How to Create a Acer Palmatum Japanese Maple Bonsai

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I’m going to show you how to take small, seedlings or cuttings and turn them into a cob, adachi or clump style bones.

I, like the one you see right here: okay. So, over the last few months, ever since we started bonsai you in early 2020, I’ve been getting a lot of requests from viewers out there who want to see more deciduous or broadleaf content on the bonsai.

You platform well for those of you who have known me for a number of years or if you’ve ever visited a say, n you’ll know that I’m very passionate about deciduous and broadleaf species, and we actually have a lot of those projects here at the nursery.

One of my goals here at a say, n, is to take native US deciduous material and broad leaf material and turn them into beautiful bonsai, similar to what you see in Japan. If you think about how things were developed in Japan over many many decades, many many centuries, it really just took a handful of people looking for the best native material.

They could find there and then really focusing on the long term aspects of development with those species, and that’s why you see such beautiful deciduous and broadleaf bonsai in Japan today. Well, the cultural differences between the US and Japan have sort of set us back a little bit in terms of deciduous development because it takes such a long time to develop beautiful, broadleaf and deciduous trees.

But I’m hoping through this platform to kind of change your outlook on developing these species and sort of shift your mindset to more of sort of a long-term orientation. Now the tree, that’s right beside me here.

This is a tree that I actually put together myself when I was 16 years old, now I’ll be 34 coming up here and not too long. So that’s well over a decade’s worth of work. That’S gone into this particular tree.

Now I say that not to discourage you but to inspire you, hopefully to start to think more long-term when you’re developing your deciduous trees, and I want to show you kind of the process of how I built this tree when I was 16 years old now, when I did put this tree together way back in the day.

I did it at a workshop with a good friend of mine bill, Val Venis. Many of you guys would probably know who that is. He runs international bonsai up in Rochester New York and he’s also the brains behind the us national show, which happens every other year in the States. So when I went to the workshop bill handed me about nine Japanese maple, seedlings and told me to put them together in a clump, so that was sort of the focus of the workshop was how to build these clumps but being 16 years old.

Getting these tiny little seedlings looking at them, I was thinking what am I going to do with this? These just look like little twigs, they’re, not gonna into anything interesting. Well, I followed Bill’s directions in the workshop and I’m actually going to show you how this works in this bonsai you video here and over the subsequent basically 17 years.

I slowly developed that tree into what you see here now. What I want to do in this video is show you that initial setup, where we actually put the seedlings together, then I’m going to show you a tree that was put together a couple of years ago.

So you can see where we need to progress. Sort of in the early stages of the development of these trees, and then I’m going to take you through the repotting process on this particular tree right here.

So you can see what the underside of the root ball looks like so, first things. First, let’s pull out the Japanese maple seedlings and we’ll talk about how to actually put them together to create a clump style bowl inside like this.

Alright. So here is our tray of Japanese maple seedlings. Now, when you’re, putting together a clump style or Kabu da cheese style bone side, you want to select for deciduous species that have very, very small leaves and within a deciduous species.

You want to find a particular cultivar or variety or variation that has small, Internode’s and small leaves, because otherwise, you’re gonna be fighting against. Those large leaves forever. If it’s a tree that can be defoliated say like a trident maple, which is another great tree to utilize for this technique, even if you can do foliate that plant, if it’s got large, leaves on it, it’s never going to really develop nice.

Fine ramification, which is, of course, one of the goals with creating deciduous material really, our goal is to show these trees in winter when they don’t have any leaves. So you can see the fruits of your labor over the course of 10, 15.

20. 30. 40 years. However long that tree has been in development, so these trees right here are all selected for a very, very small leaf size, they’re all seedlings from the same parent plant as well.

Now I want you to think about this here when you’re selecting material as well. Ideally, you want to find plants or seedlings from the same parent plant and you want to select out from that seed base plants that have nearly identical characteristics.

So, if you’re, using a seed tray, if you’re collecting seeds from the ground, for example, if you’re growing say a hundred seedlings in a tray like this you’re, going to have some genetic variation, there’s going to be some genetic mutation from seedling to seedling.

