Restoring an old Japanese maple
I’d gone several years without a Japanese maple in my collection and I missed working with the variety. It’s hard, however, to find good specimen. I resigned myself to starting a tree from scratch, either by layering nursery stock or by working with an old tree that needed help. A few months ago, I found an old tree perfect for a long-term project.
The tree had long shoots in preparation for some extensive grafting. But upon a closer examination of the tree, the originally planned grafts didn’t seem to address the tree’s major flaws. The nebari is unattractive, the trunk is scarred and not particularly attractive, and there are essentially no usable branches. What potential does the tree have? The lower part of the trunk, between the nebari and the first branch, exhibits some taper without obvious scars. If I air layer the trunk an inch or two above the current roots I can create a good nebari. And by removing the top 2/3 of the tree, I can improve the taper and create well-balanced branches. Additionally, I may try to create a second tree out of the apex making this a two for one project.
Although I was anxious to get started with the air layers, I’d recently repotted the tree and didn’t want to start a layer after such a major repotting. The plan is to let new roots get established this year and keep the growth somewhat in check to prepare for an air layer or two next year.
Japanese maple – before cutback
A number of the cuts were larger than 1cm. To help them heal, I cleaned the edges of the cuts with a grafting knife.
I covered the cuts with cut paste and that completed the work for this year.
I don’t expect a lot out of this tree, but it’s looking like I’ll have a lot of fun along the way. Why go to the effort on a somewhat dubious project? I’m essentially leveraging the age of the trunk. If I begin a similar project with a younger tree, I’ll have to wait longer for nice bark to develop. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more project maples.