I assembled this Sweetgum forest, Liquidambar styraciflua, last year. As you can see in this photo taken just today, it has responded beautifully. Sweetgums are apically dominant, so each tree in the forest is doing its level best to get as tall as it can in a big hurry. This is all well and good, except for the smaller trees I’ve crowded in with the bigger ones. They’re in some danger of getting weaker and possibly dying if I don’t actively manage the growth of the larger trees.
It’s also time to actually work on styling the individual trees in this composition. I think you can see just what a challenge that is! You can’t even see inside this planting, much less get in there and make pruning decisions. So, what to do?
Well, it’s a good time of year to defoliate Sweetgums that are well-established. And that will make it possible for me to actually see how each tree has grown and correct any problems early in the game.
Defoliating an established bonsai is a tedious chore. I mean, they have so many leaves, right? The good thing about Sweetgums, and this is true for maples as well, is that the leaves are attached to the branches by means of petioles which are often as long as the leaves themselves. So what you do is just snip the petiole of each leaf. In about a week, the petiole will have formed an abscission layer where it attaches to the branch and fall off on its own. This also protects the latent bud in the leaf axil.
In the photo here, I’ve gone through and evaluated each tree’s structure in light of its place in the forest. That means taking off low branches on the larger trees, removing branches that are growing toward the interior of the forest in such a location that they won’t get sufficient sunlight, removing crossing branches, shortening branches, and so on. The entire project took about 30 minutes. But the forest is shaping up nicely, don’t you think?
I expect all of these trees to be back in leaf within 2-3 weeks. As I begin to pinch the emerging new growth, the leaves should start getting smaller and in better proportion.
I’d love to hear any comments you may have on this forest.