More Winter Pruning 2013   5 comments

It seems that the discussion forums are ablaze with how to do certain things to maples. I have read that pruning diciduous trees can be done in the fall and winter and also pruned in the spring and summer. The fact is this is true all year round. I have also been reading a lot of hooey about stored energy and fall trimming will focus energy to the few remaing buds and spring trimming will ruin the stored energy by its removal.

I have also read that uinformation about how and when to prune maples has to do with regions and that information passed to people from a guy in California somehow cannot be used by a guy in Wisconsin. Maybe not month for month, but surly people have seasons all across the USA for heavens sake.

I have even read that maple pruning should be held until spring so that the tree can focus on bud building at just the right places. What! maples make next years buds about the middle of Oct. The bud formation is what triggers fall color and the leaves to fall off. All my buds for next year have been formed and are ready and on the tree. The tree is not going to make more buds for spring somehow in March. The last push of sugar the tree pushes for preperation for winter is used to produce the next years crop of buds and it is this over abundance of sugar that makes the trees turn color. The better and more brilliant the Fall color, the better the crop of new buds for the next year. Those of you not getting good fall color are not growing healthy maples.

There is a time when holding pruning till spring is advisable. When building trunk mass, pruning off sacrifice branches should be done in Spring the week of bud break. The tree will produce enough sap to enrich all the wood on the tree. It will do this all winter, slowly but surly. At bud break, around steady 60 degrees all day, the sap will flow and the tree is ready to push forth from its winter slumber. All the sap that was to be used for the canes left on the tree all winter are now cut off just at bud break. All the stored energy that was to be pushed into all those canes now will have no place to go except into the places you have left to break this year. This is why Spring pruning on a maple will cause super long internodes and large first leaves early in the spring requiring defoliation weakening the tree in the long run.

If canopy shapeing is done early in the fall, the tree will proportionatly build enough power to sustain what has been left during the winter. the tree already has buds, they were made in Oct. and the tree has been pruned back to 2 to 5 pairs of leaves. The tree will store the required energy and in Spring at bud break, the tree will burst fourth with just the right amount of energy making smaller internodes and smaller leaves due to the fact that shorter internodes produce expotentially more leaves. More leaves, smaller leaves.

What is the difference between trunk building and ramification? During trunk building a person is not that concearned with internode length or leaf size. There is plenty of time to make that at the right time. A common rookie mistake is to buy a maple and read on the internet that leaf defoliation builds  smaller leaves and more twigs. Now the tree is undergoing something that should be done to the tree only once in about three years on a 40 year old maple that is of masterpiece quality and ready to be shown in some masterpiece exhibit in Japan, …or the USA.

On this maple below, one can see how the tree looked about one year ago after planting in the first bonsai pot. It is a pot my Son made in High School in 1994. The tree was cut back almost to the point of primary branches and many of the stubs were 1/4 inch across. The next picture is of the same tree one year later ready to be pruned for this year. This is one year of growth for me.DSC_00470001


Scrolling between the two one can see that some of the more heavy stubs have been taken off thru the year. Now this year it was time to refine what had grown all year. Eventhough this tree is a broom style tree, I feel that there should be a focal branch. I also feel that this branch should be considered a number one branch. Not always but most of the time. eventhough this branch is not as large as the one above, it is my idea to grow it larger and become the focus area of the tree. All the growth from this year will be allowed to grow again next year.


Here are some shots of the top of the tree and the twigs growing there. The tertiary part of the process is underway and growing quite well. Ed Clark whom I bought the tree from had told me that he could never get the tree to back bud from older branches. Obviously I have gotten the tree to do that quite easily. For me, it is knowing when to remove branches and the timing. In the upper part of the tree where it is stronger, I will cut in fall. In the lower part I will cut in spring and force growth and sap there.






Here is that bnranch again. Notice how I have buds and small twigs at the base of the branch. This is because t the very start of the season I pinch out the first buds and force it to rebud and twig there. Then I let that growth grow as it wants. what this acomplishes is that I have buds at the base of the branch to cut back to as the branch grows in size. At some point, maybe next year, and probably in the spring it will cut back to the par of twigs at the base and regron to make better taper.


This small branch underneath is just left to help add girth to the focal branch.


The bottom left side of the tree had no good branches to keep after the initial assesment. It was my desire to rebuild all the lower branches on the left side. I cut back some larger branches and left some weird looking stubs. I cut to green wood and sealed the cuts. I got pretty good extension this year even with it being quite low on the trunk.






