Maple as a bonsai is a very popular deciduous type of tree. Amongst maple, most of them are not suitable for bonsai culture. But some are extremely able to develop into a maple bonsai specimen.
The Japanese maple or in Latin, acer palmatum, are amongst the most popular ones. Three subspecies of the Japanese maple are officially recognized. They are the acer palmatum palmatum, acer palmatum amoenum and acer palmatum matsumurae.
The palmatum subspecie is an unpredictable specie. In nature, the Acer palmatum displays considerable generic variations and differences from tree to tree. As such, even seedlings with the same parent tree can show difference in such aspects as leaf size and shape, and colours. The two most common colors for japanese maple palmatum are green and red. The green being the generic version and the red is often qualified as the atropurpureum species.
The acer palmatum palmatum subspecies as over 1000 cultivars that are officially recognized. As said previously, the difference in the generic and genetics will produce many cultivars. Some Japanese garden are displaying a large collection of these cultivars.
Commercial seller of Japanese maple will use the name atropurpureum and bloodgood for most red leaves tree they sell. For the green laceleafs species, the anme dissectum and filigree are the most common.
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This subspecies as very large leaves, composed of nine or seven leaf lobes making it a bad candidate for maple bonsai growing. It is often found growing in high altitude area of Japan and South Korea.
This subspecie is also not the best candidate for maple bonsai. As with the previous subspecie, it grows in high altitude area of Japan. It will however be more attractive because of itís orange foliage. The leaves are mostly composed of 7 lobes, but species with 5 lobes can have smaller leaves and are more suitable for bonsai. It is uncommon to find a good cultivar for bonsai growing.
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Other Asian maple that are popular and sometime recognized as Japanese maple are the acer japonicum, acer pseudosieboldianum and acer shirasawanum. Most originate from China and Korea as opposed to Japan.
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The trident maple is the most popular maple bonsai specie. Trident maple or acer buergiranium, is very well known amongst bonsai enthusiast because they adapt very well to bonsai technique such as leaves reductions and root ball reduction. It is also a very tolerant species to negligent gardening. In fall, the leaves become deep to bright red.
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The amur maple, acer ginalla, is the ideal substitute for the trident maple in colder region. It is a very cold hardy species. Beautiful amor maple bonsai have been made in Canada. IT also has a three lobes leaves, adapt very well to bonsai techniques and tolerate mistreatment. This maple will have a nice red to yellow color foliage in fall. This maple tree is also a fast grower in the first year, which also makes it a good maple bonsai canadidate.
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Basic Maple Bonsai Care
Some species prefer full sun while others are less tolerant to full sun. The sun combined to wind will dry the leaves too quickly. Usually only Japanese maple species will be subject to leaves drying up.
Watering a maple bonsai in the morning is ideal. Water will have the time to evaporate in the day, leaving a somewhat dry soil for the night period. This will prevent fungus to develop in the soil at night and to also prevent root rotting. Good drainage in your maple bonsai pot is essential.
Feeding and fertilizer
Maple bonsai will need some help in the growing season. Natural fertilizers such as fish emulsion or home made recipe are a good choice. If you canít get these locally, you could use a chemical fertilizer. A low content fertilizer can be used every week, or a general 20-20-20 fertilizer can be used every other week during the growing season. Some prefer to use a 20-20-20 fertilizer at half dose every week. Fertilizing should occur at the beginning of spring, right after last frost, and should be stop when you notice a reduction in growth rate of your maple bonsai.
Maple Bonsai techniques
It as been suggested by many that achieving small internodes and small leaves on a maple bonsai, is done by applying classic bonsai techniques such as root reduction and defoliation. Bonsai expert will often defoliate a tree multiple times in a growing season. The much needed energy to develop branches and leaves is lacing so the tree will produce smaller internodes on branch and smaller leaves. A root bound maple bonsai will also slow its growth rate and will also produce small leaves.
Pinching of new growth can also help develop small internodes. Some bonsai grower will even use tweezers and a magnifying glass to find the small new shoot and cut it as soon as it is sufficiently develop.
A clip and grow method, of always cutting the stem after two leaves is also a popular method for Japanese maple bonsai.
Maple bonsai wiring is also possible but should be done with a raffia textile to help protect the fine bark from the copper wire. Monitor the bark closely to prevent wire biting and unwanted ugly scars.
Maple bonsai Diseases and Pests
Not many pest will invade an healthy tree, Aphids and mildew are the most common but are easily treated with an insecticidal soap. Root rot is the most common disease affecting maple bonsai tree.
Maple bonsai Propagation
Maples can be propagated in many ways. Every technique will work as long as it is provide the ideal conditions. For the Japanese maple commercial grower, the two most important propagation techniques are seeds and grafting. First, commercial maple grower will germinate acer palmatum seeds, the green variety, to grow as root stock. After a 1 to 2 year growth of the seedling, they will chop the canopy and graft a specific cultivar branch onto it. This will result in a grafted maple tree with a more robust root system. Of course, for maple bonsai, this technique is not popular for aesthetics reasons. You wouldnít want a graft scar in the middle of your maple bonsai trunk.
To grow maple from seeds, fresh seeds are always best. Maple seeds will often die if left dry. That is why it is important to store your seeds properly if you donít sow immediately.
Grafting is also another method to propagate maple trees. As discuss earlier, grafting is often used in a commercial environment. Bonsai grower can also graft a branch at the right spot, or event graft a seedling to help accentuate the visible roots of the maple bonsai. These visible roots are called nebari In Japanese and many maple bonsai specimen will have such a precious feature.
Air layering is also possible to propagate maple. Ideal conditions are needed and the future root ball must be moist at all time. Applying rooting hormones can help.
The most used propagation techniques for maple and maple bonsai is using cutting. Many maples respond well to this technique. However, with Japanese maple, the red leaves species are harder to propagate by cutting then green leaved species. Hormones are needed to achieve great results for both color and other non Japanese maple species. Both hardwood or softwood cuttings can root, but softwood cutting tends to be easier.