Question on Developing New Leader with Short Internodes on Acer Palmatum / Japanese Maple

RobertB

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I seem to be confused with the best way to develop a new leader after a chop on Japanese maples while keeping the internodes short. This is probably the same with branches you plan to keep as part of your final design.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but when you chop a JM and when it starts to buds out, do you select the bud of your preference (watch it closely) and pinch out the center as the 1st pair of leaves are starting to unfold (see pic), all while rubbing the other buds / shoots off? This slows the selected shoot down and makes for shorter internodes (at least for a few nodes if it regains strength and continues to extend)? About how many internodes would stay short after this work? I would think the shoot would regain strength at some point and then start to grow strong with long internodes again. Can you pinch again after its put out, say 5 pairs of leaves to keep the internodes short for another 5 pairs of leaves? Does this weaken the shoot to much? I also assume that you really need to remove all the other buds that are growing around that location as the preferred shoot could get week and only put out a pair of leaves then stop for the year. Is it ok or even good to keep 1 or 2 temporary shoot to let run wild for a few months just to help with the trees strength?

JM Internodes.jpg

Another method (not sure if its really a method) I've noticed and I think I've seen spoken about is chopping in mid summer. I think most of my chops in mid summer or even late summer on branches have resulted in the first handful or leaf pairs having pretty short internodes. Not sure if it was because of the amount of high sunlight i gave the plant or what, but it seemed to grow very slowly at first, then take off. I assume its probably because the tree is storing back up energy after flushing out, growing shoots and hardening off that the chop pulls its rebuilding resources and is only able to produce shorter internodes with smaller leaves.

I've chopped maples at different times in my climate. I chopped a 2 year seedling at Christmas last year and it burst out in late Jan with around 10 shoots from the chop site and down the trunk that elongated quickly. The internode length increase exponentially on that chop and was very vigorous.

This year i started around 100 seedlings and they have grown to around 2-3 ft tall on average. The first 6 inches or so has pretty close internodes then the get big quick. I want to chop some of these back next year at some point and try and grow short internodes for would will be the top of the tree. Plan to try and thicken and develop some of the seedlings with sacrificial branches while pinching out the apex. Going for the scar less look, as much as possible at least.
 

0soyoung

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In my experience, the shortest internodes are produced late in the growing season. The least risk of die-back with a chop occurs if one chops after the first leaves have hardened AND one chops just above a branch.

So, to have the shortest internodes in the new leader, chop circa May when the first push is done. Then after the second push is done, circa August, remove the top branch (i.e., the one just below the chop). Then at leaf drop, choose your new leader, gently wire it on the trajectory you want and eliminate all other competing shoots.

However, this leaves off the debate about whether one wants minimal internode lengths at this point in the tree's development.

A final note is that the first node in spring tends to be shorter, especially following the customary root work of spring repotting, so one might think of pruning the target low branch along with spring repotting 'as buds swell'.
 

RobertB

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In my experience, the shortest internodes are produced late in the growing season. The least risk of die-back with a chop occurs if one chops after the first leaves have hardened AND one chops just above a branch.

So, to have the shortest internodes in the new leader, chop circa May when the first push is done. Then after the second push is done, circa August, remove the top branch (i.e., the one just below the chop). Then at leaf drop, choose your new leader, gently wire it on the trajectory you want and eliminate all other competing shoots.

However, this leaves off the debate about whether one wants minimal internode lengths at this point in the tree's development.

A final note is that the first node in spring tends to be shorter, especially following the customary root work of spring repotting, so one might think of pruning the target low branch along with spring repotting 'as buds swell'.
I appreciate your response. I think what you are saying is pretty much what i was as the other method. I have definitely noticed that chopping mid summer. My grow period is very long. I get a ton of growth during. I have to choose a leader and wire before leaf drop as the shoot thickens to much and can no longer be manipulated.
 

Bananaman

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@Bananaman will have some good input. Let's give him a poke (figuratively speaking) :)
I've said it all too many times and no one listens nor does it. The sooner "harden off" gets removed from developing maples' lexicon, the sooner smaller (@JudyB ) leaves and internodes can be made. Most people have no idea how short the season is for building ramification thru hedging in early spring while the tree is on the down hill side of the roller coaster. Once the tree hits bottom all the energy is used up and buds do not form very fast. I can rebud a a whole trident maple in March in a week, and could never do that in June. In June it takes a month.
 

