock like:

View attachment 398597
This may seem like an obvious question but is that true of every tree? I'm trying to study plant biology on my own and have a page of questions along this line. Thank you for addressing it.
 

SeanS

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It’s NOT foliage mass that produces wood production on the trunk. It’s hormones that stimulates wood production. The apical tip produces those hormones. The stronger you make that apical tip, the more hormones, the more hormones, the more wood in the trunk!

Here is the JBP bed at Telperion farms. (Pre fire):

View attachment 398598

And that’s how they produced stock like:

View attachment 398597
So you’re saying leave all the apical shoots on a JBP leader?
 

Shibui

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As bonsai growers thickness is not the only consideration. We also need to have some live growth down low to make the tree eventually. Removing side shoots off tall leaders is one way of preserving lower branches and growth we need for the eventual transition to bonsai.
A really thick trunk quick is only useful for bonsai if it has live shoots or the potential for live shoots. If removing side shoots does slow thickening a fraction it is necessary for what you need to achieve.
 

Forsoothe!

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If it were possible to create thick bonsai quickly, then nobody would have small trees. Large trees are an eventuality that comes with time on trees that are in the process of bonsai for a long time. Some of those that do make it to nice, big bonsai are handed from one person to another over years, or in process by one person over many years. The best trees are good small trees, then good medium trees, then good medium big trees, and so on over the years until they reach that good large tree stage. They are enjoyed for almost their whole existence. 'Taters with leaves and beer cans with leaves don't fool anyone even if proponents of such "quick" bonsai congratulate each other with happy talk.

Have you ever seen a show judge pull out a scale and measure a tree while critiquing a tree? No. Trees are judged as a whole picture and trees having parts out of scale with the rest of the tree are deficient, not superior just because 20% of the tree looks older. Anything that is exaggerated in appearance compared to something else on the same tree detracts from the net view. A tree half the age with appropriate taper will beat a beer can every time.
 

SeanS

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If it were possible to create thick bonsai quickly, then nobody would have small trees. Large trees are an eventuality that comes with time on trees that are in the process of bonsai for a long time. Some of those that do make it to nice, big bonsai are handed from one person to another over years, or in process by one person over many years. The best trees are good small trees, then good medium trees, then good medium big trees, and so on over the years until they reach that good large tree stage. They are enjoyed for almost their whole existence. 'Taters with leaves and beer cans with leaves don't fool anyone even if proponents of such "quick" bonsai congratulate each other with happy talk.

Have you ever seen a show judge pull out a scale and measure a tree while critiquing a tree? No. Trees are judged as a whole picture and trees having parts out of scale with the rest of the tree are deficient, not superior just because 20% of the tree looks older. Anything that is exaggerated in appearance compared to something else on the same tree detracts from the net view. A tree half the age with appropriate taper will beat a beer can every time.

So you’re saying leave the side branching on a leader?
 

Paradox

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So you’re saying leave the side branching on a leader?

You don't want side branches shading out the chosen branches below. As long as that isn't happening, you can leave them I suppose but as @Adair M pointed out with his picture, typically sacrifice leaders don't have many side branches
 

Forsoothe!

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Grow the whole tree in proportion if you want it to finish in good proportions. Generally speaking you need to show a picture of the tree in question from several views so that the advice you get applies to that tree. General practices and general advice sometimes or often will miss something important and Pines don't grow like deciduous so they need to be in a separate conversation. We don't know if your tree is 1 foot or 8 feet tall. Fast growth means longer internodes. That's almost always very counterproductive. As @Shibui says above, it's very important to keep foliage growing on lower trunk branches both to keep increasing taper and because in the end you need lower branches and once they disappear, they are hard to replace. Also, you need to keep more foliage lower in the tree than at the top to stifle apical dominance that naturally favors top growth at the expense of growth on the lower parts of the tree. Pictures, please, and a detailed description of size, and keep JBP a separate issue.
 

Forsoothe!

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For the record, again, I'm not saying never chop as part of the process of growing trees. I'm saying if that's your path then chop every year and leave a leader that is (1) very near the chop, (2) with that leader wired vertical and towards the front and the chop towards the rear, (3) favor the lower branches by not allowing the upper branches to shade out the lowers, and (4) by not allowing the upper branches to have more leaves than the lower branches. IMPORTANT: No branch should be allowed to have more leaves than the branch below it. That will maintain tapered growth of the trunk. Count the leaves on each branch and remove excess leaves and the tip. Sooner or later the tree will start looking good and you may want to abandon the yearly chopping and just proceed with clip & grow, forever.
 

SeanS

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All I’m asking is should side shoots that grow high up on the leader be removed or left when growing a leader to thicken the part of the trunk that the leader will form. I’m not asking about lower branches on the existing trunk or branches on the leader that might become part of the finished bonsai, only the shoots that grow from a sacrificial leader higher up that will eventually be cut back to form a section of trunk.
 

Paradox

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With more units (leaves) fueling growth, yes it should grow faster but again, you need to consider what shading the lower growth that you want to keep will do. You don't want to shade that out
 

canoeguide

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With more units (leaves) fueling growth, yes it should grow faster but again, you need to consider what shading the lower growth that you want to keep will do. You don't want to shade that out
This is my interpretation also. More leaves, buds, and tips = more auxin = faster growth.

It does raise the question, however: Is there is anything gained by having the active leaves and buds on a sacrificial leader farther from the roots? That is, does the distance that hormones and water have to travel change anything in the growth equation?
 

Adair M

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All I’m asking is should side shoots that grow high up on the leader be removed or left when growing a leader to thicken the part of the trunk that the leader will form. I’m not asking about lower branches on the existing trunk or branches on the leader that might become part of the finished bonsai, only the shoots that grow from a sacrificial leader higher up that will eventually be cut back to form a section of trunk.
Did you look at the picture I posted? Those JBP are 15 feet tall! All the side shoots get removed as the sacrifice branch grows, and the central leader is allowed to grow tall. There ARE small side branches down at the base that will eventually become the tree’s branches. They are trimmed and kept short.

It’s important to keep the weeds away so that they don’t get shaded by weeds.

I think Forsoothe has me blocked, so he can’t see my picture. But his discussion of “beer can” trunks is totally misguided!

The tree I posted was developed by growing out sacrifice branches, then cutting the sacrifice branch off, and growing another. Multiple times! As you can see, it has created fantastic taper!

Here it is a few years later after I have developed some ramification:

FA8A8297-FAB0-4D39-8CCE-367142B508B8.jpeg

Forsoothe means well, but many of the methods he uses and the advice he gives are in direct conflict with the best bonsai professionals and hobbiests.
 

Adair M

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This is my interpretation also. More leaves, buds, and tips = more auxin = faster growth.

It does raise the question, however: Is there is anything gained by having the active leaves and buds on a sacrificial leader farther from the roots? That is, does the distance that hormones and water have to travel change anything in the growth equation?
No, you have it wrong. Go back and LOOK at the pictures I posted. Those sacrifice branches are 15 feet tall! Each year they went and removed the side shoots of the sacrifice at the beginning of the growing season, leaving only the central leader. That picture was taken in late summer. The only side shoots on that sacrifice trunk are the current season’s growth.

That strong central leader produces a hormone that signals all the cambium between itself and the roots to build wood to support it. It’s the hormone, not the leaves, that build wood.

My established bonsai have lots of leaves, but because there’s no strong central leader, there’s no hormone produced (or very, very little). Therefore, no trunk thickening occurs! (Or very, very little).
 

Adair M

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More proof:

My Norway Spruce in my back yard:

0E25C6BC-6E65-4FF7-83DB-5DA9E5606B96.jpeg

Here is a close up of the central leader up near the apex, where the foliage is rather sparse:

BEDAB4F5-3811-4F7F-93BC-763C033BF305.jpeg

It’s at least an inch thick there.

Now, here’s one of the lower branches which has tons of foliage, and is many years older:

2E4D2271-F9A4-472C-A06B-33657427DEC7.jpeg

The branch is barely 1/2 inch!
 

Brian Van Fleet

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I’ve read mixed opinions online regarding keeping side shoots/branches on leaders. Interested to hear everyone’s thoughts. Some say to cut off any shoots or branches from leaders while growing trunks, others say keep them. My thinking is it’s best to keep as much foliar mass on a leader as possible for rapid wood production, while those that say to remove side branches say this increases vertical growth which produces faster thinking below the growth.

My question is mostly focused on deciduous development, but I’m also interested in hearing opinions on JBP development. Do you keep all apical shoots at the top of a leader or do you only keep the strongest central shoot when developing trunks?
Only keep the central leader, as Adair showed in his photos. Especially on JBP. Build the trunk one section at a time, leaving small side shoots and keeping them short for use later. Let the trunk run, prune back that sacrifice branch to only a leader, and strip needles in the fall so they’re only at the top. This keeps those small shoots below stronger. When you have achieved the desired trunk section, chop it back and build the next section the same way.
 

canoeguide

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No, you have it wrong. Go back and LOOK at the pictures I posted. Those sacrifice branches are 15 feet tall! Each year they went and removed the side shoots of the sacrifice at the beginning of the growing season, leaving only the central leader. That picture was taken in late summer. The only side shoots on that sacrifice trunk are the current season’s growth.

That strong central leader produces a hormone that signals all the cambium between itself and the roots to build wood to support it. It’s the hormone, not the leaves, that build wood.

My established bonsai have lots of leaves, but because there’s no strong central leader, there’s no hormone produced (or very, very little). Therefore, no trunk thickening occurs! (Or very, very little).
I'm not sure how I'm "wrong." I'm not being argumentative here... so please take this post as honest questioning designed to clarify and understand.

I said: "More leaves, buds, and tips = more auxin = faster growth."

Is that not true?

I asked: "Is there is anything gained by having the active leaves and buds on a sacrificial leader farther from the roots? That is, does the distance that hormones and water have to travel change anything in the growth equation?" To simplify:

Is more auxin, water movement, and growth/thickening generated from:
  1. a 3-foot tall sacrificial shoot with 10 leaves at the top
  2. a 20-foot tall sacrificial shoot with no side branches and 10 leaves at the top
  3. a 20-foot tall sacrificial shoot with all of its side branches and 1000 leaves
This was the original question (I think). I don't think anyone is questioning your pictures or the sacrifice branch having an effect - just asking WHY leaving such a tall leader with NO side branches is better for growth, than leaving them all on it (provided they don't shade out lower non-sacrificial ones).

You're saying #2 above generates the most trunk development. Some of us are asking, why not #3.
 

canoeguide

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More proof:

My Norway Spruce in my back yard:

View attachment 398738

Here is a close up of the central leader up near the apex, where the foliage is rather sparse:

View attachment 398739

It’s at least an inch thick there.

Now, here’s one of the lower branches which has tons of foliage, and is many years older:

View attachment 398740

The branch is barely 1/2 inch!
We're not comparing apex to a side shoot. We're comparing apex to trunk development below the side shoots. Surely, the trunk is thicker below the side shoot.
 
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