Japanese Maple Fusion ‘Seiryu seed’
You can not find bonsai Japanese Maples with a large trunk base unless they have been trunk chopped. Trunk chops leave such a large wound that they can take several years to heal, and even then they are lopsided, leaving the artist no option but to hide the ugly wound in back. I like to be able to look at a bonsai tree from all sides.
Enter my next project, Japanese Maple ‘Seiryu’. Because Japanese Maples growth is so slow I am going to take a new approach and plant the seeds around a frame in a grow tray and attach the seedlings as they grow up the frame. This should actually save me considerable assembly time by eliminating the need to bare root the seedlings. If you have seen my previous articles on Dawn Redwood and Trident Maple fusions you will understand how much time this step takes. This should also reduce the shock to the seedlings caused by the bare rooting and hopefully reduce seedling die off.
I like to collect my own seeds. These seeds are Japanese Maple ‘Seiryu’ fresh right off the tree. When you purchase seed from a nursery you do not know how long the seed has been stored. The viability of the seed diminishes each additional year in storage, so freshness is very important. The best time for collection is autumn as the leaves are turning color.
This is a mature Japanese Maple seed, the wings are brown but the seeds still has strong color. There are two seeds here called “samaras”. They are separated and ready for stratification. Stratification is a moist chilling process where the seeds are usually kept in a refrigerator near freezing until they are ready to be planted in spring. I am going to rely on natural stratification. Here in Northern Virginia, USA our winter temperatures get near or below freezing for several months.
Here is a frame that I have had on my shelf for a year now. It was a prototype for the Trident fusion frame and 1/3 the size. I am using a grow tray instead of a pot this time. After 1 or 2 growing seasons I will plant it in the ground to help speed up the fusion process. I do not expect fusion to occur as quickly as my other projects.
Do you think I went a little over kill here with the seeds. Of course I did and for a reason. Japanese Maple seed do not always germinate the first year, it might take 2 to 5 years to germinate all of the seed. I will attach the seedlings that germinate next to the frame as they grow. The remaining seedlings will be held in reserve for repairs if necessary.
All finished. Not much to look at right now but hopefully next spring there will be enough seedlings to cover the frame.
Wo! I did not expect to have a germination rate this high. I planted 4 other varieties of Japanese Maple last fall and none of them germinated like this flat of Seiryu seeds. There are a few problems here. First, very few of the seedlings actually border the frame even though the photo suggests otherwise. Second, as a reader suggested, few seedlings will be true to the parents characteristics. In fact only 1 of 200 seedlings in the tray actually looks identical to the parent tree. The remaining seedlings leaves are deep cut but not true dissectum (lace leaf). The other maple seeds I planted have also proven that most Japanese Maple varieties do not inherit all of their parents characteristics. Third, I decided to change to a smaller frame and will need to bare root the seedlings to tie to the new frame.
Here are close ups of the leaves. The seedlings are on top and the parent is below (autumn color). Deep cut seedlings, but not completely true to the parent, and all of the seedlings are slightly different. However, their trunks should be the same and this project is all about fusing trunks. For now this tree(s) should simply be considered a green Japanese Maple. I can always clone and graft true Seiryu branches later if I am dissatisfied with the leaves.
The new frame. Pathetic looking thing, isn’t it? Slanted and about 3 1/2 inches at the base that should grow to 4 inches plus after fusion is complete. I am planning an informal upright style.
I chose to skip the 1 year of growing in a pot and tie the bare rooted seedlings directly to the frame similar the the Chinese Quince I completed a week ago. I used 100 plus seedlings and tied 3 at a time to the frame. As with the Quince I will plant this tree(s) in the ground and continue the assembly of the trunk next spring.
Here is the tree(s) in the ground. I will water and feed heavily and just let the tree(s) grow until next spring. I had 60 seedlings left over that I potted up and will probably use them as grafting rootstock in the next year or two.
This Seiryu autumn color is much more vivid than the parent tree. I am excited to see how it progresses.
As you can see it is still a clump and no fusion has taken place. I really did not expect to see any fusion the first year. Japanese maples are slow growers and the additional competition from sibling seedlings slows the growth even more. Probably not the best species choice for this technique but I am hopeful next year will see better growth. I have about 50 seedlings growing in individual pots that are about double the size of these because they had no competition for resources. I will probably not try to fuse seedlings directly as transplants again because they really need a year to develop a good strong root system first. One year old stock seems to be the best choice.
Next spring I will tie up the loose whips and begin shaping the trunk.
Last year instead of potting up Chinese Quince seedlings to grow for a year I attached them directly to a frame. Since they were only a few inches tall I could only attach them at the bottom of the frame. After one year of growth they are ready to be fully attached to the frame. As you can see I planted this project in the ground and dug it up so I could work standing up. A lot easier than crawling on the ground. Also notice that I planted on a red plastic tile to force the roots to grow laterally instead of straight down. The tile also made it easier to dig up.
Here is they tree after I tied it to the frame. There are lots of gaps here so it will take a few years to fill in and close the gaps. The apex is about 6 inches tall. This method of assembly is probably not as good as using 1 year old whips that have established root systems. I potted about 40 seedlings and they have grown much quicker, some as tall as 3 feet. I will assemble those in the next week or two.
I don’t think I will use this assembly method again. It seems to offer no advantage over waiting a year for seedlings to grow. Attaching individual seedlings is easier and they can be pulled together tighter with smaller gaps between the seedlings.
I will keep trying to tweek the assembly process on all my projects to learn and share with you.