Pre-Bonsai Trunk Thickening advice - Prune lower whips?

walee

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I have a very juvenile pre-bonsai which in the past year has shot out a couple whips at the base of the trunk. I'm wondering if I should prune off the lower whips. My thought process is that since they're so low, they will only suck energy and thickness away from the main leader. I am considering leaving the lowest whip though and keeping it for a twin trunk, though I think that may be pre-mature at this stage of it's growth. Any advice is appreciated.

Conversely I’m considering pruning them back to the first or second internode and experimenting with some ramification.

Feel free to also critique my plant too. My goal is to turn this into a 3-4 foot tall bonsai 5-10 years down the road.
 

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hemmy

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Feel free to also critique my plant too. My goal is to turn this into a 3-4 foot tall bonsai 5-10 years down the road.
To answer the pruning question, I’d say we need to refine your end goal. A 36” finished tree might need a base diameter of 3.6”- 6” to be in convincing scale using the 1:10 or 1:6 diameter to height ratios. That’s a very big and heavy tree that will take decades. If that’s what you want then I’d plan on shifting it to increasingly larger containers and chopping it back for movement when it is 1/3rd your desired diameter to work on the next leader. If you want an upright formal maple then you’ll need those long sacrifice branches to develop thickness.


they will only suck energy and thickness away from the main leader.
If you let them grow and thicken, they will thicken the trunk and help develop taper along the trunk based. The larger they grow, the bigger the scar and longer to heal it. A single leader will thicken the trunk but you won’t have much taper.


I am considering leaving the lowest whip though and keeping it for a twin trunk,
Google image search twin trunk deciduous trees and bonsai. Usually the 2nd trunk originates very low. Although larger lower branches can sometimes work with certain deciduous styles.
 

hemmy

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Conversely I’m considering pruning them back to the first or second internode and experimenting with some ramification.
This would probably be counter to your thickening goal. You may be able to hold them back in thickness by keeping them shorter and ramified. The ramification will increase thickening somewhat but probably not as much as unpruned growth.


Feel free to also critique my plant too. My goal is to turn this into a 3-4 foot tall bonsai 5-10 years down the road.
Is the time or height the more desired criteria. If it’s time (~10yrs), then make it a shohin (8”). If it’s height, I’d consider a shorter tree 18-24” with diameter closer to 2”. Grow it out this year and shift to a larger container next year. If informal upright or informal broom, then consider putting the trunk on a slant and prune for a directional change when it is 1/4-1/3rd the desired thickness so the scar heals as the leader thickens. You could also wire for movement, but be very careful of wire scars on maples. Some wrap the wire in paper towels before applying.

Another method would be wire to shape and wire branches, then prune this year or next for division and build out ramification on the branches and apex. You can let some sacrifice branches run on the apex, trunk and branches. But prune them off before they get too large to create unsightly scars. You are then using the ramification and small sacrifices to thicken the trunk over time. This would be the multiple decade process.
 

SeanS

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One of those 3 lower branches would be your next trunk section, unless you want a perfectly straight uptight trunk. Let all 3 of them grow to thicken the trunk below them, the. Once some decent girth has been achieved you can cut the trunk down to one of them and grown the next section of trunk. Rinse and repeat to create movement and taper in the trunk.

The upper/highest bit of the trunk that I think you’re calling the current leader should be used to thicken the trunk (along with the other 3 lower shoots) but shouldn’t be considered as the actual future trunk line unless you want a perfectly straight upright trunk like I mentioned above.
 

Shibui

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I'm with @SeanS
Who wants a straight up JM trunk? Some bends in the main trunk look far better IMHO. Pruning to side branches not only gives much better bends than wiring but will also give the trunk much needed taper. The best trees I've developed were grown using regular chop and grow cycles.

