Archive for the ‘defoliation’ Tag

Bonsai Tips with Justin Case – Maple Defoliation   1 comment

I was going to post this tomorrow but since today is the last consecutive date that will ever be seen by all people now alive on Earth, I decided to post it today. 12-13-14

Today I wish to talk about the maple myth of defoliation. When I think of the term defoliation I am reminded of a fortune I received in a cookie many years ago. It reads;  Before you wonder “Am I doing things right,” ask “Am I doing the right things?”

So the question has to be asked, “What is it you expect from defoliation?” The myth says two things will happen after defoliation.

1. leaves will be smaller.

2. increase in ramification.

While it is partially true that the leaves will become smaller after defoliation, the reason why they are smaller is decreased health in the tree. Defoliation in and of itself weakens the tree, thereby making smaller leaves. There is no significant ramification increase by the technique of defoliation alone. To engage in the task of defoliation, light or heavy pruning is done in conjunction with the defoliation. It is the light or heavy pruning that increases the twigs on the branches and not the defoliation.

A good strong growing maple tree will fight with itself for apical dominance. A few branches will emerge victorious and will begin to elongate. These runners will continue to elongate, growing in girth and length until stopped by pruning. The runner will continue because of a terminal bud. This bud has the genetic predisposition to continue growing straight ahead without lateral branching. Along with this running on top, the same will be going on below the soil with fast increase of girth and length of roots. These long shoots are what cause roots to wrap around the walls of a container.

Plants grow leaves proportionate to the quantity contained by its branches. A tree with a few large branches will have few leaves but of a very large size. The trees health needs are met by a certain amount of real estate tied up in leaves. The tree is much healthier making 25 large leaves the size of your hand, and much weaker making 250 leaves the size of a dime. If a person has a tree with the 25 leaves and wants the 250 small leaves, then a support structure for so many leaves must be built. Defoliating a tree with 25 leaves to get smaller leaves is not only hard on the tree from a defolaition stand point but also hard on the tree from a nutrition (photosynthesis) stand point. While defoliating the tree with 25 leaves may get you some smaller leaves in the beginning, unless more grow in a hurry, they will get larger in a few weeks. Thats just the nature of the beast.

How can I get a tree to have smaller leaves and more twigs?


There is nothing more simple than pruning a maple to increase ramification and make smaller leaves. If you have more twigs the tree will make more leaves. If the tree has more leaves they don’t have to be as large to get the same amount of photosynthesis. The tree will make small leaves all by itself without ever removing one leaf for the rest of its life. In this case a heavily ramified tree will always have small leaves and will never have to be defoliated to decrease the size. If the tree has proper structure and twigs it needs no defoliation for that either. So a properly prepared maple has absolutely no need for defoliation.

I read on many forums people recommending to defoliate to build ramification and defoliating to make smaller leaves, and then a picture of the tree is shown and it has a trunk, five branches the thickness of your finger and one or two tertiaries. Defoliating is going to do absolutely nothing for this tree. The only thing that is needed to help the tree is selective pruning. People recommend defoliating because the myth has been perpetuated on the net and people keep spreading it like gospel and have never even worked with a maple with a properly ramified crown. People throw the word around and have no idea what the technique does and does not do. I think they think it makes them sound important or that they know what they are doing.

When is defoliating be necessary?

When a person has a properly ramified maple and the tree may have some insect damaged leaves or burnt edges and the tree is ready to be exhibited. At that time a tree can be defoliated about 60 days before the event and the tree should have a whole new change of clothes. (Koromo ga e) This tree can be exhibited now and all the leaves will be fresh and green. This is not necessary with the spring growth and is usually reserved for showing in late summer when leaves have burned thru the summer.

Tell me more about pruning

Maples respond well to pruning. pruning a maple is akin to mowing the grass, they just keep pruducing divisions. What is a division? Its when the terminal bud is removed the tip of a branch. All living plants have a terminal bud. It is the bud that is wired to move ahead in a straight line. When a branch has its terminal innterupted by removal, the two apical lateral buds will shoot away in opposite directions, a division. Some may know this as a forked branch. If the two lateral buds are not allowed to elongate, meaning to let go the new terminal bud that emerges at the tip of the new lateral shoots, then two new shoots will emerge from those two lateral. So now one branch was pruned and made two, then pruned again and made four, etc, etc. Now this steady pruning will not go on forever. One may get about three good prunings on a healthy tree. More than that and the trees health is severely diminshed and the tree may respond by not opening any more buds till fall. Pruning in early spring and early summer should be held to March thru June. Rest thru summer and then cut back in late August to middle Sept.

I have a few pictures to share. First is a couple seedling trident maples from two years ago. They have been allowed to grow unchecked and are about 7 feet tall this year. The trunks are about 3/8 inch across at the soil and are grown on a tile. There is no branching on these shoots. The terminal bud has not been touched and for all intents and purposes, these plants will continue to gorm untill interrupted by a storm, snail, insect anything that would interrupt the growth.


If I bend on of the shoots over to take a picture we can see all the buds for next year already set on the shoot. The terminal is almost twice as large as the laterals. This is becuase the terminal contains two sets of leaves instead of only one leaf. Maples grow in offset pairs of leaves offset by 90 degrees. This is to insure that a large proportion of the leaves will be in contact with the sun.


Even palmatums that grow in my yard exhibit the same growth habit by elongated shoots growing to the sky unhindered. They will not ramify untill interrupted by pruning. Why should they? this is easy growing like this.




