Now is a great time to remove any foliage that’s still clinging to your deciduous bonsai that go dormant in winter. While deciduous leaves typically fall off on their own, not all varieties let go so easily. If you still see leaves on your deciduous bonsai – and you live in the northern hemisphere – it’s time for the leaves to come off.
After removing the leaves
Removing leaves helps trees get a proper dormancy and reduces hiding places for insects. It also lets us to look closely at branches we may not have seen since last winter. Is the ramification better than it was last year? Is it worse? About the same? By inspecting the year’s growth I can see how the tree did and make notes about what I can do better next year.
After removing the leaves
For details about leaf-plucking techniques and a look at this maple from last year, see “How to remove leaves from deciduous bonsai.”
There are a number of ways to remove old leaves from deciduous bonsai. Depending on the variety, branch age or density and how dry the leaves are, I’ll use a combination of fingers, tweezers and my whole hand.
The first two examples below are from a Japanese beech. Beech leaves don’t always fall off on their own so I tend to help them along to ensure the interior buds get plenty of light during winter. As beech leaf buds are relatively large and delicate, I pull leaves away from the buds to avoid breaking them.
Pulling a beech leaf away from the bud
When the leaves are hard to get due to branch density or on the dry side, I’ll use tweezers as I can remove leaves quickly with them. The same rule of pulling leaves away from the buds applies.
Gotcha – gripping a beech leaf with tweezers
As my beech bonsai are young, removing the old leaves went quickly.
My favorite technique for removing old leaves is better suited for landscape trees. As Japanese maple leaves can be removed by pulling in the direction the branch is growing, running my fingers along the branch is a great way to remove leaves quickly.
Lightly pinching a young branch
Drawing my fingers along the length of the branch
Handful of leaves
As you can see from the photo below, many of the branches on this maple are young and vigorous. I removed the leaves on these branches with my hands. For the more delicate branches near the apex, I removed the old leaves with tweezers.
After removing almost all of the old leaves
Removing the last few leaves
At some point this winter I’ll take another peek at this air layer to see how it’s doing.
I’d gone several years without a Japanese maple in my collection and I missed working with the variety. It’s hard, however, to find good specimen. I resigned myself to starting a tree from scratch, either by layering nursery stock or by working with an old tree that needed help. A few months ago, I found an old tree perfect for a long-term project.
The tree had long shoots in preparation for some extensive grafting. But upon a closer examination of the tree, the originally planned grafts didn’t seem to address the tree’s major flaws. The nebari is unattractive, the trunk is scarred and not particularly attractive, and there are essentially no usable branches. What potential does the tree have? The lower part of the trunk, between the nebari and the first branch, exhibits some taper without obvious scars. If I air layer the trunk an inch or two above the current roots I can create a good nebari. And by removing the top 2/3 of the tree, I can improve the taper and create well-balanced branches. Additionally, I may try to create a second tree out of the apex making this a two for one project.
Although I was anxious to get started with the air layers, I’d recently repotted the tree and didn’t want to start a layer after such a major repotting. The plan is to let new roots get established this year and keep the growth somewhat in check to prepare for an air layer or two next year.
Japanese maple – before cutback
A number of the cuts were larger than 1cm. To help them heal, I cleaned the edges of the cuts with a grafting knife.
I covered the cuts with cut paste and that completed the work for this year.
I don’t expect a lot out of this tree, but it’s looking like I’ll have a lot of fun along the way. Why go to the effort on a somewhat dubious project? I’m essentially leveraging the age of the trunk. If I begin a similar project with a younger tree, I’ll have to wait longer for nice bark to develop. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more project maples.
A visit to the GSBF Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt this spring will reveal an intriguing bonsai technique – paper-wrapped bonsai wire. I learned about the technique from the garden’s curator, Kathy Shaner, not long after she completed her apprenticeship to Yasuo Mitsuya in Toyohashi, Japan. Copper wire is more commonly used on conifers than it is on deciduous trees as copper can stain the trunks and branches of deciduous trees. The primary alternative to copper bonsai wire is aluminum. While aluminum doesn’t stain trunks or branches, it doesn’t hold as well as copper. The solution – paper-wrapped bonsai wire!
Hawthorn bonsai with paper-wrapped copper wire
Working with paper-wrapped wire isn’t bad – the trick is getting the paper on the wire. It takes a bit of practice. The paper is rolled onto a single section of wire at a time. The result is a funny looking tree – and if all goes well, there will be no scars.
Hawthorn – wiring detail
The garden does a good job of providing information about the care and maintenance of the collection. The paper-covered wire treatment elicited its own note:
What’s with the white stuff?
What you are looking at is wire that has been covered with paper. The wire is to shape the tree. The paper wrap is to protect the delicate bark from the wire. Most trees do not need to have the wire covered, as their bark is not as susceptible to wire marks. We will monitor the growth of the tree, and when the wire just starts to cut into the bark, we will remove it. If the branch does not stay where we placed it after putting on the paper wrapped wire, we will repeat the wiring. Normally one season of growth is sufficient for the branch to stay in place after the wire is removed.
Pomegranate with paper-wrapped wire, bamboo sections and irrigation lines
Pomegranate – wiring detail
The Garden at Lake Merritt’s website contains a lot of information about the trees in the collection. The weeping flowering cherry below, the site notes, is known as “shidare-higan-sakura in Japanese, or Prunus subhirtella.” It was donated by Pete and Amy Sugawara and was started some time around 1980.
Weeping flowering cherry, ‘Benihoshi’
I don’t know where one can find the paper used for this technique – which is fine, for the moment, as I have a lot of pines to wire.