Reworking A Japanese Maple

Carmen, my apprentice, said I should call this maple ‘Cousin Itt’, from the Addams Family. There is a resemblance. The spooky bit is Itt lost two branches last year. This year we let Itt run hard out of fear of losing more.

Last week we removed all the incandescent leaves (what a shame) to see what had happened within the canopy.


Japanese Maple var. ‘Cousin Itt’, before leaf removal.


After removing all leaves, but before cutting anything. Two stubs are visible from branches that died last year. These will be cleaned up next growing season.


New front option, the back. This view has the benefits of no trunk scars, better nebari, and a pleasing branch pattern.


Yes, I exist. I’ve had complaints that I never appear in my posts which has given rise to ideas of identify theft, lack of identity, or worse. Here ‘I’ am pruning away strong branches to find the new bonsai.


Pruned, but still horrible. This looks suspiciously like a pine. Too Halloweeny for a self-respecting maple.


In an initial effort to throw a wrench into pine style, a low left branch is brought up above the horizontal, suggesting a deciduous tree. Future branches will also be encouraged to rise. A mix of rising and falling branches can mimic old deciduous trees.

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  1. Richard Dorfman says:

    Great adjustment at the end. Gives the tree its character.

  2. Stephen Liesen says:

    I recently have spent a great deal of time developing/styling a bunch of black pines that were being field grown and now potted. Now I switched to styling developing juniper and deciduous trees. Your article made me realize that I was perhaps subconsciously designing them more like the pine tree style. Your blog about this maple that looked too much like a pine, brought me back to my senses. An older deciduous tree will have a mix of branches that go up and down, etc. Thanks for giving me this lesson AGAIN.

  3. Ray N says:

    Nice work, curious why it shed 2 branches. Possible caused by the strength in top branches?
    Thanks Michael

  4. Lani Black says:

    In letting it run hard this year, did you ever partially defoliate to let more light in to the interior or was it “hands off”? What was your fertilization routine since it’s in refinement? Looks like there was a very good response to your strategy.

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Lana,
      This year was completely hands off. Usually I’ll do some exterior leaf reduction to let light in. Fertilizing has been moderate throughout the year as I’m making this tree a bit larger.

  5. John Schmied says:

    So sorry to hear about the identity theft!

  6. An interesting solution to the problem, Michael…

  7. Marty Weiser says:

    Great post. Gave me the confidence to do some significant styling on couple of Japanese Maples before they go into the greenhouse for the winter.

  8. John Wiessinger says:

    Really enjoyed the walk-through on Itt. I was especially interested in seeing which of your strong upper branches would be removed. Incidentally, as weather cools here in Ithaca, I’m taking time to reread your Bonsai Heresy book to both review and remember all of the great info that’s included. Keep up your great work!!!!!
    John Wiessinger

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