At the base of each leaf stock is an adventitious bud. A adventitious bud is a bud that in the “advent” the leaf gets eaten or burned off in the sun, and new leaf is ready to take its place. Now here is the part one has to think about. If a person comes in and defoliates this branch, artificially makes it believe the leaves were eaten off by a moth larve, the branch is not going to make more branches. It is just going to make new leaves. The terminal bud is still there, all the latent advetitious buds are there and now they are all stimulated into action to make new leaves. There has been no division of branch or twig, just new leaves in exactly the same place they were before.



See how much larger the terminal is than the lateral. One leaf compared to two.



In the picture below, one can see the stub in the middle od the branch that was cut. This was a pruning. This picture makes this look large but in reality the stub is half the size of a BB, about 3 mm.


If the shoot is pruned to the red line, the two buds at the end of the shoot will become branches and the buds below that will become leaves. They are marked T for terminal and L for leaf.

red cut1

If one were to prune out even further on the branch the effect would be the same except there would be two more buds below and two more leaves. The problem with leaving two sets of nodes behind the cut is that the neck of the branch segments are two large and on smaller trees this can make the tree look disproportionate. If you look behind my first scar and go down a little more, you can see the scar of the branch cut before. So what you see here is a small, less than 1/2 inch segment of a branch cut back to split once and then split again, and now I will cut again and have three branch divisions in 1/2 an inch. This is how you build ramification and attain smaller leaves, by making more of them. More than the tree actually needs.


In the case of this branch below I would be better to make the cut at the first node and make a directional change in the ramification. This area is in the top of this tree and I don’t need the branches horizontal but rather upward and full. Keep in mind that one does not have to keep both buds. The downward growing one in this case can be rubbed off and only the upward growing bud can be kept. This shoot will elongate and another pair can be kept that may be in a better position after some growth.


Just so you know the tree in these pictures looks just like what yu see. Still has all its green unburned leaves on 12-13-14. I hope this tip can help some of those out there with what defoliation really is. It can be used with great effect of heavily ramified trees , but does not build raminfication on its own. Do it if you must but know that all you are doing is weakening the tree and losing precious weeks in the growing season to growing back leaves. That is such a waste of time. I say; prune to get twigs..Justin case.

Fall Color = Healthy Tree, what?   2 comments

In my last post I said this:

“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.”

It seems that I recieved a couple emails and a comment from Shane Martin in AUS.

Shane says:

“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?”

I Think I can answer this question with a blog post. First we have to determine why a maple turns red in the first place. It does this to keep the tree from losing its leaves in an effort to transfer energy from the leaves to the trunk and roots. How is this done?

For a large part of the year, leaves are a tree’s workhorses, constantly converting carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into energy in a process called photosynthesis. The special ingredient for this process, the pigment chlorophyll, is w­hat gives leaves their bright, green color for much of the year. But while chlorophyll is the star of the show, it has some help in the form of the pigments carotene and xanthophyll. Xantho is Greek for “yellow,” and carotene is what gives items like carrots and eggyolks their orangish color. These two pigments are always present in leaves and help absorb sunlight, which they transfer to chlorophyll for photosynthesis.

As summer nears its end and days get shorter, the increased amount of darkness incites trees to prepare for a sort of hibernation. Leaves won’t be able to continue photosynthesizing during winter due to the dry air and lack of sunlight , so the tree does two things. First, it forms a separation layer made of corklike cells at the base of each leaf to seal it off from the tree. Second, it stops producing chlorophyll since it won’t need this pigment until the days start to lengthen once again in the spring. With chlorophyll out of the picture, the yellow and orange pigments get a chance to shine.

The red hues, which come from pigments called anthocyanins, are slightly more complicated. Whereas all trees contain chlorophyll, carotene and xanthophyll, not all of them produce anthocyanins. Even the ones that do have anthocyanins only produce it under certain circumstances.

Remember that layer of cells at the base of the leaf? Its purpose is to protect the tree during the colder winter and prevent it from drying out. When the separation layer is complete, the leaves fall off in the tree’s attempt to conserve energy. But before the leaves fall off and the tree closes up shop, it wants to pull in as much sugar and nutrients as possible from its leaves, which is where the anthocyanin comes in.

Although scientists offer several different reasons for why some trees produce anthocyanins and autumn leaves change color, the prevailing theory is that anthocyanins protect the leaves from excess sunlight and enable the trees to recover any last remaining nutrients. The reason you’ll see more vibrant reds during some years is that lots of sunlight and dry weather increase the sugar concentration in tree sap, triggering the tree to release more anthocyanins in a last-ditch effort to gather up energy to get through the winter. In addition, near-freezing weather, low nutrient levels and other plant stressors seem to trigger increased levels of anthocyanins.

If it’s been especially rainy and overcast, you won’t see much red foliage. Without bright sunlight, the trees don’t need the added protection that the red pigments provide, so they don’t bother producing them.

What this means is that damaged leaves like wind burnt and sun burnt leaves can offer the tree little energy for the next year. Since the final leaves of the year are responsible for transfering the energy for the tree to start it out in spring, it seems reasonable to keep the tree as healthy as possible during this last a most crucial part of its season. This means that the tree has to be healthy, not just living.

This is what Boon Manakitivipart has to say about bonsai soil and healthy and living:

“But there is an additional thing about soil and bonsai people. I have found people’s evaluation of soils faulty, because many bonsai people do not make a difference between “alive” and “healthy.” So many think if their trees are not dying, their soil must be a good one. But death or no death is not what you are looking for. A healthy tree has the right amount of bust, the right color. Healthy trees are more flexible than trees that are just able to keep themselves alive. Here is where training is important. Every species may tell you in a different way whether they are healthy or not. Just because it is not dying does not mean that it is healthy.”

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