That’S just how nature works so out of those seedlings, you should be able to select out a hand full of those seedlings that have very, very, very close, very, very similar aspects in terms of the looks of the leaves the size of the leaves the size of The inner nodes, the reason you want to select for plants that look essentially the same is because, when you put these together and they actually fused at the base, they’re going to look like one tree, you don’t want to have one of those trunks on the tree.

Have leaves that are 4 centimeters across or a couple inches across and another tree in that clump have leaves that are only a half an inch or like 1 centimeter across. It would look very, very weird, you’re, also gonna get the leaves opening up at different times, you’re going to get different colors on the tree, which you know for me.

It looks a little bit contrived to do that. I’D much rather have something consistent when I’m building a clump style tree, so it looks like one plant, that’s sprouted right from the base and that’s really the goal that we’re going for here.

So with that in mind again, you want to select four trees that have very similar leaf characteristics that are all from the same parent plant if you’re using seedlings now another option, that’s actually probably a better option is to take cuttings off of a parent plant that Has great characteristics if you take cuttings off of a Japanese, maple or Trident maple or any other deciduous species, all of those subsequent cuttings are going to have the same.

Genetics are going to be genetically identical to one another, so you won’t have to worry about variation in leaf size. They’Ll all be exactly the same, so that would be. My main recommendation is, if you can take cuttings, use cuttings to build these clump style trees.

Now again, we’re gonna be using seedlings here, but I’ve actually selected out from a tray of seeds, those from the same parent plant with very, very similar characteristics. So I’m not too concerned about them having weird variations once they start developing into a clump style tree.

So what we’re gonna do is pull a handful of these guys out of here. I’M gonna show you the process of how to attach them together at the base. Okay. So the first step here is to take a bunch of these little seedlings out of the tray.

Now I don’t necessarily want to take all of them out. I think it’s gonna be too much of a pain to repot them later. So what we’re gonna do is just select out a few that look like nice ones, and you know when you’re building a clump style tree.

Eventually, you want to have multiple trunk sizes, so diameters in terms of the thickness of the trunk and also the heights of the trunk. At this stage in the process, though, it doesn’t really matter, we can select all that are the same size.

We can select various sizes, it doesn’t matter because they’re very young and we’re going to let tops on these essentially elongate and grow. So I’m not concerned at all with them having variation right now we can correct for that later, no problem at all and, as a matter of fact, it’s better to select little seedlings that actually have relatively thin trunks.

So we can put a little bit of wire on them and add some motion, so they look quite cool. We’Ll actually do that in the second or third year after the trunks have fused together. But let’s go ahead and pull out a handful of these little maples.

Here and I’m actually just going to cut these guys out there far enough apart, that which should be a-okay here, just cutting the roots of these out and separating them here all right. So that’s plenty plenty of roots to work with right here now.

These seedlings here are about, I think, they’re, two year old seedlings, which is just about right if they’re any older than that, if they’re any thicker than that, like I said, it’s really hard to actually put them together and then put a little bit of movement and Motion in them, so you know one to say maybe three year old seedlings max is what we’re looking for when we’re creating a little forest like this or a clump style.

Rather speaking of forests, if you’re creating a force, there are a couple of ways to approach it. You can do a similar thing where you select out a species or a cultivar, or a variety of a particular deciduous tree that has very similar leaf characteristics to it.

To keep everything consistent, you can select for multiple different leaf sizes and leave variations to make it look a bit more natural, for example, or you can mix and match species which is really cool.

If it’s done well, it’s a difficult thing to do, but there are some fantastic examples in Japan. As a matter of fact, my Oya kata Fujikawa saw his jacket as a Brocato was very famous for creating forest plantings and for creating them using multiple species.

So if you haven’t seen Saburo Kato’s book believe it’s called mezzo spruce rock planting and forest planting bone size, something like that. You can get that book and there’s some really great examples in there of mixed forest plantings.

I definitely recommend that you check that out. So, in terms of the number of trees that I want to put together here in clomp style, what we’re looking for is an odd number and really we want a clump of somewhere between three to nine trunks.

Now I recommend that you start with nine, because inevitably one of those trunks or two of those trunks – or maybe even several of those trunks over the years – will die off they’ll either get suffocated out by the other trunks by the roots of the other trunks, or They won’t get enough water or enough light, so I would recommend that you actually put more trees in at the beginning than you think you might need.

