Tips on developing some Japanese Maple pre-bonsai when ground-planting is not really an option?

Bonsai Noodles

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I've gotten serious with the hobby, and I've finally decided to take a shot at some Japanese maples. I purchased 3 cultivars from Brent at Evergreen Gardenworks: Ao Kanzashi, Katsura, and Bloodgood (all 1 gallon-sized nursery stocks).

If I were in a milder climate, I would definitely stick these three guys into the ground at the first opportunity, come next early spring. However, because I'm in zone-4 weather (Minnesota), I can't really do that. My plan is to keep them in these Anderson flat-like containers to let them grow out good nebari (plan on repotting next late-winter using a tile — Ebihara technique basically). In the winters, I'll move them into an unheated garage to save them from the harsh Minnesota frost. Will these maples develop enough to have decent taper over the years, assuming I trunk chop correctly and all that? I read a few threads on the forums, and many threads seem to suggest that, without planting a nursery stock into the ground, it'll be really difficult to get decent taper in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe these can be my experiment pre-bonsai, and I can consider buying more developed specimens in the future...

Thanks!
 

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MrWunderful

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Depends on your definition of “reasonable”. 10-20 years in a pot is more likely.

Dont forget that a lot of bonsai stock in japan is not ground grown. It just takes longer.

Ground growing works great for fast thick trunks, but they usually end up with big chop scars.

Also, if you are going to go “Ebihara” then use wood, not a tile so you can arrange the roots manually.
 

Bonsai Noodles

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Depends on your definition of “reasonable”. 10-20 years in a pot is more likely.

Dont forget that a lot of bonsai stock in japan is not ground grown. It just takes longer.

Ground growing works great for fast thick trunks, but they usually end up with big chop scars.

Also, if you are going to go “Ebihara” then use wood, not a tile so you can arrange the roots manually.

Hi there! Alas, I may have to just suck it up and be willing to put in the 1-2 decades. It is about the journey, after all. On the plus side, that'll mean less prominent trunk chop scars.

As for the Ebihara technique, I was thinking of doing a modified version of that technique (so no need to involve nails). As much as I admire the dedication of getting that flat pancake-nebari look, I do not personally like the aesthetics of it. Basically, so long as I can get some level of root flare, I'll be happy. In fact, I prefer seeing a radial pattern with many roots growing outward. I imagine this look can be achieved without manually arranging roots? The tile would be to encourage roots growing horizontally primarily.
 

Forsoothe!

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Words like taper and nebari usually include inferred proportions larger than life. That is to say exaggerated compared to the typical landscape subject. If that's what you want then you need to keep branches low to feed the lowest portion of the tree and have concurrently fewer upper branches feeding the upper portion of the tree. The overall size is strictly a matter of years doing these things. If you intensely care for the tree and prevent growth in all the wrong palaces while simultaneously re-directing growth in all the right places you can have your taper sooner in a smaller tree. Sooner in a smaller tree. If you want a big tree it just takes more years. Building nebari in Maples is a pretty straight forward science and that's been half covered here. The other half is grafting that comes after you have something big enough to graft on to. Again, if you are going to do it in a container you at least have the advantage of visiting the container every day to water it and can take the time to clip & grow, everyday, redirecting growth and wasting little that will need to be chopped off later. You can create a very nice smaller tree in ten years and have that nice tree to nurture for the following ten years so you don't really have to wait 20 empty years for a 20 year tree.
 

MrWunderful

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Hi there! Alas, I may have to just suck it up and be willing to put in the 1-2 decades. It is about the journey, after all. On the plus side, that'll mean less prominent trunk chop scars.

As for the Ebihara technique, I was thinking of doing a modified version of that technique (so no need to involve nails). As much as I admire the dedication of getting that flat pancake-nebari look, I do not personally like the aesthetics of it. Basically, so long as I can get some level of root flare, I'll be happy. In fact, I prefer seeing a radial pattern with many roots growing outward. I imagine this look can be achieved without manually arranging roots? The tile would be to encourage roots growing horizontally primarily.

Yeah thats what I do. I dont arrange, I just use a flat surface to encourage the outward growth.
 

roberthu

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I've gotten serious with the hobby, and I've finally decided to take a shot at some Japanese maples. I purchased 3 cultivars from Brent at Evergreen Gardenworks: Ao Kanzashi, Katsura, and Bloodgood (all 1 gallon-sized nursery stocks).

If I were in a milder climate, I would definitely stick these three guys into the ground at the first opportunity, come next early spring. However, because I'm in zone-4 weather (Minnesota), I can't really do that. My plan is to keep them in these Anderson flat-like containers to let them grow out good nebari (plan on repotting next late-winter using a tile — Ebihara technique basically). In the winters, I'll move them into an unheated garage to save them from the harsh Minnesota frost. Will these maples develop enough to have decent taper over the years, assuming I trunk chop correctly and all that? I read a few threads on the forums, and many threads seem to suggest that, without planting a nursery stock into the ground, it'll be really difficult to get decent taper in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe these can be my experiment pre-bonsai, and I can consider buying more developed specimens in the future...

Thanks!
You don’t have to field grown Japanese maples for sure. A lot of nice shohin maples are pot grown the entire time. One big aspect of Japanese maple bonsai is the nebari which is mostly developed with pot. Yes it is going to take longer but that is also why it is so treasured. I am growing a few maple seedlings myself and I will be repotting them every year until the nebari looks good enough to me. I am not looking for a thick trunk because I am aiming for shohin only. As long as I have some movement in the trunk I will be happy.

