Short Leg Productions Presents: A Trident Maple Conundrum   3 comments

On a whim, I decided that I might take problem trees from various places on the net and take them on as a challenge to come up with a solution to these problem trees. I find that working on these trees in the privacy of my blog allows me the freedom to propose a solution without all the diatribe associated with too many cooks spoiling the broth.


Case no one: Trident Maple

Owner Background: Owner has not a clue what to do with this trunk and has posted this to a bonsai discussion forum for opinions and a possible solution. Owner has stated he does not have the experience to come up with a solution on his own and is seeking help. Owner is willing to have a larger tree or a smaller tree, just the best option.

Tree background: The trunk looks to be about 8 to 9 years old and probably grown in the ground. At some point a first chop was made and a new leader was allowed to grow introducing taper. At least two other smaller chops were made introducing a couple new directions and more taper. The grower looks to have lost interest and we have a vertical pipe growing straight up with no taper, and the current problem.


The first solution offered was to chop the tree preserving the small branch as a new leader and building the tree from there, building a better top and using the nice base.

The owner countered with another possibility of chopping the tree lower and starting over building a massive trunked small shohin tree.

In solution number one the small branch is really coming off the trunk in the wrong direction and will only force us to make a slanting tree. The branch scar next to the branch would have been a better candidate and a better direction in which to take the new leader maybe preserving the apex over the root base. The yellow line in solution two is more of a pipe dream and probably not even possible for the uninitiated.

Why is this so? I’m glad you asked.

When the tree was started or grown from cutting, the first thing done wrong was to allow the tree to exit the soil at 90 degrees. Plants started for bonsai should always be planted at a 30 degree angle away from the sun and allowed to push towards the sun. This will allow for a subtle curve in the trunk. The second mistake made was the first chop was done on a trunk with no shoots below the chop. It could have had one, which was preserved for that first directional change or may have been a bud, who knows. In any case the lower trunk is scarless and shows no signs of growth below that chop.

What happened was, as the tree grew in the new direction, and with no branches on the trunk to preserve sap flow, the new tree began to compartmentelize itself from the original trunk.

The sunken area to the left of the original trunk is the sign that this area did not grow. No branches to support it.

So now as the new leader continues to grow, it grows roots on that side (left side) and begins to build a new tree based on the nourishment it is receiving from above. The side on the right will continue to atrophy and probably at this point roots have died back and the trunk remanent is no longer able to push buds there.


I would venture that within three to five years everything on this trunk right of the hollow….

will dry up and fall away showing a massive shari. This is not a matter of “if” but “when”. Ditto the rootage on this side. That hollow and that scar has cut off the foliage from what there is at the top and so the right side original trunk is shrinking back and the left side will continue to get larger and larger and more strong and make a one sided tree at the base. Chopping anywhere below that scar will only sprout on the left side of the trunk. Lets see how the trunk shapes up…

The part in light blue is the dieing part. The red X means no sprouting from this portion of the trunk. I would even be a crap shoot for a graft to knit on that side of the trunk at this point. The green part is the diminishing rootage. This rootage will continue to dry up and die away as the left side becomes more strong.

The red side of the trunk is the active trunk, this is the side with up and down flow between rootage and foliage. That is not happening on the light blue side, and the hollow in the trunk bears that out. The dark purple area is the good rootage. The tree will continue to grow more and more roots on this side of the trunk as the new water pipe continues to expand.

What would Short Leg do?

I would not chop….I repeat, I would not chop this tree anywhere below any active shoot on this tree. The lower trunk is just too risky to support any diminished foliage above and the right side would definitely dry up in a month or two rendering the tree a complete waste. I wouldn’t waste any time trying to get about three grafts to take hold along the light blue portion of the trunk. With some foliage on that side it may be just in the nick of time to save that side of the trunk.

That would be first, without saving that portion, even talking about what to do with the rest of the tree is futile at this point. There is just not much to work with without grafting ASAP and getting the bottom strong again. The future tree is in the hands of the owner and only he can make the decisions on what to do next. It will be interesting to see if this tree gets the work done it needs and if that work is shared for a continuation of this story.

Short Leg Out!


Posted August 14, 2017 by California Bonsai Art in Short Leg Productions

3 responses to “Short Leg Productions Presents: A Trident Maple Conundrum

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  1. Nice!

    It was way worse than I thought!

    Thanks Al!

  2. “It” says “You’re already subscribed to this site!” But not coming to my email. Can’t figure how to get to work. grrr

  3. Pingback: Short Leg Productions Presents: A Trident Maple Conundrum | California Bonsai Art – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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