Case story: Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

I prefer to grow my bonsai from basic material. This has to do with the pleasure of creating and developing bonsai. I do not have the need to buy already finished material and just taking care of this in future. The pleasure lies within the process, as much as a more or less finished result.

This tree I bought as a pre-bonsai in Japan in 2005. I looked for a good trunk as I always do. Branch development is not so important, because I will do this as part of my bonsai practise. 

Growing from seeds or cutting is not something I do much. It is too far ahead in the future before it is possible to work at. In Japan nurseries are divided in different levels of growing bonsai material. The first ones do the seed and cutting growing to a certain level. Next comes another nursery who buys the premature bonsai material and grow them to a higher level. Finally the top nurseries selects the very best and develop them to the highest level. Where I jump in, is often at the middle level, and from there I try to develop up to the higher level. This is for the few pre-bonsai I have acquired.

First and foremost I develop from raw material like the Yew you can read about in the Case Stories.


Not a very impressing tree looked at from a distance, but examining the trunk showed potential.

This is a classic developed Acer palmatum, Japanese maple. It has been grown from either cuttings or seed, and have had a larger branch freely growing for some time to thicken up the trunk. This is visible because of a larger scar at the backside of the trunk.

First thing done was reducing the growth a little. Thinning out to let light reach the inner parts so new growth can begin to grow from there. Letting light inside is important to help the progression growth from inside.

A larger roots was pruned away too, and the wound covered with a wound paste to avoid fungus attacks and rotting.

Building up the ramification on a deciduous tree is time consuming steady work. It can not be arranged like a conifer where branches are wired and bend in position in a shorter time frame. 

Deciduous is about patient and constant work. building up little by little. It sometimes seems  like a step backwards when you prune to force new growth and divide branches.

In the end, it is so satisfying to see the result of years of patient work with a tree.



Without leaves it is obvious how far away from a mature bonsai it is at this time. One year after purchasing it in Takamatsu in Japan.

Repotted into a bit larger pot than the original training pot to ensure roots growth. Using an high quality organic soil with pebbles mixed in to ensure a good soil structure that is both well draining and not packing. You can use Akadama too, but I find it too fast drying out and prefer a good quality of organic soil for small trees.



In summer the maple has pushed new growth nicely, and at this stage a few branches were wired and directed in a new position.

At this time it is about the very rough structure of main branches. The finer work will have to wait until new growth is developed over the years.

Feeding well will help this on its way. 


New branches develops when cutting back. Removing the middle shoot will make a nice pattern of dividing branches, keeping the distance shorter between each pairs of leaves.

If you keep the middle shoot it will elongate and thicken up the branch, but also increase the distance between each pair of leaves. 

It is matter of purpose how you prune.



Two years after my work started. 

The ramification slowly increases. How fast this goes is partly influenced by the region where the tree is growing.

Warmer climates speeds up growth, where it is slower in colder areas.


Autumn image. The canopy has developed nicely through the four years passed so far. A little top heavy for the moment, so focus on lowering some branches will be necessary. 

The fat trunk and original thinner top is beginning to merge and the obvious differences now looks more natural. 

New spring growth is some of the beauty of maples. The delicate new growth is beautiful but is also something to take care of. 

Letting it grow too much will take the energy from the parts closer to the trunk, so pruning is essential for the overall health and balance of growth.



Summer image. The leaves are pretty and a good shape is achieved for this time of the year. There is a big difference showing a deciduous tree naked in winter where all the branches are visible, and in summer clothings where leaves are in focus. 

Summer images covers all the small faults and undeveloped parts that are viewable in winter time.