I’m confident now that with the exception of wiring, which I plan on addressing later in the season, I’ve provided the best ground work possible for getting started with bonsai. There are certainly volumes of knowledge to be learned in regards to bonsai, but I’m confident that if you use the articles published so far you’ll at the very least be in an excellent spot to grow your knowledge (and trees).
Having said all that I’m excited to post what I hope will be a great new segment for the blog. One of the most important facts of bonsai you’ll realize soon after you get your first tree, is that the tree is going to grow the way it wants to. The key is figuring out the best way to trick it into doing what you want. A lot of the “figuring out what to do” is going to depend on the tree’s species, how it grows and how it responds to different techniques.
Acer Buergerianum commonly know as the Trident Maple (or Kaede in Japan) is a species of maple native to eastern China. It gets it’s common name from its three lobed, trident shaped leaves. Maples in general are widely used in bonsai due to the ability to reduce their leaf size and create compact branching. They also create superior and intricate nebari. Amongst the maples, tridents and various cultivars of Japanese maple (acer palmatum) receive the most frequent use in bonsai. Like any deciduous tree the trident maple will loose its leaves in the fall displaying a wonderful array of yellows, oranges, and reds.
I’ve heard trident maples referred to as the “tanks” of bonsai and I think the name is justified. You can cut them back to a stump, defoliate 3-4 times per year, completely bare-root and remove 2/3 of the root ball and your trident will keep on ticking. Obviously harsh treatment isn’t advisable, but these maples can really take some punishment. For that reason, and many others, I always promote tridents as a good starter tree.
Another reason tridents are great to learn bonsai on is that they have an opposite pair leaf structure. This means that leaves grow two at a time directly across the branch from one another. This makes the process of rammification fairly easy to perform on a maple. You simply find a growing end, cut above the desired leaf pair and watch two new branches sprout from the base of the petioles. Let your tree grow back out, rinse and repeat (so to speak).
Tridents also require a little less patience than other species because they grow so fast. In the wild a Trident can easily put on a foot or two in the growing season. The great thing about this is it means you can prune or defoliate 3-4 times per year on healthy trees. This defoliation will be necessary during the process of refining your tree in order to reduce the leaf size. Typically defoliation is also a great time to prune and wire as well.
During the growing season Tridents can drink a hefty amount of water. Always be careful not to let them dry out too much, especially during the peak of summer heat. On especially hot summer days its a good idea to provide some shade through the use of a shade cloth or repositioning the tree. The new leaves of the trident are particularly susceptible to scorching in the hot mid day to late afternoon sun.
One word of caution on tridents and really maples in general. They love to swell. And they do it quite effectively. By this I mean that its especially important during the growing season to watch the wired areas of your tree. Wire applied in April or May could be swallowed up by August and will likely by biting by late June. Remember, it’s much easier to reapply wire at a later date than try to re-grow a branch because its badly scarred.
Below are (in my opinion) two of the best sources for working with maples. The first is from Peter Tea’s Blog, and I’ve posted the video before from the Bonsai art of Japan Series, But it’s worth a review!
**Also brand new Bonsai Art of Japan episode 35**
Peter Tea’s “The Trident Maple Project and Summer Maple Work”