Losing trees: Japanese Maple, Chishio improved

Ok, this series is intentionally humbling as it demonstrates my failures with the hope of avoiding them again, and maybe someone out there can also avoid them. The good news is that I didn’t lose this tree. I did lose a few years of work, but optimistically the tree will be better in the long run. And if bonsai is about anything at all…it’s the long run.

I wired the tree over Thanksgiving 2019, just after leaf fall. This:

To this:

Replacing fat branches with finer branches and balancing the overall density. No problem, right time of year, so what could go wrong?



Trouble…so I decided to not repot, and not add another insult. First time in 15 years I skipped a year of repotting. I believe we had some nights in the low 20s in late January, and it may have killed some of the branches.

Early April, clearly I’m losing branches:

Time to trim the long stuff and see if we can jump-start some budding in the interior.

Left side good:

Right side bad:

Trimming back, mid April, before and after:

Late April, and some interior budding is forming in the bare areas:

Late May, and the wire needs to come off, and the left side is very dense, compared to the weak right side.

Before unwiring;


Since the April trim back encouraged some budding, and new shoots were starting to grow, I decided to partially defoliate the tree and allow light to reach the interior, as well as balance the tree and give the new shoots a shot at growing. Here is an upper branch, before:


And likewise on a lower right branch where some dieback occurred, new branches were starting to take off:

So I wired them, removed the inner leaves, and removed the growing tips. This should result in back-budding at the axils of the removed leaves:

After the work is done, the tree looks pretty rough. It always does until the leaves reorient themselves in the sun.

A night shot shows the result a little better:

And, just a few weeks later, new buds and shoots have formed all over:


Interior branch:

I’ll let it grow a bit longer, and wire the green shoots I plan to keep in a few weeks. Next spring, I’ll repot it and work the roots pretty thoroughly.

Lazy Trident Maple, or Don’t ever give up!

This one took a snap frost last November which zapped all the leaves,

And I didn’t think much of it at the time. But by mid-March, all the other trees were growing except this trident.

By April, everything was ready for a haircut (including me…after a month of Corona quarantine)

A cambium check suggested the tree was still alive, so I kept it in shade, and treated it like it was still alive, watering and feeding it. Until finally, on April 25, fully 6 weeks later than the torch tridents, I noticed suddenly the buds had broken:

April 30:

Strange to see Kurume azaleas finishing blooming, Satsukis starting, and a bare trident a month them.

May 15…breathing a sigh of relief now…

Stewartia Update

I repotted the Stewartia this spring into a shallow container…maybe too shallow. But I think it will be ok. I wanted to correctly orient the tree so the new front would be, well, out front.

My short history of this tree spans about 16 months now. Here is a post on the collection through first styling:


New Front:


Freshly potted, checking the position:

Close-up of the base, which will be covered with sphagnum moss to retain moisture:

And watered in:

It really didn’t skip a beat.

And on May 1st, it was time to prune back and check wires.

Not biting in yet.

Directional pruning is particularly important in trees that grow in an alternating leaf Pattern. The grower can direct the next shoot’s direction by pruning and result in a more organized branch structure; something for which Stewartia are appreciated.

Prune at the red lines to direct future growth outward as shown by the blue arrows:

Like this:

And the end result for now: