Fall defoliation of a Japanese Beech

Beech grow a bit like black pines. They are apically- and distally-dominant, they issue one flush of growth per year (unless intervention, such as pruning, causes another flush), and require different techniques to develop good branching. Admittedly, I am still learning these techniques.

It seems that with this beech, it’s one step forward, two steps back. It didn’t help that the tree was riddled with flaws when purchased in ’04, and the tree really needed to be started over to deal with them.

Going back in time a bit, here it is around April ’10, following a hard pruning and wiring:

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After completing the fall defoliation technique in September, ’10, and pinching three flushes of growth during the ’11 growing season, the ramification was improving, but the apex was leaning pretty hard to the left:

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After dealing with some more of the flaws, especially at the apex…two steps back indeed:

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The good news was that, what’s left, is usable. During the ’12 growing season:

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Now, at the end of the ’12 growing season, fall defoliation was completed again with the goal of inducing dormant buds closer to the trunk to “wake up” and grow. This improves branch structure and ramification. This has two steps:
1. Remove all but the bottom 1/4″ of each leaf.
2. Remove the bud at the end of each branch.

Before:

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After removing the leaves:

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Next is removing the bud at the end of each branch. Removing these removes auxins, a hormone produced at the tip of branches that inhibits the development of buds further back on the branch. Apically-dominant trees respond especially well to this technique; without the presence of auxins, latent buds develop further back on the branches.

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After completing the work:

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What’s next? Some wiring this winter to spread out the branches a bit, and repotting in March. It’s been in that soil for 3 years, and after sustaining root-rot in ’08, extra care is needed to keep the roots healthy. Over the next few years, the ramification can be built on the corrected branch structure now in place, and the tree can gradually become a decent bonsai.

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2 thoughts on “Fall defoliation of a Japanese Beech

  1. Brian..Have you ever considered a thread graft – perhaps 2 lower branches – it would not be easy but would give you better overall proportions I think. Best wishes from NY, Tom Tynan.

    • Hi Tom. Thread grafting would be difficult, if not impossible for two reasons:

      First, they don’t close wounds fast enough, and the cambium tends to roll quite a bit back from the wound, taking years to fully close even a 1/4″ cut.

      Second, the buds are so large that to get them through intact would require a very large-bore hole, which would exacerbate the first reason!

      Bonsai Today 49 has a great article on remaking an old beech (part 1 is in BT 48, and shows it as a large ground layer), where they did approach grafts in the apex. They don’t say how long it took, but looking at the growth, it had to be at least 2-3 years.

      Thanks for reading!

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