Japanese Maple progression

This little maple was bought in a gardening centre 4 years ago. As usual with Maples from gardening centres, or any plant you buy in one, it was not in good shape. The roots were knotted and went everywhere besides where the should go for a healthy specimen and the little fella was very sensitive. Since starting a Bonsai means making a few big cuts right from the start with untrained starter material the bad health of mall plants shows easily:

  • My experience with Maples from the mall; bought two, both got extremely sick, one (barely) survived, cost 30/40 euros a piece.
  • My experience with (young) Maples from a nursery; bought three, all survived, only one got mild mildew for a month or so, cost 3/4 euros a piece.

Needles to say, and this does not go for Maples alone, buying Bonsai material from a mall means taking a risk. They generally are a bit older and more mature, but they’re also grown very fast and sloppy with all the health risks that brings. My advice with mall bought plants in general for the first year is to not fall in love with the tree and start fantasising about how pretty it might be one day. Needless to say I did just that with this ugly one.

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After some trimming, a proper repot and a year of rampant mildew this one survived. And even better, it started to thrive the second year. Maybe having new shoes and a fresh carpet helped a bit.

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The nice thing about Maples is once they go, they go strong. Keeping a healthy Maple in check means continuous trimming, attention and guidance. Obviously, being a lazy fuck, I didn’t. Which resulted in this flurry of leaves the year after. Even worse, not trimming and doing any leaf reduction meant zero density and long shoots that weren’t very tree-like.

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Since last summer a repot was well needed I figured the first step of forming it into a mature Bonsai was needed too. It’s just like kids, first you let them run around for a while and then you start guiding them, or so I’m told.

I didn’t do much, I removed all branches that were too long and didn’t have the ramification I’m looking for. After that I removed half of the outer most leaves in early august to stimulate some back budding. Every bud close to the trunk that formed last summer will grow into a new branch with new possibilities next summer. Now here it is, comfy in a new big pot, the blue one it was originally in got destroyed in the proces I’m afraid.

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Next summer I will go full Bonsai-Sensei on this one and see with some wiring and continuous attention what form it might grow into. This will also mean reducing the amount of fertiliser given to aid in curbing this one’s enthousiasm for wild growth.

Maples are fun regardless. Even if they don’t have the form you want, they will always give you lots of colour, growth and little leaves that are a joy to see. I can advice anyone to start with a few Maples, just don’t buy them at a gardening centre, it’s way cheaper and more rewarding to buy a few 3-yearlings at a nursery for a few euros a piece. They grow so fast when treated right that within a few years you’ll forget how small they once were.

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