Shohin Japanese Maple winter pruning and wiring

I have had this little clump for about 3 years. The mature bark is starting to form, and it has a good base starting to show that “turtle back” look. During the growing season, it has been pinched, and during the winter it has been pruned, but I have not wired it yet. As it started the winter:

Close- up of the base and bark forming:

Some heavy areas to address, largest trunk:

Pruning at the red line:

Back left trunk:

Pruning at the red line:

Pruned back:


Placed and evaluated:

Adjustments needed:

Finished for now:

Transitions are softer now, and the tree has some balance from side to side. It will be repotted again in spring, and the work for 2020 will include building some ramification, and addressing the apex of the tallest trunk. Pot, Koyo.

Arakawa Japanese Maple

An air-layer created in 2011, grown in the ground for a few years and then potted in 2015:

Eventually, I thread-grafted new first branches, lower to compact the tree; changed the front, and chopped the right trunk lower than the left:

Since the tree is on its own roots, my goal was to produce a really nice radial Nebari, which will also have the rough bark of the trunks. I also decided to grow this tree slowly, and let it develop the character only age can provide. So it went into a bonsai pot, and we’ll let time take its course.

At the end of 2019, the tree is about 8 years old from an air-layer, and it was pruned back and wired. I also let a shoot run long to thread-graft into the upper left trunk, growing toward the right.


The pot is an old Yozan from the 1960s, beautiful orange clay under a cream glaze which is developing some nice patina.

Fall pruning and wiring of Japanese Maple, ‘Chishio Improved’

I have been working on this tree for almost 20 years now. It is repotted annually with aggressive root work, to develop a good radial Nebari. I do a partial defoliation nearly each summer, removing one of each pair of leaves, and prune it in the fall, and wire it every few years. Here is a look back of the development every couple years.

2004 still in the ground.

2006, in a bonsai pot, first full wiring.

2008, wired again.


2012, photographed as prepared for the 3rd US National Bonsai Exhibition:

2014, allowed to grow very dense, strengthening the root grafts:

2016, thinned and lightly wired a couple branches:

And 2018, after some light pruning and wiring.

Now that we’re caught up, I’ve been working to replace heavy branches with finer ones, grafting to place a branch above the first left branch, and still trying to improve the Nebari. It’s a slow process because I want to maintain a pleasing aesthetic appearance along the way.

Below is a fall color shot of 2019:

After leaf-drop, at first glance, the twigginess is attractive, but over the last few years the ramification has become disorganized, and a few branches have become heavier than necessary for a graceful, aging appearance:

The work to do below; red areas are heavy branches and congested areas, blue represents wire needed, and branch placement.

The plan is to prune the branches which emerge in clusters down to pairs, to replace heavy branches with finer ones, and wire fine branches to emerge at acute angles, gracefully outward from the trunk.

Addressing the first left branch, which has gotten very heavy:

after reducing it with a small saw:

And the back branch:

And the results for now:

Developing deciduous bonsai requires years of attention, and tough decisions made at the right time, or giving up years of work later to correct the flaws. Here is a side-by-side before and after the fall work. Over the next couple growing seasons, I will let the ramification increase through pinching during the growing season, and pruning after.

And for fun, here is a side-by-side with 13 years separating the two shots. I lined up the soil line and branches to the approximate height and scale. It has grown to a good size of around 29″ tall.