The Long Range Plan for Single-flush Plants ~
Decandling black pines…defoliating trident maples…such techniques stimulate multiple flush plants to ramify and make smaller needles and leaves. Because they spur such surprising regrowth, we look mournfully at our single flush plants as if they could do better.
White pines, Japanese maple, Beech, Spruce, Hemlock, Magnolia, Oak, etc. all fall into the single flush plant category. And we need to play the long game with these once-a-year growers.
Mountain Hemlock, a single flush plant. (Photos here link to styling / creation stories.)
5 years later. Ramification of this genus is fairly easy as many buds arise from each spring shoot. In a short amount of time shoot multiples need to be trimmed annually to make room for next year’s crop. The next two examples are trickier to ramify.
Because single flush plants won’t respond to wholesale mid-season removal of spring growth, expecting regrowth, we need sneakier ideas. Our goal is the same for all bonsai, though: more twig ramification and smaller needles and leaves. How do we do that if we can’t defoliate or decandle?
- Work on getting budding…
- More budding brings more shoots…
- More shoots brings down leaf and needle size quite naturally
Bringing more budding on single flush plants is by nudging rather than forcing, and time. Pruning timing helps. If you prune in springtime you’ll get more extension; if you prune in early fall, you’ll get more budding. Those buds will turn into shoots come spring, and the more shoots you leave, the shorter future ones will become. Later cut off the longer ones.
An example: A pine will often create 3 or more shoots from one shoot end. If you have a thin pine, with few shoots, maybe leave these multiples one or two years. They will help slow down the rest of the tree, then later cut off the longer ones. The rule ‘cut everything to two’ isn’t wrong, but can be delayed for good effect in the case of thinly foliaged single flush plants.
Limber Pine—a single flush pine.
4 years later. With good sun and grown moderately, Limber Pine buds and ramifies rather well. But the roots haven’t filled out the pot, so the needles remain longish. In a few more years these will come out shorter in length.
Young single flush plants often respond the way multiple flush plants do. A good example is Japanese Maple. Cut a 5 year old Japanese Maple hard, or defoliate it after the first flush has hardened off, and it will likely reflush. Completely defoliate a 50 year old plant and there’s no telling how it will respond. In maturity, Japanese maples are single flush plants—they are programmed to grow once a year.
Age plays another role in internode length, which translates to density. A young maple will grow hard without much encouragement for 10-15 years. Those can be frustrating years if we’re doing everything we can to slow it down and the internodes are still miles long. Then it begins to brake—without us changing any horticultural practices. My suggestion is, don’t fight the youthful energy, use it. Develop trunks and branches in those years, then later when age is working with us we can more easily shorten internodes.
Vine Maple—a single flush deciduous tree similar to Japanese Maple. This photo is from when the composition was first assembled. The growth is sparse, and several branches were left on that are not ultimately desired. The twigs are also thin and delicate from living a spare life in the wild, and it may take 10 years to achieve that delicacy again after the invigorating, youth-inducing techniques of bonsai creation.
5 years later. By keeping multiples of things that aren’t ultimately wanted, all the shoots get shorter. Then the long ones are cut off. Ramification of this tree has quadrupled in 5 years using this method. But you can still see some long internodes, it’s still a work in progress. Short shoots are also helped by the root mass getting denser. With a multiple flush plant we could get there a lot faster, but an old Vine Maple doesn’t offer the defoliation option.
Why talk about plans for single flush trees now, in spring? So we know how hard we’ll grow our plants and what we’re going to do next. With a single flush tree we can fertilize less, or maybe not at all until growth has hardened off. Fertilize single flush plants more in the summer and fall. But that’s for a well-ramified tree.
In the developmental period, with thinly foliaged trees, don’t worry about large leaves or needles on your single flush plants. Short leaves and needles are for older bonsai, with well-stocked IRA’s, tertiary investments and such. Have a thinly-twigged Lodgepole pine with long needles? A Stewartia with large leaves? No worries. Large leaves and long needles make more buds. Those buds will create shoots, and with more shoots, needles or leaves reduce without any further assistance, and we’ll begin look at our single flush plants less mournfully.