Even if you want the straight trunk those low branches will add much needed taper to the trunk. Each branch adds extra growth to the trunk below it so more branches growing strong = more taper.
Extra branches add to thickening but when yo finally prune there will be a number of smaller cuts instead of one giant cut that will take years to heal - if it heals before the wood rots. The more side branches the better, just make sure they are spaced a bit apart so when pruning comes each cut will be separate. Too close together and the cuts will join defeat the purpose of having small, individual cuts that heal quick.
 

sorce

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The tale of the nodal distance tape says this tree may want to be 3-4 ft to look good.

Seems not much worth "shohining" at the base.

I'd want to understand how and why it is stretching such long internodes, then tightening, then going long again. The configuration as is is almost useless, certainly useless for right tinies.

Perhaps too much N?

Long term goals are good, but with things like this, it's sometimes better to abandon goals and just get to chopping regularly and see what it starts offering.

I consider exploring end game nodal possibilities a requirement. If it takes an extra cut/pinch per season, or less N to get close nodes, you can almost double the timeline, or in some cases, have a nice new yard tree.

Sorce
 

Shibui

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Add some years for sure, especially starting in a colander.....heavy and awkward to handle. Think smaller....
Large bonsai may be striking but young backs do not stay young for ever. Big bonsai still require lifting for repotting, etc. If you intend to grow larger bonsai start cultivating friends with strong backs and big muscles now so they'll be ready when the time comes - or look out for a crane or some other lifting device.
Want to show your bonsai or take it to the club meeting? Will it fit in the car? Now we need to purchase a van (and get the aforementioned friends in) before and after each show.

Bigger bonsai have many more branches and much more ramification - much more trimming. Your little JM may take just a few minutes to trim all the growing shoots. A large mature JM bonsai will take several hours to do the same task. Everything takes longer with bigger and older bonsai.
 

rockm

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The more top growth is allowed to "run" unpruned, the faster the base bulks up. Simple as that. The unchecked shoots close to the bottom, as pointed, out, will have bigger scars the more they thicken. It's a trade off and you have to decide how to handle that.

A note about a 3-4 foot "finished" trees--I have five trees that are in that range. Have had them for many years now. One weighs well over 100 lbs, the others are in the 50-70lb-ish range. Keeping them is a challenge in many ways.

I have to move them all seasonally--mostly without help, sometimes inside and outside dodging springtime freezes. I've broken branches and tops doing that. They're bulky dead weight and you can't see all of them while you're holding them so you can run branches into walls, etc.. You won't have the freeze problem, but you will still have to move them occasionally, particularly to turn them on the bench to even out sun exposure. Turntables built onto benches help.

A pickup truck with a cover, or a van is required to move them distances to prevent damage. I constructed a 5'x5'x4' plywood box to put over my biggest tree to transport it to its overwintering quarters 60 miles away.

Also pots for big trees are extremely expensive, like north of $400 for a decent one over 20" (if you can find someone selling them)--also I've found it's a good idea to have at least one big spare pot hanging around. The difficulty in moving big heavy trees can result in dropping them. That hasn't happened to me --yet, but I've had close calls. Smashing a large pot with no pot around big enough to put it into leaves the tree in a precarious situation.
 

walee

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@hemmy @Shibui @SeanS, very useful information! Sounds like I will definitely be rethinking my end goals to maybe 2-3' size. My inspiration has been this maple that I saw when visiting the Pacific Bonsai Museum; I forget exactly how tall that was. And yes, I realize these are 30yrs in training 😵. My primary concern with this tree currently is to fatten the trunk and start off the nebari a good start. I definitely intend to do a trunk chop down the line to create movement. My original concern is if these branches are too low and perhaps I should focus on creating whips up closer to the top to achieve more overall trunk thickness throughout the entire tree. Based on your advise I think it will be smart to leave these guys for a while, to help develop more taper/character at the base. This leads me to wonder when is it a good time to eventually cut off to avoid issues with adequate healing time?

@sorce I purchased this as a cutting last year off eBay for $15 bucks, and just let it grow. It's definitely got some elongated nodes.

