Losing trees, Japanese Maple

Almost, anyway. The aggressive wiring, followed by exceptional freezing conditions in January 2020 resulted in a disastrous year for this Japanese Maple. Here it is in December, 2020, as most of the leaves have fallen:

After removing leaves

Some issues included dieback of secondary branches, followed by coarse new growth, which was wired in the summer:

First left branch, showing lots of new growth. Most on the topside which is unusable, and most too young to wire this year:

Strong budding from the trunk at the apex, leaving lots of coarse new growth to work with.

So here is the work to do

1. Replace heavy branches with finer branches where possible.

This branch:



Another coarse branch, midway up on the right side:

Removing the 2 upward-facing buds in favor of side buds:

Then wire:

Another example on the right side:

The two branches:

One more example:

A good example of a branch pruned back evenly and wired:

2. Reduce multiple buds to pairs:

This way:

Midway through the work:

The apex is next.

Starting by removing heavy shoots:

And the one above it:

And after the work, the apex is pretty rough, but should be possible to remake in a couple years.

Dark shot for contrast:

Clean up the moss to ensure good drainage:

Repotted in March:

Bud-pinched through the early growing season:

And the tree is off to a good spring:

I’ll keep a close eye on the wires to avoid scarring, and in a few weeks, partially defoliate the tree; removing one of each pair of leaves in the strong areas to allow light to reach the interior of the tree to help facilitate back-budding.

Losing trees: Tosho

Well, it has been a while since I lost a tree. Unfortunately, this was an imported, collected needle juniper. They’re uncommon. I have owned it for 4 years, and it’s always been healthy. It was repotted last in 2018, and doing fine until this spring.

January 1, winter color, nothing unusual.

End of February, still seems ok.

End of May, clearly dead.

What happened? Unpotting it revealed some rotting roots on one side: under the thickest of the moss, and very broken down soil underneath, with some earthworms present as well:

So what’s the verdict? Could be root rot, could be the late frost we had in April, could have been ready for a repot sooner, could have been too wet. Regardless, here’s a sad parting shot.

But I’ll end the post with one of my favorite photos of the tree. Club show, May 2018. On a David Knittle table, owned by a friend. The accent is Erodium in a Byron Myrick pot.

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.