Nursery stock Japanese maple... what now?


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Oakland, CA
I am brand new to bonsai and have found (what I believe to be) a pretty good triple trunk maple at a local nursery. It was cut back by the nursery owner last March. The tree is about 30" high and the trunk is about 4" inches wide. The root spread is about 10". It is currently in a 15 gallon container. I just got it yesterday so I have not done anything yet. My first impulse is to do nothing until early next spring when I can reduce the roots enough to get it into a large terracotta pot. Here are some pics I took. Please give me your feed back.





That is one good trunk for a JM!!! Yes, I would wait a season to do anything.....just let it settle in to its new home. then begin work! It should be a nice one in a few years.
You have a good piece of raw material. I agree; let it get used its new environment, and you get used to caring for it.

One thing that you may already know: you're going to have to get rid of one of those trunks. That's because any time you have 3 or more branches, or trunks, arising at the same point, you're almost certain to get a knob there -- very unsightly. Sorry to rain on your parade a bit.

I think you can wait until next spring to decide which one, tho. That will give you time to study the tree. One thought: keeping the thickest and the thinnest will give the tree more visual interest.
I would add that maple wood rots rather quickly. I see a lot of dead wood there. You need to learn about stablizing wood before you end up with a trunk that looks like a toilet paper tube.
Treebeard- Why would I have to get rid of one of the trunks? I have seen a few triple trunk maples. Peter Adams highlights ne in his book (Tree #11 in Chapter five).

Mac- How should I take care of the dead wood? Lime sulphur? I heard maples do rot too easily and did not carve that out myself, it is completely natural.

Thanks for the replies. I need plenty of advice so I don't ruin this nice find. I lucked out the nursery is closing and the price was marked 60% off.
Treebeard- Why would I have to get rid of one of the trunks? I have seen a few triple trunk maples. Peter Adams highlights one in his book (Tree #11 in Chapter five)...

Rich, sorry it took me so long to answer your question. (You may have found the answer by now.)

As a pretty consistent rule, if there are more than two leads (branches or trunks) arising from the same point, you're going to get a reverse taper there sooner or later. Two branches leaving a trunk at the same point, for a total of three; a trunk that divides into three or more secondary trunks -- anywhere you have that situation, a reverse taper is very likely. Some species are more prone to it than others.

In that picture in Adams' book, do the trunks all arise from a common root? Or does the trunk divide somewhere above the nebari, as yours does?

I have a nice Ficus neriifolia reg. that I got from Bob Eskeitz. Its trunk divided into three about 3 inches above the nebari, and when I got it a reverse taper was becoming visible at that point. (It had enough else going for it that I bought it anyway.) I immediately removed one of the trunks, after deciding where the front would be. I'm developing a low back branch on one of the remaining trunks to restore the tree's visual depth. I plan to train aerial roots down to hide the "egg."

f I hadn't taken one trunk off, I would have a serious bulge there by now.

It's your tree, and you can go for a triple-trunk if you choose. I'm just saying it's a calculated risk, and one that, in my experience and observation, the human usually loses.
I think I might take the risk and just leave all three. I think that they are low enough that reverse taper would not a huge problem. Also, if you could get a nice root grafted on the right trunk to match the one on the left that would help as well. Even If you do end up having to fix some reverse taper, you have all that dead wood that you can simply add to in order to hide the scars. This is a very unique tree, and I would give it a shot like it is.
Noisee's idea might work for you. Executed well, I can see it resulting in a very good bonsai.

Here's a quick-and-dirty virt, worked up from your 1st pic, of another option, if you take off the leftmost trunk. I think this could come out very nicely, too.

Noisee has told you what he would do. I've told you what I would do. But the choice is yours!


  • Rich's 3trunk maple.jpg
    Rich's 3trunk maple.jpg
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Also if you leave all three and reverse taper forms you could ground layer it at the knob which will give you a nice flare. The one thing I would do no matter what you chose to do is shorten those trunks to add taper and movement as right now they are all straight with about the same thickness all the way up.

Mac- How should I take care of the dead wood? Lime sulphur? I heard maples do rot too easily and did not carve that out myself, it is completely natural.

Go to a building supply store, Lowes, Home Depot. Go to paint department. Start looking for rotten wood stabilizer. It's always fun to ask someone that works there and see the complete befuddlement on their face. It will be in the area where the glues and caulking is. It is a liquid. You paint the wood with a sponge brush, buy a hand full of small ones while you are there, use one and toss it.

You paint the wood until it won't absorb any more. It hardens the wood and it will keep it from rotting.
thanks for all of the replies.

I already took care of the dead wood with wood hardener (minwax brand). I do plan on chopping the trunks next spring. There is (very) slight taper that disapears about half way up. I'm probably going to leave all three trunks on there for now. I just started getting into bonsai this summer so I have alot to learn. I know I'll make many mistakes but hopefully some learning will take place as well. I was just excited to find something that appeared to be unique. Again I appreciate all of the responses.
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