Japanese Maple Shaping Decisions - Part 2 - Creating Exquisite Maples

I’m going to show you the next stage of creating a maple bonsai.

Let’s take a look at this tree. It has only been in this pot for a year and it is already pot bound. It’s a very interesting tree with a lot of movement.
Japanese Maple bonsai
The original cut was made here.
cutting japanese maple bonsai
As the side shoots have grown the tree has developed its interesting shape. A lot more refining is required, so I’ll start by cutting down this side branch.
cutting branch on Japanese maple bonsai
japanese maple bonsai after cut
The growth of the back branch has helped to thicken the front branch, but I don’t really have a need for it anymore so I will cut it using a pair of loppers.
cutting back branch on bonsai
Again I use my hybrid cutter to soften the edge of the cut.
cutting Japanese bonsai with hybrid cutter
The other side branch serves no purpose, so I’m going to cut that also
japanese maple bonsai before cut
bonsai after branch cut
leader on maple bonsai
As you can see I have previously made a cut to the top of the branch. As I mentioned in part one, when working with maples it important to always remember to leave room for dieback. Don’t cut branches flush at the height you want the branch to be, always cut a couple of inches above. You can see on the image below where I have made a flush cut and where the branch has died back to.
japanese maple bonsai dieback
Now I will tease the roots before moving the bonsai into a temporary training pot. Over the course of the year the tree will develop many new branches, and become the start of another lovely maple bonsai.
Japanese maple before and after
Japanese maples are very prolific trees: Just take a look at the root growth on this next tree!
bonsai roots
You can see it also has a beautiful Base.
japanese maple bonsai base
Left to their own devices, maples produce a lot of twigs. Most people, who are not well versed in bonsai would be quite happy to have a tree like this. In fact, many commercial bonsais you see are not actually as nice as this one! This tree could be left as it is and still sell as a fairly nice bonsai. However, if you want something a bit more impressive, there’s a little more work to be done, which I will now go through with you.

Firstly I’m going give take off the upwards growing part of this side branch, which will encourage it to grow sideways
cutting side branch on bonsai
I will wire these branches to bend downwards.
wiring Japanese maple bonsai
And trim some of these shoots.
cutting shoots on maple bonsai
This tree has undergone a fair few stages of work. On the image below you can see where I have previously cut of thick branches from the leader and allowed the trunk to grow.
cuts on  bonsai leader
This tree could eventually be put into a round pot as it looks attractive from many different sides. You can see from the picture below, only a few, subtle changes have been made to the tree at this stage.

This tree will now be moved into plastic training pot. I think this is going to be a beautiful bonsai.
before and after maple bonsai.
This next tree is the result of an air layering I did about two years ago.
Japanese maple bonsai 3
I’m going to tease the soil to get a better look at the roots. You can see the original moss ball from the air layering process.
spaghnum moss from air layering
(during the video my colleague continues teasing the roots as I work on other trees) The image below shows the tree after the roots have been teased.
roots after teasing japanese maple bonsai 3
This tree has so many roots that I can cut some of them off without worrying about the health of the tree.
cutting maple bonsai roots
I may keep this as a sacrificial branch, this technique will encourage the trunk to thicken. You will also see a nice root spread develop using this technique too.
sacrificial branch
Next I’m going to trim this green branch in the hope that the shoot that is growing from it will become the new leader
cutting branch on bonsai
new leader on bonsai 3
Now I must be patient as my next task is to pot the tree and wait for it to grow and take on its new shape.
before and after Japanese Maple 3
Now, we will take a look at another tree.

I always recommend you look at the base before making a decision on what will become the trees front. I think is a natural front for this tree, I have rotated it to discover more possible options and found this to be the best.
japanese maple 4
I will remove some unwanted branches from the top of the tree so there is one single leader.
top branch removal on top of Bonsai
after top branch removal
If I put this tree in a bigger pot it will thicken even more and more branches will grow: The start of another beautiful bonsai.
Our next tree has been growing in our nursery for a long time. It has been successively moved from one pot to another over the years. As you can see the tree has a beautiful gnarled, old trunk and roots.
Japanese maple 5
I haven’t decided where the front on this tree will be yet as there are many viable options. This tree offers a natural charm and there is not a lot that needs to be done to it. Simply by trimming some of the branch tips, I can create a lovely twiggy looking bonsai.
japanese bonsai 5 after trim
This next tree is a Benichidori Japanese Maple. This particular type of tree air layers very easily, if I’m not mistaken this tree was air layered only two years ago and it has already formed a lovely thick trunk.

