Progression: Restyling A Clump-Style "Old Shimpaku" - Design input requested

gjones_42

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This'll be a long detailed post, so feel free to bail now or skip to post 2 where the design questions are :D

Some background: Was gifted this clump style shimpaku late last year and it was a great push into the Bonsai deep end. I've invested the dormant winter months to learn like a madman, and after reading a ton/watching SO many online videos and I think I have as good of an understanding of the horticulture aspects of Bonsai practice as I can have without actually working on any trees... needless to say I can't wait for spring to finally arrive!

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What I've done: Since getting the tree, I've spent a good amount of time cleaning up the trunks... mostly removing moss and gently removing the flaky bark (can't believe I am still not done with this...) as shown below . This has been a great chance to get familiar with this specimen and reflect on it. I've come to the conclusion that I really dislike this design, and want to change it. To me, this looks like a small bush/hedge, not a small tree as it should. Someone put a TON of effort into refining this (the ramification is great) and then it looks like someone gave it a bowl cut... there's almost no differentiation in height or depth and this has been bugging me. The bowl cut also hides some of the great ramification that exists now, even though I think this will have to be redeveloped later if I want to introduce more height and thickness...

Shimpaku Clump_Front.JPG Shimpaku Clump_Front Canopy.JPG

What's next: I really want to introduce variety to this piece with different heights and different depth. To do this, I'll need to grow out the main trunks and then re-develop the finer ramification. There is a lot to work with here, and I am hoping folks can share their ideas and input (the rationale is also appreciated since I am a novice). I think some of the redesign work will dovetail nicely with the spring clean up to rebalance the tree and encourage the new form. Post 2 has more specific design info...
 
Alright, so getting into some ideas on how to do this redesign, I spent some time figuring out how all the branches weave in and out; it is rather complex. There are 6 trunks coming out of the base, with only 4 visible from the front...i think 1 of the 2 on the back is a candidate for a jin or outright removal, depending on how much space is opened up from cleaning up the main trunks.

Since this is so complex, I tried to label and trace out the paths...wasn;t sure how else to capture this, and am open to feedback on it. I thought about labeling the branches with numbers, but it becomes chaotic. I ordered the 4 visible trunks based on thickness, tho debatable whether 1 and 2 will swap...

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Starting with # 1, this one is wacky. It bifurcates (trifurcates?) very close to the base, and then rapidly narrows...I think the first fork to the left is a candidate for removal, since it juts out to the front, and seems too low to add value / it blocks trunk 4. The middle and left fork of trunk 1 are both decently thick, and these could be kept and grown taller/thicker. Not sure if I should remove the lower forks given my desire for a more think and dominant trunk and then build branching and ramification up high.

Trunk 2 is a bit simpler. the first fork to the left takes up the middle of the composition, and can go. The rest I have to wait and see how they grow out..possibly reduce from 3/4 to 2 where it splits a lot to let one shoot dominate and thicken

Trunk 3 is weird...it comes right at the viewer, but has some very interesting movement. It is too thick to bend down low, but the right fork bends OK. I was thinking to remove the left fork (airlayer if possible and start a new tree :D) and then bend to the right to reveal trunk 2

These are my ideas thus far, would love other thoughts and suggestions on how to go about it or where my thought process is dicey. Idk what to even do with the apices of each trunk other than trim any obviously dead/weak branches. Should I pinch side branches so the energy is focused in the parts I want to become the apex? Wire to make a more traditional tree shape? Trying to fight the urge to be greedy and keep lots of branches since that seems counterintuitive to the goal of differentiating the trees
 
Do you have someone near who can sit down with you?

I think A LOT can be won by just making a sketch and wiring out the foliage to a basic structure. Right now, it does not come across as a tree that has seen a lot of skilled work. Tis is what a tree looks like that has just seen some annual pruning and not a lot more, from what I can tell.

What you need is opening up, both by structural wiring, as well as some LIGHT pruning. Then letting grow to encourage some backbudding.

Could you please share a picture from the -for you- future front, the back and both sides? Taken nicely from "potlevel" against a clean background, as you have done with the other pic.
 
Do you have someone near who can sit down with you?

I think A LOT can be won by just making a sketch and wiring out the foliage to a basic structure. Right now, it does not come across as a tree that has seen a lot of skilled work. Tis is what a tree looks like that has just seen some annual pruning and not a lot more, from what I can tell.

What you need is opening up, both by structural wiring, as well as some LIGHT pruning. Then letting grow to encourage some backbudding.

I was thinking I needed to do some moderate pruning to get a more open shape and encourage growth that can then be wired. Right now all the branches are about the same length and originate from a similar point in space (the base of the trunk), and almost all the foliage is at the end of these branches... most of the main trunks lack side branches entirely, so these will have to be developed from new growth. My idea was to first eliminate branches that will obviously not be part of the future composition so I can see the interior, grow like hell all year, and wire next fall/winter when I have more structure to wire. Then repeat grow/wire for the next decade or so, hah

Could you please share a picture from the -for you- future front, the back and both sides? Taken nicely from "potlevel" against a clean background, as you have done with the other pic.