So maybe you want to create like a five trunk, I would start with nine and you can always work your way back from there and again, some of the trunks may not look that interesting in the long run, so you may want to actually cut those out Yourself, if they don’t look nice in the actual design, so again more is better to begin with, and then you can always reduce it from there all right.

How many do we have now? We got one two, three, four, five: six, let’s pull out three more there. We go okay, all right, let’s set the tray on the ground and then I’m gonna show you how to actually put these together in a clump okay.

So now that we’ve got our nine little seedlings right here, all set up and ready to go. What we’re gonna do next is work on the roots just a little bit here, to make them easier to fit together and to also help promote lateral root growth.

So you want these roots to spread out and create a nice radial nebari. So these being seedlings they’re, all gonna have somewhat of a little tap root. So what I want to do is go through and remove that tap root.

To start with, we want to make sure we have enough find fibrous roots further up. If we cut the tap root off, that’s not gonna kill the seedling. If you don’t have enough of these fine fibrous roots right here, I recommend that you replant the tree, possibly even do a little bit of a ground layer to create that radial.

Nebari on here and then you can go back and cut off that tap root. But most of these right here look like they’re going to work. Just fine so we’re going to cut off all the tap roots on these guys to make them easier to fit together and again to promote that lateral root growth.

Some of these actually don’t have much of a tap root on them anymore, so it makes it a little bit easier here, this one’s actually quite fine by itself. This guy looks pretty good, we’ll get the soil off of here as well, so that we can make sure to fit these guys, nice and snugly together with one another.

Now, in doing this, you want to make sure that every once in a while, you’re spraying, the roots with some water just to keep them from desiccating, so I’ll keep a spray bottle handy as you’re doing this.

Yes, that these look pretty good. This looks excellent right here, get some of this soil off and the final one here all right looks pretty good all right now, for the fun part we’re going to actually attach these trunks together at the base.

So I’m gonna back the camera up. Just a little bit here, so you can see the full length of these trunks as we put them together and then I’m gonna show you the base of the trunks up close once we actually attach them all right so with our little seedlings here.

What we’re gonna do is select out the largest of these to begin with and they’re actually quite a few that are somewhat similar in size. But it looks like probably this guy here or this one here, our two largest ones in terms of the diameter at the base.

That’S gonna end up being kind of our middle main trunk and we’re gonna build the rest of the seedlings or the clump style around that one, particularly large trunk. So I’m gonna put both of these kind of side-by-side right next to one another here and in the future.

We can let one of these growth to become the main trunk, but I at least want to get them close together and those are going to be kind of our starting point right here now as you’re doing this, you want to make sure that you’re getting the Bases as close together as possible, if they’re touching that’s even better, if not not that big a deal because as they thicken over time, they’ll actually grow together and fuse together, but if you can get them together right from the get-go year that much further along now, You don’t have to score the base of each of these seedlings to get them to actually stick together and adhere and fuse.

So I’m not gonna worry about taking you know, sandpaper or grafting knife, or something and exposing that cambium layer to make them actually edit. Here over time, naturally they’re just going to graft and essentially fuse to one another, naturally on their own, all right.

So now that we’ve got those, it doesn’t really matter how we build the rest of these around this, but I’m gonna go sort of in a radial pattern for the most part, and again, I’m gonna work these guys in to get them as close as Possible down here at the base and if we need to cut some of the roots that are sticking out, we can.

But if we’ve got most of soil off of here and we’re just dealing with seedlings, you really shouldn’t have to cut many of those roots off. A little bit more dirt in here we could potentially pull out, though all right so the radial surface roots on the larger one.

Here, there’s some gaps in between those surface roots. So I’m going to stick some of the smaller seedlings through those gaps like so again to get them nice and close alright and again we’re trying to build this sort of in a radial pattern around those larger trunks.

There are larger seedlings, but there really isn’t much rhyme or reason to this in general. It’S just sticking them together and trying to get them to fuse or adhere at the base from the get-go okay. So now that we’ve got them all really close together here at the base, what we’re gonna do is actually tie them together at the base, so they don’t come apart in the pot or during the repotting process here in a few minutes or over the course Of the next year now there are a couple of ways to tie these together.