If I tease the soil slightly, I should find the original sphagnum moss, used for air layering.
teasing roots on benichidori bonsai
And behold! You can still see the original moss ball coming through.
spaghnum moss on bonsai root
I will tease it further to see the roots below the moss. The great thing about air layered trees, is that you don’t tend to get ugly surface roots. You can create your own nebari (surface root spread) by further developing roots of your choice.
teasing benichidori roots
If air layering is done correctly, you can create a beautiful tree with a thick trunk, in just a couple of years.

As the tree is so twiggy I can afford to cut some of these branches back, I don’t want it to become too rampant.
cutting back branches on benichidori
I can now develop the nebari by choosing the correct roots and spreading them out.
japanese maple 5 after teasing
I wanted to show you this next tree as an example of how vigorous maples can be.
japanese maple bonsai 6
japanese maple 6 roots
This is a beautiful maple. Originally it was growing in a flower pot, but the roots shot through the pot and into the ground. I don’t have a problem trimming these roots as I know maples are very strong trees that produce new roots quite easily.
cutting roots of japanese maple
Just look at its beautiful split trunk!
split trunk Japanese maple bonsai
Some of you may know my famous split trunk maple, those of you who do will realise this tree is very similar in character.
original peter chan split trunk maple
If we compare the tree with my split trunk maple you will notice there is no middle trunk. I want to achieve a similar look with this tree so I will remove the middle trunk.
cutting split trunk maple
split trunk maple after cut
TIP: whenever you use a sharp saw make sure to use a left hand glove to protect your hand if the saw slips.

With my original split trunk I can remember one trunk is slightly shorter than the other, so I’m going to cut off this branch
cutting branch on maple
In three years I can guarantee we will have a complete bonsai.
final split trunk maple
This Next tree has an interesting ‘S’ shaped trunk.
japanese maple 7
There are not many maples we make into an ‘S’ shape because if you want to do this you’ll need to use very thin trunks. For this tree top achieve the ‘S’ shape it now, it will have been wired when the branches were no thicker than a centimetre.

I want to show you the future direction of this tree. As you can see it is so prolific that there are hundreds of little twigs and branches. We certainly don’t need this many so I’m going to remove some.
trimming japanese bonsai 7
You’ll notice I have left the side branch. This is another example of a sacrificial branch; I have left it deliberately to thicken the base. I will leave it for another couple of years until the base has achieved a desired thickness and then cut it off.
japanese bonsai after branch cuts
I hope this has given you some insight into how we train different bonsais and cultivate them to achieve different superstructures.

I also want to show you some grafted Deshojo Maples.

Deshojos are not easy trees to produce from cuttings or seeds which is why these have been grafted. The grafting on this particular tree is not very good.
grafted deshojo maple bonsai
This tree has undergone constant cutting back of branches in order to create an interesting superstructure. Firstly I’m going to remove this thick branch here. It’s important not to keep too many thick branches when shaping your bonsai as they can become cumbersome and look out of character with the rest of the tree.
cutting grafted deshojo maple bonsai
cutting grafted deshojo bonsai with hybrid cutter
I may keep this as a sacrificial branch to thicken the trunk.
grafted deshojo sacrificial branch
There are also too many thick leaders at the top, so I’m going to just keep one. If I keep too many, it will thicken the top part of the trunk and the tree will lose its taper.
cutting top branch grafted deshojo
When looking at the base of grafted trees it’s important to make sure the suckers don’t grow upwards, otherwise the trees energy will be spent here instead of the trunk and branches.
grafted deshojo roots
Another example of a grafted tree

You can see there is a fork on this Deshojo where two leaders are growing. We don’t want two leaders so I’ve decided cut off the shorter one. After cutting with the branch cutter I’ll then smooth the cut with a hybrid cutter.
deshojo bonsai 2 fork
cutting branch on deshojo bonsai
cutting deshojo bonsai with hybrid cutter
I’ll now do some final refining by pruning the long shoots and that’s it! This tree is now very close to its final form.
pruning deshojo maple bonsai
deshojo maple bonsai
I hope these examples give you a better idea of how I come to choosing the future style of the tree. It is largely dictated by the base (which helps determine the front) and what can be done to create an interesting trunk line.
Good to Know:

If you cut you maple during the late winter as I have here, you will notice it starts to bleed sap. This is not a reason to be concerned and it will stop eventually. If you try and seal the cuts the sap may wash away the sealant.
sap on deshojo maple bonsai
Below you can some examples of Japanese Maple Bonsais in their final form.

Peter Chan's Famous Split Trunk Maple Bonsai
peter chans famous split trunki maple
Deshojo Maple Bonsai
Large Trident Maple Bonsai
large trident maple bonsai