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Shaping Japanese Maple Bonsai Trees – How to Shape Japanese Maple Bonsai

In parts one and two of these videos Peter talks us through the process of styling and shaping Japanese maple bonsai trees. We will see how peter makes shaping decisions and chooses the future shape and style of a tree. Peter shows us several examples of Japanese maples which all require a different approach.

You can read a full, in depth transcription of this video on our main website..

How to Shape a Maple From Scratch

peter with deshojo maple
This is a red maple or a ‘Deshojo’ maple. At Herons, we get our red maples as young plants and then grow them to thicken the trunks and then we structure the tree. We grow the trees in large flower pots to help them become nice and strong. At the time this video was made it was mid June and at this time of the year the tree produces these long shoots. These shoots have been produced in the last two or three weeks and as you can see they are already around 30cm long. These shoots are ideal material for making cuttings.
deshojo maple bonsai in pot
I would make a heel cutting such as this and insert about half of it into a peat and sand mixture. You can also dip the cutting into hormone rooting powder to increase chances of it rooting. With our cuttings, we have a success rate of around 80 to 90 percent. Striking cuttings from any Acer Palmatum is very easy.
deshojo maple cutting
I want to use this tree as an example of how I structure a maple from scratch.

First of all, I will take the tree out of its pot.
maple bonsai out of pot
The first thing I notice about this tree is that its branches are very tangled. To tackle this tree, I will need to start by creating an overall shape. This tree could be grown in the ground, or in an even larger flower pot to let the trunk get really thick. The trunk on this tree is only about an inch thick. In bonsai, a thick and interesting trunk line is always important in making the tree look credible. Trident maples have very thick trunks but many Acer Palmatum varieties such as the mountain maple and Deshojo Maple don’t need trunks as thick as a trident maple. However, the thicker the trunk, the more interesting and the more aged the tree will look.
moving maple branches
At the moment I am just trimming the branches to start revealing the trunk. You will also see I have the tree on a turntable so that I can keep looking at the tree from different angles. This is quite an interesting tree because its trunk could almost be considered a twin trunk. Although, the twin does start fairly high up the tree.
trimming maple leaves
We always begin by revealing the trunk and then start to create a structure with branches: evenly spacing them throughout the length of the trunk.
maple trunk exposed
Remember, the maple is a deciduous tree which means that however hard I prune it at this time of the year (Summer) it will regenerate and produce new branches and leaves in a very short space of time. I like to prune my maples in summer because they heal so quickly.
maple trunk
By just giving the tree this conical shape, it’s beginning to look more like a bonsai.
shaping maple bonsai
I have spotted a branch growing inwards so I’ll get rid of that.

The right hand branch is the leader. You will see it has quite a nice movement.

It is quite a vigorous tree so I’m removing a lot of the foliage to reduce the vigour.

At this point I have removed about 80% of the foliage and twigs so I can get develop the true structure.
trimming maple
You can see just by cutting back the foliage a bonsai has started to take shape. I’m going to rake into the roots to see how they are growing. We can always improve the Nebari (root spread) of the tree.
raking maple roots
I will put this tree back into a flower pot and allow it to continue growing and I will keep control of the structure from now on.
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