One would be using a zip tie like this. This is a decent option, although it tends to bite into the base of the trees a little bit now a better option. In my opinion is to use a piece of rubber and a piece of aluminum or aluminium wire, depending on where you are in the world now.

The reason I like to use the rubber here and the aluminium wire is so that it doesn’t actually bite into the base of the tree. This is much less likely to bite in then that zip tie is so we’re. Gon na be utilizing this today around the base of the plant.

Now I’ve cut a piece of rubber here, that’s way longer than the actual size around the base here, when we actually tie this together, the reason being is, I want this to actually overlap here. At the end, I don’t want the wire touching those new little seedlings or the trunks of the seedlings at the base at all.

I want only contact with the rubber, so this piece of rubber is a little bit longer than the actual circumference here of the base of these seedlings. So first thing here: what we’re going to do is stick the aluminum wire through the rubber, and this is size.

2.5 aluminum here which that will hold quite well that’s about the right size for seedlings this size. If you’re working with seedlings they’re a little bit smaller, you might do a 1.5 mil or a 2 mil, but for these since they’re a little bit larger, we’re gonna be using this two points life here now.

What I want to do is make sure that I’m attaching this right at the very very base, just above the nebari here, so that we can get those trunks to fuse right at the base of the trees here again we’re gonna take this twist it at The end right here and then I’m going to use the gin pliers here to really crank on this and twist it and I’m right-handed.

So I’m always going clockwise here when I pull in twist. That goes for this type of thing or if I’m securing a tree and a pot with the wire or if I’m using a wire for a guy wire, for example, always pull and twist clockwise.

It’S just much easier that way, all right so gonna get that nice and tight on there right at the base. Now you don’t want to be tightening it so much that it ends up biting into the trunks or the seedlings and potentially killing them.

But you do want it tight enough that it’s going to get those guys to stay close together and adhere over the next growing season, all right. So what I’m gonna do here is just shorten this up. So it looks a little cleaner, all right and that looks pretty darn good right there.

Now. The reason I’m leaving this extra long right here is because we did again leave that rubber wrapped inside the wire. If I cut it short, it’s likely to unravel on spiral and come apart, so I’m leaving this extra long looks ugly, but it doesn’t really matter.

This is all gonna get buried underground anyway, over the next year. So that brings us to the next step in this process and that is to plant this thing in a container. So let’s do that next, all right! So the next step in the process here is to pot up our new little clump right here now.

I recommend that you use something that’s going to be fast draining and provide a lot of aeration or oxygen penetration to the root system, you’re going to get much faster adherence of the trunks, much faster thickening and just better development in general, so for the first potting.

What I’m going to be using here is a net pot or a colander. This is often called a pond basket as well. These will be dropped into ponds and plants will be planted in there to grow up to the surface of the water.

So, in any case, these work really really well right. Here you can get them at various outlets, all over the internet, so I’m gonna plant this in a very free draining soil mix and the soil mix that I use is algae blend from Japan.

It’S about a 3/16 inch particle size and it is 50 % akadama 25 % cue, which is a river sand and when I say river sand, I don’t mean very fine, paver sand again that River sand is going to be a 3/16 inch particle size and then 25 % lava rock.

This is going to give us a very fast, very free, draining mix. It’S going to allow the roots to search for that water. We quench that we do it over and over again you’re going to get a lot of rapid growth out of the plant over the first several years.

So I’m going to fill this up we’re going to put the tree on top of it right here, all right! So I filled the basket up about a little more than halfway, so we’re gonna set this straight down in here – and this is a nice flat bottom to this here and we’re actually gonna be burying this in the pot.

So I’m not really concerned about tying this in with wires, but I am gonna wiggle this down just a little bit to make sure that if there are any little air pockets underneath the root system that we’re eliminating those because that could potentially kill the plant.

If we do have air pockets there, now after I wiggle this down into here, I’m just gonna fan the nebari out on the surface here, just a little bit. So it’s kind of radial. That way, again, we get that nice sort of lateral movement with the roots and a spreading of the base of the tree, and then the final step here is just to fill this up with the same algae blend on the top here and I’m gonna work.