0soyoung

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I've said it all too many times and no one listens nor does it. The sooner "harden off" gets removed from developing maples' lexicon, the sooner smaller (@JudyB ) leaves and internodes can be made.
Seriously? You are advocating snipping off the first little droopy growth?

In my lexicon, 'harden off' means the leaves are unfurled and more or less flat. The stem is not lignified, but has a node or two with legitimately functioning leaves. One could not 'hedge' prune anything earlier than this, IMHO.

So, I'm with you. No more 'harden off'. Define your terms in relation to how the tree looks. Few outside of southern CA have any idea what March in Fresno is like. I am certain March in Ohio is nothing even remotely like it. But a tree in Ohio will likely go through the same growth stages, just at a different time than in Fresno.
 

RobertB

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I've said it all too many times and no one listens nor does it. The sooner "harden off" gets removed from developing maples' lexicon, the sooner smaller (@JudyB ) leaves and internodes can be made. Most people have no idea how short the season is for building ramification thru hedging in early spring while the tree is on the down hill side of the roller coaster. Once the tree hits bottom all the energy is used up and buds do not form very fast. I can rebud a a whole trident maple in March in a week, and could never do that in June. In June it takes a month.
Bananaman, i have read alot of your posts here and on your blog. Im just still a little confused about pinching to get short internodes without weakening the tree to much. My trees are very strong that i am referring too.
 

Bananaman

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Just in keeping with the whole Al Keppler Grinch thing.. Lets set a few things straight. people come here looking for the straight dope on how to do bonsai. They want the fastest way possible, no fatalities, and showable trees in three years. It don't work that way. Mark Rockwell got his ass handed to him recently in a thread and all he was trying to explain is that some of you internet whippersnappers come here cocked to do bonsai and don't even have a species to work on that will thrive where you live. There is a lot of home work that must be done and no one even the internet will not give you the answers like working on some plants in your backyard and finding out for your pathetic self what will work and grow where you live. Maybe where you live is not conducive to good maple growth. I can tell you that where I live I have a hard time with acer palmatum, and that is why I work with tridents. They thrive here. As do elms, pyracantha and juniper. Pines grow pretty well here too with some summer protection. I don't venture too far out of the tree/comfort zone. It does not help me get where I want to go.


Seriously? You are advocating snipping off the first little droopy growth?
Have you done it? have you tried, or are you espousing book learning again rather than someone giving you a tip on how to get from "A" to "B" quickly. If you have not tried the method , why the snarky "seriously" Try it you may learn something.

In my lexicon, 'harden off' means the leaves are unfurled and more or less flat. The stem is not lignified, but has a node or two with legitimately functioning leaves. One could not 'hedge' prune anything earlier than this, IMHO.
Again, if you have not done this, then I don't know how to tell you this other than...your wrong. I have showed it many times, Walter does it all the time same as me.

S
o, I'm with you. No more 'harden off'. Define your terms in relation to how the tree looks. Few outside of southern CA have any idea what March in Fresno is like. I am certain March in Ohio is nothing even remotely like it. But a tree in Ohio will likely go through the same growth stages, just at a different time than in Fresno.
Not my problem. Learn your climate and how it relates to what you work on. Get outside and work trees and not computer buttons. Anyone working with maples needs to know when to prune, how much to prune and when to stop. That is the crux of working maples. Everything else about the work is window dressing.


Bananaman, i have read alot of your posts here and on your blog. Im just still a little confused about pinching to get short internodes without weakening the tree to much. My trees are very strong that i am referring too.
Weakening the tree"is" how you get short internodes. Knowing how to do it correctly, and in the proper part of "your' growing period is what separates the men from the boys. Pinching is not the way to do it. Pruning is.


Now for the learning part. I am not a plant master, I am not a plant teacher from a University. I am just a guy working on, at times, a hundred maples at a time. I don't have time to waste all the time with working a maple over a whole year. I get maybe March thru May to work. about 90 days. Then it starts getting hot. Upwards of 103 for weeks at a time day after day with not cool periods in between. Just relentless heat. Then in the Fall I get a couple more months and then winter and nothing for three months. I know my climate better than I know anything else. You can bet @Adair M knows his climate and Boons climate. I bet @Brian Van Fleet and @MACH5 know his climate as well as I know mine. Why, cause they work their trees. They work their trees hard and they do what they need to do when they need to do it and then they stop when the tree needs rest.