I think for new front, it will be a slight rotation from the current front... I really like the weird root in the air as a feature, but the back has ugly nebari (it's mostly a void after I removed the moss). May need a better picture of the nebari , and I can do the side photos as well once my photo shoot station (aka, empty garage bay) is available again
 

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I'd start by repotting into free-draining inorganic soil this spring My next step would be to temper expectations for how long this is going to take. It has weak/spindly growth w/ very little budding in the interior. Repotting it is the first step to strengthening it, which will be what drives backbudding. You're 2-3 years from that.

Prune out the spindly branches to give you room to get wire on the rest it and lay some branches down. That will drive some backbudding as well, and the backbuds will be more vigorous which will improve the tree's overall health ...as well as its appearance/options. The primary wiring only needs to get branches into the general area. You're trying to create space and allow light in.

There is NOT a quick fix to getting a refined tree out of this material. It also isn't your basic informal upright so will need a bit of touch to bring out its potential.

Also, the "weird root in the air" isn't a feature. It might seem harsh in the moment, but its hard to know what you don't know.
 
Please see whether the arrow would be an alternative front. The three trunks I marked in blue could potentially provide the basis structure with all the other trunks individually positions to fit in, or be removed.

As said, this really is a tree to have a sit-down with someone. Bonsai is a 3D hobby, and clump-style even more so. You want the 2D image to work, but it should come from the right 3D setup.

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There is NOT a quick fix to getting a refined tree out of this material
Agreed 100%. No hasty decisions, and health over beauty.
 
What is the size of this tree (height, thinkness of trunks)?
I think it is a bit leggy and maybe you can air layer some of those branches off the tree to start some new trees.
 
Please see whether the arrow would be an alternative front. The three trunks I marked in blue could potentially provide the basis structure with all the other trunks individually positions to fit in, or be removed.

Alright, this is interesting, because it's actually the front that jumped out at me after I first cleaned off the moss. After staring at it a lot, I started to think this would not be a great front, a lot of what you see is actually growing media jammed in there (I removed a bit while cleaning bark, but don't want to do anything too drastic, so this will have to wait for me to repot sometime)... You can see it better here.

Shimpaku_Back close up.JPG

Agreed 100%. No hasty decisions, and health over beauty.

Yes, this is why I'm trying to develop ideas well in advance of pruning time. Not just design ideas but the rationale and process behind them, so there are no hasty (and irreversible) chops. I'm attending a workshop at one of the local bonsai nurseries this spring and if they seem good I'll look into doing a 1:1 with this tree. As you noted, hard to figure it out 2D, and I feel like this is a case of can't see the tree for the forest :D
 
I'd start by repotting into free-draining inorganic soil this spring My next step would be to temper expectations for how long this is going to take. It has weak/spindly growth w/ very little budding in the interior. Repotting it is the first step to strengthening it, which will be what drives backbudding. You're 2-3 years from that.

Prune out the spindly branches to give you room to get wire on the rest it and lay some branches down. That will drive some backbudding as well, and the backbuds will be more vigorous which will improve the tree's overall health ...as well as its appearance/options. The primary wiring only needs to get branches into the general area. You're trying to create space and allow light in.

There is NOT a quick fix to getting a refined tree out of this material. It also isn't your basic informal upright so will need a bit of touch to bring out its potential.

Also, the "weird root in the air" isn't a feature. It might seem harsh in the moment, but its hard to know what you don't know.

IMO everything is spindly and about the same diameter 6 inches out from the base. I know I need to prune some undesired growth, open up space, and facilitate vigorous new growth. What I lack are the design ideas to select what to cut. so any more detailed suggestions and rationales would be appreciated.
 
What is the size of this tree (height, thinkness of trunks)?

11" high x 17" wide x 15" deep (width and depth based on foliar mass)... thickest trunks (what I labeled 1 and 2) are 1" at the base, but rapidly taper to pencil size... trunk 3 is about 3/4 inch... numbers 4-6 are pencil thick at most
I think it is a bit leggy and maybe you can air layer some of those branches off the tree to start some new trees.

agreed. part of why I want to ID the parts that will go is so I can do some airlayers while the rest grows bigger...figure it won't hurt since this is a long term project
 
There are likely more that can be removed, but its pretty hard to follow which foliage goes back to what branch. Red indicates cuts. Green is foliage you want to keep at about any cost. (The 3rd green circle w/ a red mark in it, the intent is to cut what looks like a back branch, that should in no way impair the green blob of foliage.). Once vigorous, you can expect more foliage like the circled green blobs that will allow for a more compact design w/ a full interior.