Smooth bark, high level of ramification and a good nebari are what I am after. None of those require field grown. As a matter fact, planting Japanese maple in the ground usually leads to uneven root spread and coarse growth.
 

meushi

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As for the Ebihara technique, I was thinking of doing a modified version of that technique (so no need to involve nails). As much as I admire the dedication of getting that flat pancake-nebari look, I do not personally like the aesthetics of it. Basically, so long as I can get some level of root flare, I'll be happy. In fact, I prefer seeing a radial pattern with many roots growing outward. I imagine this look can be achieved without manually arranging roots? The tile would be to encourage roots growing horizontally primarily.

You can use the simplified version that was explained by Kyosuke Gun in the same May 2001 issue of Kinbon as the Ebihara technique. Don't worry too much about it leading to the toffee pancake... that takes a very long time to reach. Use the board technique for a few years until you have the nebari you want. I tend to screw the tree to the board from below to prevent root growth from lifting it and creating a sloping nebari. This actually happened to a couple of trees I was growing.

1598853207255.png

Rough translation of the text in the article:

Figure 10: start with a 2 years old seedling, cutting the tap root and any root above your nebari starting point
Figure 11: Prepare a 6"x6" square of plywood (ベニヤ板 -> veneer board) by making holes
Figure 12: Arrange roots radially and tie down to the holes with wire
Figure 13: what it should look like
Figure 14: place in pot and cover with soil mix... about 1/4" ( 5 mm to 7mm) of soil on top is ideal.
Figure 15: remove from pot and cut back to the edge of the board (the dotted line)
Figure 16: rearrange the roots and tie them down again before placing back in pot. Protect the roots when tying, to avoid scars.
Figure 17: the end result, trim back to the dotted line before repotting
Figure 18: primary branch selection, alternating
Figure 19: secondary branch selection, alternating
Figure 20: secondary branch selection, remove vertical branches (up and down)

I guess Gun recommends plywood in this case because it's a mame or shohin in training and it will be repotted every spring.
 

Shibui

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Tile or board is not necessary to create good nebari. Good root pruning will achieve better results in my experience.
Do not despair. You can definitely grow good trunks in containers. Often better quality than ground grown stock as has already been mentioned.
Taper is mostly a product of pruning rather than growing. Sacrifice branches will help but will also leave scars that then need to heal.

IMGP9000.JPG
This trident maple has never been in the ground. Painstakingly developed in containers over 20 years so no scars.
 

sorce

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And the next year he tried Amur Maples and exclaimed, "wow, this is how maples are supposed to grow!"😉

Sorce
 
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meushi

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Great summary thanks.

Doesn't water tend to pool on the flat wood, causing rot/hypoxia? Or is it close enough to the surface that it dries out pretty quickly?

It's one or two layers of particles from the surface, the water doesn't have the time to pool around. I'm testing this technique with young Japanese maples this year, I'm half expecting the boards to come out dead flat next spring. I have a larger Japanese maple to try next spring and possibly field/Norway ones as well.
 

coachspinks

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The tile/board technic is great. One thing you can do to simulate ground planting, at least to a certain extent and only if you have some ground to work with, is to set the pots on the ground, mulch around them and let the roots run through the holes in the side and bottom of the pot. You can even dig a hole and set the pot in the hole slightly. If you have to move them you can just cut the roots off at the point and take them. I have some tridents that went from cuttings to 1.5 - 2" this way in 2 years.
 
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If you repot your tree every 2 or 3 years to work correctly the nebari, small to medium sized trees will grow just as fast in a pot as they would do in the ground, as long as your watering and fertilization are adapted.
If you have the money to invest, use a mixer for liquid fertilizer to fertilize your trees each time you water. If not, use CRF at the maximal dosage recommended by the maker with a mix with better water retention. Be careful not wash the fert by excessive leaching.
 

meushi

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Venturi injectors for fertilizer are actually dirt cheap nowaday... there are budget versions at about $15. No idea how long they would last. It's probably the next piece of equipment I'm adding to the equation.
 

clem

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I've gotten serious with the hobby, and I've finally decided to take a shot at some Japanese maples. I purchased 3 cultivars from Brent at Evergreen Gardenworks: Ao Kanzashi, Katsura, and Bloodgood (all 1 gallon-sized nursery stocks).
They look nice. Are they grafted or from cutting ?
 

james

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You can do some good work with attention and boxes to bring your maples along. Below is a trident maple, air layer taken 15yrs ago. Always been in a box.

For a successful start, one needs two things, good lateral root spread and interest/movement in the lower trunk. Taper will come in time, as you let sacrificial branches, leaders grow and then reduce back.

First picture this winter, tree developed reverse taper in mid trunk. Second picture after cut back, taper restored. This year building new leader. At this time, nebari and trunk base are set. They are very difficult to correct later, no matter what you have going on above.

So looking at your trees, you will first need to address nebari (next repot) with intended planting angle in mind and next get some movement into trunk base. Plant at 30-45 degree angle, and build tree with successive trunk chops.

DD5D4E1B-2F4B-4F40-B463-CB923F467605.jpeg

9329353B-A65D-4659-8E91-0ED5C2C678BD.jpeg
 

james

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For more information regarding maple development, I have found Peter Adams useful.

BC118615-8D1B-402F-8EDB-7DD9DF156927.jpeg
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90E7FD1E-53DF-4A88-9E17-7AA95AEF6880.jpeg
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clem

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If the trunks of your katsura & bloodgood cutting are still flexible, i think it would be better to wire them, to give subtle curves. It's important to think about removing the wires before they enter the bark because the wire scars on a palmatum are ugly & veryyy long to disappear
 

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