swamp maple progress – a couple of key developmental concepts

Sneak Peek

When you develop raw material for bonsai, you’ll follow a familiar pattern. There’s plenty of detail and nuance in how it goes, though. Here are a couple of key developmental concepts you need to know.

Swamp Maple Progress – A Couple of Key Developmental Concepts

Let’s go back to the stick in a pot beginning stage on this Swamp maple. If you collect your own trees or buy them at the raw material stage, you’ll follow a familiar pattern. Stick in pot; trunk buds; new shoots; select and wire; train up leader; trim when needed; angle chop trunk; unwire and rewire as needed; prune or shear; and so on.


Here’s the initial styling point.

And here we are today. This is just what you want to see in your new bonsai to be, more growth after that initial surge and the work you’ve done on it. Today I want to drill down and show you a couple of extremely important developmental concepts. These are indispensable to your work, if you want the tree to both look right and maintain its health.

You almost always have to build a leader/apex/crown with collected material. That’s only part of the story, however. Building a leader from a rough chop always requires thickening up the transition point. We all know that to do that, we must allow the leader to run and get strong. But … there’s also the need to ensure that the first internode from the transition point is not too long. The last thing you want in the crown of your tree is an obvious empty space where a branch(es) needs to be. You probably won’t hear this talked or written about much if at all. Remember, there will be buds at that branch collar where the new leader emerges from the trunk. All well and good. But if your next branch is too far away from that point, you will end up having to do remedial work on your tree. It’s always best to get it right at the start.

In the case of this tree, I didn’t have to take any extraordinary measures to get a short internode. This certainly doesn’t always happen, so in cases where your leader appears to be bolting you’ll have to pinch it before it gets too long, and then let a new leader bolt from that first internode. This is how you’ll get both the thickening you need, as well as a short first internode. It doesn’t matter, by the way, if the second internode is too long. You can always chop back to that first one after you’ve got a well-thickened transition section, and regrow a properly proportioned crown.

The final notes for today. Of course there’s going to be an angle chop on the trunk – probably not until next year. I’ve illustrated roughly the line it’s going to take when it happens. There will be carving to follow, naturally. But the important thing to note here is the location of the branch at the back of the tree and near the bottom of what will be that angle chop. Why is this important? Because you don’t want an open stretch of trunk below the base of an angled trunk chop. That only invites dieback and ultimately rotting wood. The branch I’ve pointed out here will give me the best shot of maintaining sap flow after I make the chop. Sap flow promotes healing. And healing will be a key factor in maintaining the health of this maple.

Let me know what you think. Do you manage the internodal length of your new leaders on deciduous trees?