I have watched Dancing with the Stars since it started. My late wife loved it too, and we took some lessons. My new Girlfriend likes it too and this year they started a new series. Dancing with the Stars Juniors. These kids are cute, some just 8 and 9 years old, some 11 and some 12. Then after that they are considered too adult and are on the other show. I watched these 8 and 9 year olds and was amazed with what they could do with these small bodies. They learn these complex dance moves in a week and do them with as much or more precision than the experts on the adult show. Why? Cause they are small and nimble and don't run out of steam like an older heavier person.

So how do I treat my plants like Dancing with the Stars Juniors. I work with the small new nimble growth that doesn't know any better. I mentioned earlier in a post above about the back side of the roller coaster. You tree is dormant, the buds are beginning to swell and you are getting excited about that first flush of growth. You check each day and look for signs hoping to see the first glimpse of green on the tip of a bud. Well each day you are looking at the buds swell the tree is climbing the big hill of the coaster. Clack, clack, clack go the wheels as it climbs the hill. Then it crests, that small glimpse of green you saw, and the next morning you wake up and the tree has fallen off the other side and is on a coarse that even Mother Nature can't stop. The tree may actually be dead and will usually make an effort to pop in spring and quickly die. I've seen it too many times.

So the tree is on the free fall, pushing leaves and making ramification, albeit slowly. How can we speed it up? Well we have to make use of the energy the tree is showing while falling off the downhill side of the hill. Cut off some leaves, yes even the light green droopy ones. The tree will bud out in the week at all the cut ends. Cut more and the tree will bud some more. The tree has so much energy right now that each leaf cut off is saying to the tree I just had some trauma and I need more leaves and so it pushes. More leaves, more divisions more ramification.

Now you can't do that all year. You would kill the tree. Yes you will, or you will damage it so much that it will need two or three years to recover. You have to know how much to push and when to stop. For me I can go hard March till end of April maybe second week of May. About 90 days. Your season may be only two months or maybe you can do this for 6 months and risk losing the tree. YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR SEASON IS. Summer my trees don't grow much at all, in fact the are really in dormancy and then in Fall I get one last prune till they go into leaf fall. I fertilize year round, the tree takes what it wants and the rest goes on the ground, so what.

Leaf hardening, what exactly does that mean and what does it have to do with pruning a tree? Are you trying to tell me that if you cut off a pale green newly unfurled droopy leaf, the tree will not make new ones? Cause if you are you have a whole new creative world of how to develop maples and you will be immensely thankful for this wise information.
 
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You guys are making my foliage lingify just talking about it. @Bananaman, I’ll give it a shot this spring on my palmetum. I should let the sacrice growth continue to run, correct?

Since I brought the topic, sacrifice growth can have an impact on ramification and internode length in not sacrificial areas it seems. While the sacrifice growth is running full bore, the auxins are not being sent back to the keepers. This can reduce internode length but also budding power.
 

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I think you should work your trees the way you see fit. Fussing over terminology seems stupid at this point. What matters is the finished product....not how you got there.
Your season sounds exactly like mine, with the exception that you get hotter summers. The only thing that doesn't stop growing in the summer (for me) are valley oaks. I have to cut them back hard at least three times per year, and if it happens to be mid-July they couldn't care less.

I have a trident from Crescent Valley that I am going to be more aggressive about pruning earlier this year. When I picked it up at the Bonsaiathon, it had just been transplanted so I let it rest this summer.
 

eb84327

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so i accidentally did what bananaman is talking about to my maple this spring. I guess i didnt do it mother nature did. It hailed and rained like i had never seen and is basically defoliated my maple for me right as the first set of leaves hardened off. I live in N. idaho so we r a little later than u guys, end of may. It began to push and the second set was opening within a week. I honestly didnt understand the concept until this happened. The timing is hard also. Like bananaman says it will be different depending on local climate. too i think even yearly variations in seasonal change is important to grasp. Its good to know what a drought is like in your area if im making sense vs an early spring vs a late spring ect ect. Again too i could read untill my eyes bloodied but experience works best for me. My climate is unique compared to the rest of idaho, we do not match the description, much wetter, only way to learn was by jumping in. Too i talk to old people that have lived here for ever about their gardens. I can pick up things like when to expect certain bugs to show up. Or when to expect the last frost to occur.
 