A little background information: This spring, I did my first repot on this plant. I did a ~40% root prune, cut the taproot, spread the roots radially, and planted it over a 4" ceramic tile in this pond basket. I'm hoping the pond basket will encourage a more fine root system. I plan to cut holes at the bottom and either sit it in the ground or a larger container to let the roots escape. (Let me know if it's too early to be worrying about fine roots at this stage.)

@LanceMac10 I live in the San Fernando Valley side of Los Angeles county. Though it doesn't snow here, it does regularly drop to high 30's low 40's in the winter. All the leaves on this maple actually turned red and dropped this past winter. Now summer, is a different story, and I definitely have to protect them from the heat past 11:00AM. I definitely recognize that it's not the ideal place to grow maples, but I just love them so much!

@rockm Sounds like a medium sized bonsai is probably better for a solo hobbyist like myself. BTW I've seen your posts while doing research throughout this forum; thank you for your contribution to the community! Your yard is something I aspire to have one day!

Thank you all for the amazing feedback! This is my first year into bonsai so my knowledge definitely reflects my 'seedling' 🌱 status. I'm hoping to start this journey on the right foot and minimize my mistakes.
 

dbonsaiw

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Thank you all for the amazing feedback! This is my first year into bonsai so my knowledge definitely reflects my 'seedling' 🌱 status. I'm hoping to start this journey on the right foot and minimize my mistakes.
The folks here are a really helpful bunch who freely and happily share their advice (and differences of opinion). I too would like to develop some larger bonsai and need to handicap for the long timeframe involved in this. So I got some trees growing for smaller specimens so that I can have some trees further along the process as the ones meant for larger trees do their thing. As this will take some time, I always have my eyes out for a nursery stock or big box tree with a larger caliper trunk. There are downsides with this as these trees weren't grown with bonsai in mind - they will be very straight, have no lower branching and miserable roots. All of these flaws will need to be corrected over many years, but I will have some larger caliper trunks in the interim (for whatever that's worth).

As was pointed out already, working with a 1/2" caliper trunk is really nothing like working with a tree with a much more substantial trunk. The trees get very unruly. In addition to tremendous weight, the root systems can be enormous and take many hours to work through. I will hold a little tree in my left hand as I comb out roots with my right. Clearly, this cannot be done with a 50 or 100 lb tree. We are expecting a (final???) frost next week and all my trees need to move to a warmer spot for a few days. I have multiple 14X14 boxes which are too bulky to move myself, even though I could lift that much weight. I will need to rouse my son in college who has been nocturnal through Covid. Not fun. Even then, we managed to destroy a 100lb tree in the process of trying to get it out of 20 gallon pot buried in clay into something more bonsai like. Given the size, power tools were probably needed.

Probably the best advice I can give at this point if you are looking to start with something a little more substantial is to find a pre-bonsai that fits the bill - maybe something that has been growing in the ground for a while with bonsai in mind. I highly recommend Greenthumbbonsai.com for this. The trees I purchased from him have 2-3" caliper trunks, so getting an 18" tree out of them is doable. You pick the exact tree you want and shipping is fast. Trees are healthy and quite nice. These trees are only a few lbs, but you'll learn quick that its way harder to work with than a seedling. You'll also be able to work with a root system that needs to be heavily pruned to get into a grow box. Good experience and great trees.
 

Canada Bonsai

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My thought process is that since they're so low, they will only suck energy and thickness away from the main leader

I'm with @SeanS as well

Here is an image from Meriggioli's book. Notice the first prune. It's a straight trunk, but you can use the wire to create any shape you like.

Between the nebari and the 3rd branch, also notice the 2 unhealed wounds and the 3 or 4 perfectly healed scars. These previous branches now-gone helped to add mass to the main trunk line (they did not 'suck energy' away from it).

The thicker you let your sacrifice branches get the faster you will add mass but the scars will be more evident in the finished design. The thinner your sacrifices branches are at the time of removal the slower you will add mass but the the scars will be less evident in your final design.