It in a little bit with a chopstick okay, so that does it for putting together the initial setup of a clump style of Cappadocia style bonsai. Now the next up here is gonna, be take this out and obviously water it until all of the water turns from brown to clear and then we’re gonna put it out on the bench and in about a week to two weeks or so we’ll start Fertilizing this tree this coming year, I’m just gonna let this tree run for the entire year and then coming up in the second year will actually take this tree out, see if the roots have fused and then we’ll start making selections in terms of the heights Of the trunks and potentially putting wire on the trunks as well to get some added extra movement to them and kind of fan them out to make them look just a little bit more aesthetically pleasing now.

What I want to do next is take a tree that I actually made last year in the same manner, we’re going to take it out of the pot and see if those trunks have fused at the base and then I’m going to show you sort of that.

Next step in the developmental process, so let’s jump into that next, okay, so this is one of those projects that we put together last year. This is actually a Trident maple, but it was done in a very similar manner to the last tree.

The only difference with this one is that we actually did use the zip tie here at the base and, what’s really cool about this – is that we tightened it so much that it actually started to bite in a little bit, because this was buried up a little Bit higher, it actually started to ground layer itself.

In other words, it started to produce rootage above zip tie and it’s starting to produce it really in a radio pattern, which is great. So this is a benefit of using a zip tie or just a piece of wire with no rubber is that you can actually sometimes get them to ground layer and create essentially a nice nebari or a’new nebari on top of that zip tie or that wire.

So in the case of this tree, that’s exactly what’s happened. The trunks are nearly fused at this point, but I think it needs about another year to really hold on tight, so we’re gonna leave that zip tie on here.

I took it out. I pruned a little bit of the longer roots that were coming off the bottom and we’re gonna put this back into another net pot, just like the last tree now, once I get it in that net pot in the case of this tree.

Since it’s a little bit taller a little bit further along, I’m actually going to tie it in with wire into that net pot and then we’re gonna style. Some of the trunks on here, but to put a little bit of motion in those and show you what that looks like one more note here, if you notice this tree only has four trunks in it right now, when we put it together last year, we used Five seedlings and one of them died.

This is why you want to use multiples more than what you think you’re going to want to end up with. So, as many of you guys know, the number four in Japanese is a bit of a taboo number because it’s pronounced in the same way as the character for death.

So it’s like the number thirteen sort of in the West, so you know having four trunks is not necessarily an ideal situation, but for right now I’m going to leave them as they are we’re gonna replant them and then maybe at some point down the line.

I’Ll cut one of those trunks out: that’s not going to work in the final design, but next step we’re going to pot this guy up. Okay! So now that we’ve got this potted up and secured in the container here, what I want to do is add some wire to all of these trunks to get a little bit of motion and movement out of them to make them look a bit more interesting.

So what I’m going to be using here is aluminum wire. This is a 2.5 Miller now, of course, depending on the thickness of the whips that you’re working with or the seedlings that you’re working with that will determine the thickness of the gauge of wire that you’re using here, but in this case a 2.

5 mm just fine. We might have to double it up on the thickest of the seedlings here, but this should work pretty well now. What I want to do is cut this wire about 1/3 longer than the length of these right here, because what we’re going to do with this is actually stick this into the soil, so I’m gonna go right up against the base of the tallest tree.

Actually, this is the tallest tree right here, so we’re going to up against the base of that I’m gonna come from the backside here. I’M gonna push this all the way down to the very bottom of the container here and that’s gonna give us a nice secure holding for this wire.

So when we actually move the trunk, it doesn’t slip and slide all over the place. Now, as I’m putting this wire on I’m going at about a 45 degree angle, which is pretty typical for working with broadleaf material, they tend to be a little bit more brittle than working with conifers or at least most conifers anyway.

So a 45 degree angle is gonna give you a little bit of extra holding power if this were a conifer. I’D probably knock that up to like a sixty degree angle, because it’s not really necessary to have such a tight pitch on a piece of coniferous material again depending on the species.

Alright, so we’re gonna. Take this all the way up to the very end here and, as you can see, we got a little bit left over, which is totally fine. I’D rather have too much than too little alright and we’re going to go through and do that with the remaining trunks.

On here and then, I’m going to put them into a nicer position: [ Music, ], okay, so I ended up doubling up on three out of the four trunks with that 2.5 Miller now, typically, what I recommend is that you do that, rather than putting on a Piece, that’s super thick that might actually bend it.