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There are a lot of different ways to train maples. I have no experience in early spring cutback or pinching back since i consider this techniques to be used with more advanced material than i have. I will try it out some day since some people have good results with them, so i don't say it's a bad practice.

For me a young maple must grow a decent rootbase, taper, movement and some bulk in the trunk. Depending on the size and the speed you want this, you will have to adapt your game. If you go for scarless (as mentioned), the option of growing a big leader for years and chopping back is not the best option. Also big sacrifices are not good. Maples are fast in closing wounds and if not too big will go unnoticed soon enough. I would advice to stay in between. Let branches extend for a while, cut back in mid spring to short nodes and normally the first new growth will be a bit smaller in the beginning. In fall always select the finer growth. The wounds of the coarser growth (that is clipped away) will fade within a year. You can (and should) prune the eventual leader more often when short nodes are required. Unless you want it completely scarless from begin till the end i would allow some branches to power the trunk / tree. Keep everything short all the time and your tree will grow slow and scarless. In most cases i try to develop the future apex with a small sidebranch while a leader is pulling next to it. This way you have taper, short nodes on the eventual apex and a powerful tree. Once the sacrifice has done the job, cut it away completely and select a new runner on the apex.
 

Bananaman

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@Bananaman , with your consistent early-spring pinching, how are you fertilizing?
Read near the bottom of post 9. I know it’s a long boring post but by skimming one misses all the pertinent information
 

Paulpash

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I don't think your approach @Bananaman is anything like @Walter Pall 's method. In fact, they are poles apart if I understand your methodology correctly.

Your method seems to advocate 'prune early' and often before hardening off, using your long growing season to get lots of small internodes but reasonable extension in a 9 month + bonsai 'year'. This deliberate weakening reduces internode size. This is achievable in your case because a) you are using a beast of a grower, ie Trident maple and b) you have a growing season twice the length of those in Europe or any other place with a sane climate. If my interpretation of how you build branches is wrong please correct me!

Walter's approach uses tree strength/vigour to drive adventitious backbudding after two cutbacks per season to an intended silhouette in mid May / June and again in early August. This means a period of approximately six to eight weeks of full growth with very little / no intervention except strong fertilization and watering. The hedging process produces many branches from which he can select those with the best properties, ie shortest nodes and best placed during Winter cut back. Selective sacrifice branches are used to thicken certain areas of the tree such as a weak apical section etc. Long internodes are sheared off and it is the result of this cutback (ie backbudding) that produces shorter internodes.

Knowing your own climate is dead on though. It would be ridiculously slow to build any tree in Europe using your technique - not enough sunshine or season length but in California it obviously works well for you.
 
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eb84327

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I don't think your approach @Bananaman is anything like @Walter Pall 's method. In fact, they are poles apart if I understand your methodology correctly.

Your method seems to advocate 'prune early' and often before hardening off, using your long growing season to get lots of small internodes but reasonable extension in a 9 month + bonsai 'year'. This deliberate weakening reduces internode size. This is achievable in your case because a) you are using a beast of a grower, ie Trident maple and b) you have a growing season twice the length of those in Europe or any other place with a sane climate. If my interpretation of how you build branches is wrong please correct me!

Walter's approach uses tree strength/vigour to drive adventitious backbudding after two cutbacks per season to an intended silhouette in mid May / June and again in early August. This means a period of approximately six to eight weeks of full growth with very little / no intervention except strong fertilization and watering. The hedging process produces many branches from which he can select those with the best properties, ie shortest nodes and best placed during Winter cut back. Selective sacrifice branches are used to thicken certain areas of the tree such as a weak apical section etc. Long internodes are sheared off and it is the result of this cutback (ie backbudding) that produces shorter internodes.

Knowing your own climate is dead on though. It would be ridiculously slow to build any tree in Europe using your technique - not enough sunshine or season length but in California it obviously works well for you.
i like watching and listening to walter pall. I just recently watched one that he goes into some detail on his "method" and at one point he talks about using a HEDGE TRIMMER to remove material after letting it grow! He should move to Idaho. He would fit right in. (
)
 

Paulpash

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I was hoping Al(fred?) @Bananaman would clarify if I had got down his his branch building process. Always good to have alternatives so people in similar circumstances can apply them.
 
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