There is nothing on this tree that warrants airlayering. If you want to propagate, take cuttings, but know that this tree isn't vigorous enough to expect much in the way of success from the cuttings. Better yet, if additional material is what you're after, buy a vigorous shimpaku, with whips/runners and compare to the present tree, ...even if the new material is raw stock/young.

I can't overstate the importance of getting this tree repotted and into good soil to increase its vigor. Until you do that, you're fighting an uphill battle.
 

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There are likely more that can be removed, but its pretty hard to follow which foliage goes back to what branch. Red indicates cuts. Green is foliage you want to keep at about any cost. (The 3rd green circle w/ a red mark in it, the intent is to cut what looks like a back branch, that should in no way impair the green blob of foliage.). Once vigorous, you can expect more foliage like the circled green blobs that will allow for a more compact design w/ a full interior.
Yea, it's a mess to look at...my attempt to trace branches couldn't get to the foliage since it is a lot... Agree with your point on leaving the existing backbuds since those can form further branches for development.

I can't overstate the importance of getting this tree repotted and into good soil to increase its vigor. Until you do that, you're fighting an uphill battle.

Agreed. Since I want it to grow (vs keep in stasis) I was thinking of going to a training pot with organic media, vs the current inorganic mix. I need to get it out of the pot to look at the roots anyway since it doesn't seem to drain well.
 
The pot seems adequately sized for the tree. (The shape may be a bit problematic, but nothing a sickle couldn't fix.) I'd also strongly recommend inorganic soil. I try not to get into (online) soil conversations, but I use akadama, pumice, and lava in equal portions. Whatever you choose, I'd suggest finding something that drains very well.
 
The pot seems adequately sized for the tree. (The shape may be a bit problematic, but nothing a sickle couldn't fix.) I'd also strongly recommend inorganic soil. I try not to get into (online) soil conversations, but I use akadama, pumice, and lava in equal portions. Whatever you choose, I'd suggest finding something that drains very well.

Curious as to why you recommend it now, if you don't mind expanding. My understanding thusfar is that the inorganic soil and small pot is appropriate for later development/refinement to control the foliar/root growth. In contrast, mostly organic soil in a larger pot is suited to more vigorous growth at the expense of losing the developed/refined shape (thus the benefits of field growing).

Since I want this to grow a lot and give me more to work with , wouldn't keeping it in the current pot with fresh inorganic soil be counterintuitive? I was thinking to go into a plastic pot with my preferred garden plant mix (my own, not store crap) to get it growing vigorously. I'll need really vigorous growth and good health to support the pruning of scrawny branches I had in mind. If I just repot with fresh inorganics (I've come across the same blend you stated in many places) wouldn't this slow growth down?
 
Even for development an aggregate soil is recommended yes for a juniper 1 in 3 parts might be organic (2/3 for deciduous broadleaf). The other two parts could be pumice and lava for development (opinions on soil vary based on personal experience based on environment and watering regime).
 
My recommendation is based on the assumption you want to end up with a tree that takes advantage of the clump-nature of this material. As such, growing past its present constraints isn't necessary. If you want something that is more single-trunked then you'd be better served buying material suited to that.

I go back to my statement earlier that there isn't a quick fix for this material. What you have is a clump. If that's not what you want
I've come to the conclusion that I really dislike this design, and want to change it. To me, this looks like a small bush/hedge, not a small tree as it should.
maybe get something else.

If you want to work with what you have, draw inspiration from the following. The picture portion is in English.
 

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My recommendation is based on the assumption you want to end up with a tree that takes advantage of the clump-nature of this material. As such, growing past its present constraints isn't necessary. If you want something that is more single-trunked then you'd be better served buying material suited to that.

I go back to my statement earlier that there isn't a quick fix for this material. What you have is a clump. If that's not what you want

maybe get something else.

If you want to work with what you have, draw inspiration from the following. The picture portion is in English.
These are great examples, thanks!!

Very hard to find clump inspiratino that resonates. The below is one I found that I really liked. These examples all have better differentiation in height/depth/thickness than what I have now. Good to know I can stick with the current pot/media to accomplish this.

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Very hard to find clump inspiratino that resonates. The below is one I found that I really liked. These examples all have better differentiation in height/depth/thickness than what I have now. Good to know I can stick with the current pot/media to accomplish this.
You do realize the difference in size?
 
Thinking about how to define what will be the main trunks, I am getting stuck on how they will interact/overlap. Is it an OK time to wire some of the trunks up for a tree in an unheated garage? If not, any other suggestions on how to play with positioning without an extra pair of hands or two to hold things?

This would help me see where they can end up and more rationally identify what needs to be pruned away... I've managed to tie down some of the obvious candidates for culling so they aren't clogging up the view, which is really helpful in seeing this take shape. Where a nice trunk forks into two relatively similar pieces, I need to play with where they can be trained to in order to choose
 
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