Perfectly healed scars on Japanese Maples is completely normal, yes even at Kokufu.

The best way to end up with a beautiful maple bonsai is to grow many of them.

Upright.jpg
 

walee

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I'm with @SeanS as well

Here is an image from Meriggioli's book. Notice the first prune. It's a straight trunk, but you can use the wire to create any shape you like.

Does the trunk chop need to stop at a lower branch? I've read online somewhere where people chop it down to the base and say to choose a new leader from subsequent sprouts.
 

SeanS

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Does the trunk chop need to stop at a lower branch? I've read online somewhere where people chop it down to the base and say to choose a new leader from subsequent sprouts.
Maples will only grow new shoots from a node, so when chopping it needs to be down to an existing node or to be super safe, an existing branch. There’s no guarantee the tree will resprout from an old node if there aren’t any existing buds visible or a branch present, but a healthy tree should produce buds at old nodes following a chop.

Even a healthy maple will definitely never ever produce any buds if you chop it down below the lowest node, so don’t do that.
 

Canada Bonsai

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Does the trunk chop need to stop at a lower branch? I've read online somewhere where people chop it down to the base and say to choose a new leader from subsequent sprouts.

Dieback is another consideration: When you make that first prune, leave a stub. If the branch/trunk is especially large, you can use the Ebihara notch cut technique (people tend to think that the Ebihara notch cut is about healing, and in a sense it is. But is simultaneously about preventing die back when removing large branches).

I attached some images as examples of the stub. These Deshojo maples are pruned early in their life, which is not immediately about taper but more about creating an initial bifurcation down low: one branch to serve as a leader, and the other destined to be a sacrifice branch right down low at the level of the nebari. As opposed to pruning very early like these Deshojos, on the opposite end of the spectrum are the maples of Ebihara which tend to have a significant first bend at the location of a major pruning site that is now a well-healed scar that can be several inches in diameter! This is meant to reassure you: You can prune back this year or in 15 years, or anything in between. (It's likely that these images of Ebihara's trees came from Jonas Dupuich's blog or the elsewhere on the internet - apologies, it turns out that I don't keep track very well).

When I met Bill Valavanis what feels like a century ago I asked the same question, and he said "You mean drastic prune. We don't say chop, that's street lingo" 🥰
 

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walee

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Dieback is another consideration: When you make that first prune, leave a stub. If the branch/trunk is especially large, you can use the Ebihara notch cut technique (people tend to think that the Ebihara notch cut is about healing, and in a sense it is. But is simultaneously about preventing die back when removing large branches).

I attached some images as examples of the stub. These Deshojo maples are pruned early in their life, which is not immediately about taper but more about creating an initial bifurcation down low: one branch to serve as a leader, and the other destined to be a sacrifice branch right down low at the level of the nebari. As opposed to pruning very early like these Deshojos, on the opposite end of the spectrum are the maples of Ebihara which tend to have a significant first bend at the location of a major pruning site that is now a well-healed scar that can be several inches in diameter! This is meant to reassure you: You can prune back this year or in 15 years, or anything in between. (It's likely that these images of Ebihara's trees came from Jonas Dupuich's blog or the elsewhere on the internet - apologies, it turns out that I don't keep track very well).

When I met Bill Valavanis what feels like a century ago I asked the same question, and he said "You mean drastic prune. We don't say chop, that's street lingo" 🥰

Thank you for the info! I've always heard about the die back concerns and importance of leaving a stub, but what happens after the stub dies back? At what point is it okay to prune off the dead stub and will the stub eventually die back to the bifurcation so you can cut it flush?

Also, perhaps you guys can help me analyze this tree, and their methods to creating it's taper/styling? It has been a great deal of inspiration for me, and I've always wondered what it takes to get there 😇 With the whole hard pruning, I'm amazed how they were able to get such an upright leader afterwards. From the photos uploaded, I would think the new leader would be growing out from the side.

44678157_709336889423236_1648391902462850853_n.jpg
 

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