This is an example of how short to cut back the previous years growth. cut it back to the first node and then let it grow for the next year remembering to get the twig to bud close to this year cut so you have something like this the next year to cut back to. If you forrget and just let it grow, the internode will be 3 inches long and nothing will grow in that node extension. It will all have to be cut off the next year and your season will just be a waste.


Just take it back and leave a little wood to die back. Cutting back right to the bud will probably kill the buds as they will dry out. I seal anything over 1/8 inch.




So hear is an extension from previous growth. The dry stub can be seen. these just break right off, no need to try and prune these out. Cut back this fall for next years easy growth and no long extension.




Here is a real nasty area. The large stub on the right has died and dryed out. It makes the branching look heavy and clumsy. In a picture it shows up as a dark heavy area.


Other side.


Just take the cutters and remove the dead branch. Seal well.


Here is another large branch. eventhough it has some live stuff growing out of the end of this one, it is much too large to keep. It ruins the line of the branch and ruins what taper it has.


Another view of it from the side.


Just cut it off.


Clean it up with a scapel and make sure it is clean and seal well.


That big curvey upward pointing branch is one that must go.


Take it out and seal.


Clean ouit any dried up twigs and make sure each tip stay to only two buds.



On this limb that branch is a pitchfork with three twigs.


One has to go.


Now back to the previous branch. There is a plce with two buds close together. The branches here will make a swelling. One will have to be removed.


Scroll back and forth to see what I removed.


Boy! Now this is a mess. This is some of the problems that can occur with hedging maples. The branch is at a point in the canopy that it continues to grow from the same area and producing more buds with each cut. A huge ball of wood will form here and really make it look ugly.


Scroll back and forth to see how I reduced this mess to just two buds.


Last year this branch was wired to the point of how long it was at that time. The wire scars from the year before can be seen. Last years wire was put on in the opposite direction.


This is that area that didn’t have any branching and a lot of dead stubs. Rebuilding branches here is not going to be easy.


Here is another knot that has to be dealt with.


Cut it out and then smooth with a knife. Seal all the wounds.


Here is an old pruning scar. It is one that was on the tree when I git it. I have slowly been dealing with them a few at a time.


Just pare down the dead part till there is green all around. Seal it up well and it will start to heal over.


Tomorrow I add the after shot.



Posted December 18, 2013 by California Bonsai Art in Trident Techniques

5 responses to “More Winter Pruning 2013

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  1. I’ve never understood the whole wait till spring thing on branch development. Of course as you know I do the bulk of my work in the winter…. in Ohio! I’m glad you put this out there, and it’s about the easiest thing I’ve seen to understand and should be easy for folks to apply to their trees.
    Good on ya.

  2. Reblogged this on Bonsai advice.

  3. Sorry All, I am going to have lots of questions. I shall put them as separate questions if you dont mind. I am trying to understand everything well.
    1 You said:
    This is that area that didn’t have any branching and a lot of dead stubs. Rebuilding branches here is not going to be easy.
    What do you plan to do to sort out this problem? How will you go about rebuilding that area?

  4. 2,. Is it true that if you allow the first flush of growth in spring most of the reserves the tree had would have been used and the next flush, will be less vigorous and therefor have short internodes.? Do you apply this principle if true?
    3. How do you develop your primary branches? Do you first grow the branch until thick enough and then cut back to probably one internode, and continue in the same manner until the desired length, or you use sacrifice branches to thicken branches??
    4.I see some thickish branches with no branching (like the one you had back budding on later) Was that branch ever chopped back? And if it was why did it not have at the end forking branches?
    5. My winter is not cold enough to get fall color. What are the implications of that?
    6. You said: When building trunk mass, pruning off sacrifice branches should be done in Spring the week of bud break. The tree will produce enough sap to enrich all the wood on the tree.
    – Does that not mean that lots of sap will flow from the wounds? How does that affect the tree?
    – Why exactly cut sacrifice branches in the week of but break and not a week or two before that?
    7 The branch you want to use as focal point and grow for 2 years to thicken it: How will you create taper on it and back budding? Do you plan to chop it and how much?
    8 I dont understand this: In the upper part of the tree where it is stronger, I will cut in fall. In the lower part I will cut in spring and force growth and sap there.
    Are the resources distributed evenly throughout the tree?
    9. What is the best way to force back budding on old branches?

  5. Hi Al,
    Early in this piece you said if you’re not getting good fall color, then you’re not growing healthy trees….. What are they lacking?
    I was always of the belief, that good fall color was due to low temperatures and shorter hours of sunlight?

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