Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

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Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:44 pm

This is my Acer Palmatum (Beni shichihenge).

I know this would probably be an unusual variety to choose for bonsai as it has variegated leaves but I already owned the tree before I got into bonsai. I used to grow it in a large pot as a patio tree. To be honest I'm more interested in the winter image now anyway so the leaves don't bother me and in every other sense it grows like a typical Japanese Maple.

I first began trying to develop this tree into a broom form about 5 years ago while it was still in it's big pot. I realise now that if I'd been more decisive with styling I could've probably saved myself 2 growing seasons but I was a beginner, you live and learn don't you. Anyway after several "re-styles" during that time I've finally got it looking something like I envisaged at the start.

This is what the tree looked like in the winter sunshine last Friday.







Now I'm quite pleased with how this is going but there are two or three issues that are troubling me which is why this post is in "questions" not "members trees".

The nebari is poor, it has one big root on the left and although this can be hidden (hence the soil height in the pot) it will never look great. Also the tree is a little tall and slim. I don't hate this, it's quite natural looking but a shorter squatter trunk would probably look better. Lastly there is some inverse taper where the three (formerly four) sub-trunks meet the main trunk.

All of this has led me in the past to wonder whether air layering the tree across the junction between the trunk and sub trunks could be the answer. I had actually decided against this but in an idle hour or so today I thought I'd whip up a quick virtual to see what it might look like.

Now I'm in a pickle! I don't know which I prefer.


Well, here it is, so what do you think?




I kind of like both for different reasons but assuming the air layering worked (no reason to suppose it wouldn't) the result would be more of a clump than a broom.

Anyway, opinions and constructive criticism is what I'm after so if you have anything to offer regarding my modest efforts please feel free to share.

Regards

Richard
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Marty Weiser on Sun Jan 22, 2017 10:03 pm

I like the tall version better. However, I would probably ground layer it at just about the current soil level to improve the nebari if it is as one sided as you say. I did that a couple of years ago and it is working well.

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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Sun Jan 22, 2017 10:49 pm

Thanks Marty that's a really good suggestion which if successful would deal with the nebari problems. Worth considering and thanks for taking the time to respond. Very helpful.

Cheers
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  BobbyLane on Sun Jan 22, 2017 11:21 pm

Nice natural tree, i like it tall, you could always shorten it visually by bringing the canopy down. funnily enough i was looking through the 'show us your brooms' thread earlier and there's a few Zelkova that look like this. i'd probably leave the base as is, if it was mine. i'd maybe reduce the larger root and live with the current flare there, i see a lot of brooms with nice flare at the base but not all have exceptional nebari's.
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  steveb on Mon Jan 23, 2017 1:31 am

I like the taller version as well, but, you may want to consider adding a few branches near where the trunk divides.  I would then grown them out to give the crown more lower width.  The roots look okay from the pics.  You could try root grafting if you need to improve these though. 

Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  John Quinn on Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:46 am

Agree with the previous comments. The taller tree looks natural and graceful.

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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  jgeanangel on Mon Jan 23, 2017 4:18 pm

Hey Richard.. I like your tree!

as to your question, the first thing that came to my mind is that this is a cultivar, and as such may or may not air layer well??? If it were mine, I think I would keep it as is and perhaps do some root grafting to improve the existing base.

for me, trees are never perfect...and if they were they would be boring....it is the imperfections that add interest and character to the trees we grow!

Good luck with whichever direction your pursue!

John

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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Mon Jan 23, 2017 5:18 pm

Thanks for all the feed back folks, this is really helpful for me.

As I may have said before I'm not a member of any clubs or groups and I don't have any "bonsai friends" so I really get a lot out of any help and advice given on this forum. The feedback is very much appreciated.

I'm surprised (but in no way disappointed) that no one has favoured the more compact vision of the tree in my virtual image because I was very much tempted by it once I saw the possibility.

Still, John you make a very good point! I don't know how variable Japanese Maples are when it comes to layering but I'd certainly rather keep it at the height it is than risk ruining it.

By the way, it is growing strongly on it's own roots not grafted like a lot of varieties. I don't know if that gives any indication of likely air layering success?

Also with regards to root grafting (I assume this means approach grafting) would I need to use trees of the same variety (Beni Shichihenge) or could I use any Acer Palmatum variety that has similar characteristics?

Thanks again.
 

Cheers


Richard
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  AlainK on Mon Jan 23, 2017 6:05 pm

I like the first picture, the "tall tree", and I would really like to see it in full leaves.

So I'd keep the overall shape of a classical bonsaï, a "Hokidachi": if the roots are that bad, air-layering it rather low could perhaps be an option:



And don't give up with this tree!

I think that one of the best ways to display a variegated maple might be a very conventional design to enhance the unusual colours of the leaves. MPO, my personal opinion...
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  jgeanangel on Mon Jan 23, 2017 7:42 pm

Richard S wrote:

Still, John you make a very good point! I don't know how variable Japanese Maples are when it comes to layering but I'd certainly rather keep it at the height it is than risk ruining it.

By the way, it is growing strongly on it's own roots not grafted like a lot of varieties. I don't know if that gives any indication of likely air layering success?