You know just as a single piece, because if you put a really thick piece of wire on here, you run the risk of damaging the bark or cracking those seedlings in half. So I recommend that you use one size down or half a size down and then double up just for safety’s sake.

Now the next step here is to set these trunks. So what I want to try to do is create some sort of sinuous. Look something that you know it looks like it’s supposed to fit together. Basically, in other words, I don’t want some of the trunks going one way, some of the trunks going the other way and then the movement not to match.

I want everything to look consistent throughout. So what I want to do is start with our main trunk here. This is our tallest and thickest one, so it’s actually slightly on the back side as its planted.

Now again, this thing may shift completely around. We might end up using the other side and the long run is the front, but for right now we’ll look at this as the potential front for the tree. So I want to start with that main trunk.

I want to take it to the rear first and then forward and then some movement side this side. This is going to give us depth and it’s also going to give a side-to-side movement where you look at it from the front.

It looks quite interesting so for the depth portion we’re gonna, take it towards the rear, just a little bit here then back around and then we’re gonna bring it forward a little bit of side-to-side motion all the way to the very top.

Here it looks pretty good to start with alright. Now the next step is to set the secondary trunk here, the one that’s the second largest, so we’re gonna do that, and what I want to do is try to mimic at least the first portion of the movement of that first trunk here.

So I’m gonna take it to the interior here to get a little bit of motion, we’re going to bring it back this direction and again I’m going to take it out to the side and this one’s going to come a little bit further forward.

Since it’s on the front side of our main trunk here that way we’re building depth front to back, so it doesn’t look so one-dimensional or two-dimensional. We want that 3d kind of look to this trig when we view it from all angles all right, so that feels pretty good right there.

Now the next step is gonna, be the next smallest Strunk, which is this guy here now I don’t want all of these go in the same direction. I do want them to fan out and away from each other to be a true clump style.

We’Re not trying to build kind of a windswept type. Look. We wanted to look like a big broadleaf tree that you might see growing in a field somewhere, so I do want it moving this direction, but I also want the movement of this trunk to mimic again.

The main trunk line here so we’re gonna take it out back up a little bit back out again and instead of whipping the apex back in the same direction to the left there I’m gonna. Have it actually finish coming out to the right here and that’s going to give us that outward movement that we’re looking for here? That feels pretty good right there.

All right – and the final trunk of course, is our little guy over here. So I’m just gonna mimic the internal curve or the first curve here of that secondary trunk and again since the tree is on average moving to the left.

I want the apex of this one also to move out to the left as well. That’S something along those lines: that’s a pretty good start for you know setting up a tree like this and get you that general movement in it now.

The next step here is to make sure that we don’t let this wire bite into these trunks. If you’ve ever worked with deciduous trees, you know that if the wire bites in at all, you’ll forever have scars they’ll, never really heal over and they’ll always look pretty ugly.

So we really have to keep an eye on this to make sure that it doesn’t bite in what that means is, as the leaves flush out here once they harden off by here in Tennessee anyway, about mid-may that’s about the right time to cut the wire off.

Sometimes they’ll thicken up faster and you have to cut it off earlier. But ideally, if you can leave that wire on through the first flush of growth hardening off, that usually is enough to set the trunks or at least get them to stay somewhat in position.

Of course, you’ll have to rewire them say you know next year, for example, at the same time just add a little bit more motion to them, but hopefully we’ll be able to get it to stay by essentially mid-may.

Now at that particular point in time, once the leaves start hardening off, then we’ll start fertilizing this tree at that point, blowing the thing up and trying to thicken certain trunks, especially that main trunk.

Here I want that thicker than the their trunks in the future. So I hope you guys enjoyed this episode of bonsai you in the next episode we’re gonna jump into actually looking at that fully developed a cob, adachi style, Japanese maple, that I showed at the beginning of this episode and I’m gonna.

Take you, through the steps of repotting, that looking at the underside of the roots and really showing you how to develop a nice radial spreading nebari on a cob, adachi style tree. Thank you guys so much for checking out this episode.

If you like, what we do here make sure to LIKE and subscribe down below, and if you really want to support us, you can click on the link in the description down below it’ll bounce you over to our website, where you can make a donation to support.


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