The ume, Prunus mume, is a wonderfully vigorous variety. Shoots on a medium sized tree can easily run two or three feet in a single season – which is good and bad. Good in that careful and well-timed wiring can lead to branches that set and develop quickly. Bad, because a neglected tree can quickly get out of control.
Unlike many deciduous bonsai, ume doesn’t always bud back very well. If a maple gets out of hand, one can remove vigorous growth and expect new buds to pop. Not so with ume. Although it’s hard to see in the photograph below, this tree has two kinds of foliage – original (double pink) and grafted (white). For the past ten years I have been grafting and re-grafting the foliage that produces white flowers in an attempt to replace as much of the original foliage as possible. What I’ve learned in the process is that the original foliage buds back well – the new foliage, not so much.
This year I let a number of shoots with the original foliage grow vigorously so I can apply grafts to them next year. I’ve also let this year’s grafts run to help the new wood fuse with the old. The remainder of the tree’s shoots were trimmed to keep the original foliage in check and to promote budding on the shoots I plan to keep. But as you can see from the photo below, several sparse branches rise awkwardly above the rest of the foliage.
These tallest branches are ten year old grafts that I let grow too much a few years back. Now they are too tall to be part of the final design and too long to bud back were I to cut them severely. By leaving some foliage atop these shoots I can keep the branches alive so they will accept future grafts and use the new growth for next year’s scions. Although it’s visually awkward, this approach leaves me with good options for improving the tree next year.
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