As you develop your raw material or bonsai-in-training into masterpieces (or just great specimens), you need to know certain techniques that will give you faster results. Among these are techniques to create or improve trunk and branch taper.
Here’s a wonderful species for bonsai, Parsley-leaf hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, which I have just started to work with this year. As I have written before, this is a species I had wanted to work with for my entire bonsai career of almost 30 years, but I never had the opportunity. That changed this year, thanks to a good bonsai friend who took me to a collecting spot.
I direct-potted this specimen into a nice Chuck Iker round. The trunk is just over 1.5″ in diameter, it has great character and movement, and all I needed to do was to create a branch structure and develop a suitable crown. Sure, it’s a 5-year project but so what? Who would turn down a great bonsai in 5 years?
The photo at left is from May 26th. This specimen got off to a slow start in spring, for reasons unknown (you may wonder if it’s because I went straight to a bonsai pot with it; for newly collected trees, I find they typically put on a good round of vigorous growth in the early stages of recovery that can mitigate this problem). But it eventually had sufficient growth on it that I could start the styling process.
Here’s the tree after its first wiring. Not a bad structure, for starters. The real challenge will be in creating the crown of the tree. I’ve wired up a new leader, which needs to run, and next year the original trunk will be chopped near where the new leader emerges. But that’s only one factor in creating this future bonsai.
Here’s the tree as of August 26th. The new leader has grown about three feet in length, and thickened pretty nicely. There’s been good growth of the branches, though certainly not even growth. That left-hand branch looks pretty rangy, right? Well, there’s more to the story than there appears to be at first blush. Let’s take a closer look.
So this explains that very long branch you see in the photo above. In the closeup, you can see the tree threw a secondary branch at about the second internode and that this branch was strategically growing more or less straight up. This simple fact meant the branch was going to be stronger than those I wired and positioned horizontally. But there was another benefit to this. If you study the two branches in the photo that lie on opposite sides of the trunk, you’ll see that the one featuring the upward-pointing secondary branch is about twice as thick as its counterpart. This is a key development technique when we’re growing the branch structure of our trees. Not only do the branches need to ultimately be from one-quarter to one-half the thickness of the trunk from the point at which they emerge, they also need to exhibit taper just as the trunk does. When we’re first wiring out the new branch structure on a tree being developed from a bare trunk, the shoots are naturally slender. We let them grow out and then cut back, and in time this process produces taper. But there is a faster way to induce taper, and that is illustrated by this example. Sometimes your new branch will throw a shoot straight up that’s near enough to the base that it can speed the process along. This is exactly what’s happening with this parsley hawthorn branch.
An obvious question at this point is, What do I do about the other branches that don’t feature a secondary branch pointing straight up? You have to use the other techniques available to you. This means you let those branches grow out farther before cutting back. You can also wire the very tips of those branches upward, which enhances the growth rate. Regardless of which you do, over time you’ll need to balance growth among the branches in order to make your bonsai look realistic. This is a chore no one escapes, but frankly I think it’s one of the attractions of growing bonsai. Seeing (and making) the development take place over time is just wonderful – and I recommend keeping a photo record of your trees, which is not only very illuminating but also instructive.