Two years ago I found myself with a few dozen young Japanese beech. They were mostly the same size and age, and they weren’t very far in their development as bonsai. They were perfect, in other words, for a group planting.
Young Japanese beech
Because the trees were so similar to each other, I started looking for larger specimens. Over the next year, I found two that could provide some variety to the mix. Last November, I bare-rooted all of the trees and began assembling the forest.
Combing out the roots
Bare-rooted trees ready to go
Before securing the trees in the pot I did a dry run by setting the trees into place. I was happy with the arrangement and got to work using wires and chopsticks to make sure the trees didn’t move around after planting.
After securing the first few trees, it became clear that they weren’t ending up exactly where I’d planned them to be. The key trees, however, are about where I intended. Here’s what they looked like after planting.
After planting – November 2016
The trees grew well this year – enough so that I cut back long shoots in summer and reduced the size of the largest leaves (see “Leaf pruning – stewartia” for details about the technique).
By fall, however, the leaves began to turn brown and fall off. Japanese beech grow at elevation in their natural environment and can handle very cold winters. It’s barely cold enough in the Bay Area for the leaves to turn brown, let alone fall off (see “Beech – on top of the mountain” for photos of mountain-top beech growing in Japan). To give the trees a break and to ensure that the interior buds receive adequate light in winter, all of the leaves were removed.
Japanese beech – one year after planting
After removing the foliage
Seeing the trees without leaves made it easy to see which branches needed attention. I shortened long, straight shoots and branches that grew towards the center of the composition. Over time I’ll further reduce the branches, but I left extras for now to help the trees gain strength as they continue to root into the pot.
I then wired a few branches that were useful but growing at awkward angles.
Now begins the long process of refining the design by making similar adjustments every summer and fall.
One bonsai variety that I’d like to see a lot more of is crabapple. They make great shohin, great mid-size trees in medium displays, and, occasionally, outstanding full-size specimens.
Kokufu Prize-winning crabapple on display in 2016
I particularly appreciate the color they can add to fall shows. One common variety of crabapple is Malus sieboldii. I started some from seed last year and have found they grow quickly.
Now is a good time to wire deciduous seedlings like crabapple. If you have seedlings that are still perfectly straight, grab some wire and gently apply it to the trunk.
Wired crabapple seedling
Once the wire is in place, add some bends.
It’s hard to go too wrong at this point. The main thing is to avoid finding several flats of unwired trees in your collection that are too stiff to bend.
Have more than one? Try making some tall and some short, some twisty and others curvy. There’s still time to adjust the ultimate size and style of the trees in the future. With a little wire, they’ll be that much more fun to work with next spring.