When developing material for bonsai, it’s best to avoid creating straight trunks and branches. Many varieties, however, naturally produce straight growth. This gives us two options: cut or wire.
Cutting is often preferable to wiring as cuts can be used to create taper and angular movement. Wiring has its place too as it’s a quick way to put a branch where you want it.
I’ve been working on some cutting-grown plums by cutting and wiring select branches once or twice a year (see photos from the last cutback here). I enjoy this work as the idea is to give the trees qualities we appreciate in bonsai, like taper and movement, without following a specific plan. Here’s what this work looks like.
The shoot that emerges from the soil isn’t helping the design so I’ll cut it off. Likewise the shoot that grows downward from the inside of the curve.
I left a single sacrifice branch on the back of the tree to help thicken the trunk but plan to remove it in fall to avoid a knuckle from forming.
The tree below is a great example of what happens if you don’t wire shoots when they’re young and supple. You end up with long, straight shoots that don’t help the design.
Long, straight shoots
Here’s a close-up of the three branches that emerge from the top of the trunk. As wiring isn’t an option, I’ll make some cuts.
Three branches emerging from the trunk
After a while, the work becomes automatic and the straight sections start to disappear.
After removing the straight sections
Here’s a similar example.
A big reason to prune more than once a year is to discourage growth that doesn’t contribute to the overall design. On the tree below, a new shoot emerged near the base of the trunk. Because it has no curves, I’ll have to remove it. Had I noticed this earlier, the other shoots on the tree might have more vigor.
The shoot at the right is the strongest section of the tree
Close-up showing the strong shoot
After removing the strong shoot at the base of the trunk
Higher up on the trunk I found a shoot that’s creating a large knuckle.
Knuckle forming at the base of a shoot
After removing the shoot and reducing the knuckle
Near the top of the tree, a branch I’d previously wired showed unsightly swelling. This too will come off.
Swelling caused by wire scars
After reducing the branch with wire scars
After making a few cuts, I noticed that the remaining branches were too straight to use without wiring.
As now’s a great time to wire deciduous varieties, I added some movement.
After wiring the new leader
I’ll revisit the trees again in fall, and likely in a similar fashion over the next several years. At some point I’ll have to make some decisions about how large I want the trees to become, but in the meantime, I can encourage as much growth as possible and continue making periodic adjustments.
Read other posts from the Bonsai Development Series here.
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