Also with regards to root grafting (I assume this means approach grafting) would I need to use trees of the same variety (Beni Shichihenge) or could I use any Acer Palmatum variety that has similar characteristics?

Thanks again.
 

Cheers


Richard

Being on its own root is a good sign that it might airlayer well but I am completely unfamiliar with the cultivar...I believe you mentioned that it is variegated and in my experience with other variegated cultivars rooting is typically pretty weak....but who really knows?? Since it is on its on root a ground layer may also be an option.

You could certainly root graft with straight species as eventually all the foliage of the grafting material will be removed. IME root grafting is pretty easy to be successful with...and some vigorous seedlings should make the process that much more successful.

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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Mon Jan 23, 2017 8:35 pm

Thanks John

I'm becoming less keen on the air layering idea (I'm easily led aren't I Laughing ). The root grafting might well be worth a try though. Small maple seedlings are cheap and widely available in the UK during the summer so I may buy a few this year with a view to exploring this idea next time I work the roots (probably spring 2018).

Thanks Alain

I've had a quick look but I don't appear to have a photo of this tree in leaf! Very remiss of me as it is quite beautiful. Red in spring as it leafs out, light green with a touch of white fringed with pink in summer, sometimes yellow but often deep red in autumn. Quite a colour palette for one tree.

As I've just said in another post, I aspire to create an eclectic collection of trees in many different styles (traditional or otherwise) so there is certainly room for a variegated "Hokidachi style" maple on my benches!

Regards

Richard
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  AlainK on Mon Jan 23, 2017 8:53 pm

jgeanangel wrote:(...)
Being on its own root is a good sign that it might airlayer well but I am completely unfamiliar with the cultivar...I believe you mentioned that it is variegated and in my experience with other variegated cultivars rooting is typically pretty weak....(...)

I made several cuttings and air-layers from "Acer palmatum 'Butterfly'", and they all took, and are very strong.

You could certainly root graft with straight species as eventually all the foliage of the grafting material will be removed.  IME root grafting is pretty easy to be successful with...and some vigorous seedlings should make the process that much more successful.

Yes, I second that.
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Mon Jan 23, 2017 9:41 pm

Interesting, Butterfly is very similar to Beni Schichihenge!
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Marty Weiser on Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:37 am

I took another look at the short version. I think the reason I prefer the taller version is that the trunks of the short version are too uniform in size and start too high above the ground to be a clump in my mind. Of course part of that may be the lack of nebari in the virtual since I know of maples and other species in the ground that are similar.

For the connected root clumps I really like the trunks to be a bit further apart, more variation, and the root mass to form more of a plate than the very short trunk of this image.

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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  Richard S on Wed Jan 25, 2017 7:06 pm

Marty

That's a fair comment. I don't think it would be possible to turn this tree into a classically styled clump form but that wasn't necessarily the objective. I just thought that it might be possible to improve the proportions of the overall tree by reducing the ratio of trunk height to branches.

On reflection I will probably leave the tree tall and simply concentrate on improving ramification and branch structure. The tree has noticeably improved in this respect over the last growing season. It was re-potted in spring 2016 so it will stay in this container for at least another year at which point I will either transfer it to a more suitable pot or (depending on the roots) begin the root grafting process.

I'll also try and get a good photo of it in leaf this year!

Thanks

Richard
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Re: Japanese Maple, to layer or not to layer?

Post  bilbo on Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:12 am

Nice tree, I like it.

Maybe I'm just too new at this but IMO, the nearly vertical nature of the major trunk divisions may be adding to the look of the trunk being tall.

If it were me, I'd consider doing a raffia wrap on the left most and the first major branch of the right most upper trunks and then bending them out slightly.
Bending them may serve to break up the largely vertical appearance.
Michael's has some light green raffia that is a near perfect match for that trunk color.
I just did a raffia bend on my Butterfly 3 weeks ago and it went fine.
There are some good videos on YouTube on the topic.


As for air-layering some roots, I'd absolutely go for it.
Butterfly maples are particularly well suited for this.
I hate to sound like an expert, having admitted to being new to bonsai, but I have a good/deep background in rooting.
I'd hazard a guess that nearly all of the currently available Japanese Maples in nurseries were all started from air layers (clones off a single mother).
I know for a fact that my new Butterfly and my new Japanese Red are both air layered clones.
I bought my Japanese Red at a nursery in a 1 gallon pot.  It was intended for a yard but was the runt of the litter so left behind.
It has a nice very short core of branches but a few really tall branches.
So, I applied some air-layer patches to the base of the tall branches a few weeks ago and when they're removed, I'll have a very nice bonsai starter.

For yours, you could specifically target exactly where you want the roots at the root line.
I'd be interested to see a more downward view of the base of your tree at the root line.
"I don't know, but I've been told" 8 to 12 radial visible major roots is highly desired for maples.
It's simple: remove bark and cadmium in the few very small targeted places you want roots, add some rooting powder to those specific holes, wrap in damp sphagnum and wait.
This is a good time of year to air layer, really you can do it all summer just make sure you allow a few months before you expect the leafs to drop for fall.

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