Developing a thick trunk on a young Trident Maple

I’m brand new to learning the art of Bonsai and I’ve got some questions about planning for the future. I have a trident maple that I bought about a year and a half ago that I’m trying to make into a thick trunk with some nice movement and tapper. Currently it is in a 1 gallon pot and the trunk is about as thick as my pinky. I’ve done lots of research and everything so far is pointing to planting it into the ground to help thicken the trunk quickly (I realize “quickly” is a relative term and this is probably a 6-10 year process) and to plant the tree on a tile to help the roots grow horizontally and create nice nebari. This is definitely my plan for this spring but I have some questions on how to best go about it.

  1. When do I consider chopping the trunk? I’ve read that you wait until the trunk is almost to the “final” size you’d like it and then cut it at that point. If this is the case then hypothetically what if I’m looking for a trunk that is over 12" in diameter? Does that mean I let the tree grow until it is almost 12" in diameter and then chop the trunk and grow a new leader? I feel like that would have a huge scar on the end of it and then it would never really develop nice taper.
    Or are you suppose to chop it around 6"-8", develop a new leader, and then when that new leader gets close to the size of the trunk you chop again higher up, keeping the process going until you get what your looking for?

  2. What’s the best way to go about growing the tree? Should I put it into the ground on a tile, pulling it up every 2-3 years to work on nebari until it gets to where I’m wanting it? Or should I grow it in an Anderson flat? Or a grow bag? Or keep it in containers and just upsize the pot every year?

  3. While it’s growing and thickening the trunk what should I do about the shoots/branches? Should I make sure there isn’t any nodes of 3 or more growing out of the trunk that may cause inverse taper? Should I trim the shoots/branches back yearly or just let it grow naturally for 3-5 years or until the trunk chop?

  4. What kind of soil should I be using?

I would greatly appreciate any advice you have for a newbie. I figure if I can get this tree (and hopefully many others in the future) started off on the right foot I’ll have plenty of years to continue to learn bonsai so when the trunk is actually ready I’ll somewhat know how to fumble my way through it and not make it look like a kindergarten walked up to it with pruning sheers.

Have listen to the Teperion Farms podcast about developing trees in the ground , it is very enlightening and will give you great inspiration. Gary and Chris are completely open about their method of producing a great start from which to develop your future bonsai. You’ll need and want to listen to the podcast a couple of times at least because of the amount of first class and very specific information given. You might also want to listen to podcasts with Andrew Robson if deciduous trees are your thing , again absolutely masses of great information. If you can get your hands on issue number 23 of Bonsai Today , you will find a really good article on ground growing specifically aimed at trident maple. Good luck.

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Thank you for the information. I’ll definitely check out those podcasts.

@Kevnolan82 has identified some very good resources. Here are a couple of comments from my experience.

  1. I would work on getting a good nebari started in a small Anderson flat or similar sized box. The couple of years this takes will be paid back later since the larger roots tend to run in ground.
  2. I suggest using the grow bags as was done at Telperion Farms. This will help control the large roots.
  3. You will have to trunk chop periodically to get taper. and in many cases movement. I suggest every other year. Leave the lower branches below the chop for a couple of years to thicken that part of the tree, but not too long since you want to be able to heal the scars.
  4. Not sure of the length of your growing season, but in mine where I have about 6 good growing months I would figure it to take 20+ years to get a 12" (30 cm) trunk.
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You may also like to visit Evergreen Gardenworks to read Articles about Bonsai written by Brent Walston , lots of information here .

That is really good information. Thank you. I live in the PNW in zone 8b. Not really sure how long our growing season is but I figure it can’t be super short since we live in the nursery capital of the US.
I was just using the 12" as a hypothetical. I would love to get the trunk very thick and I understand that at 34 years old I may only see this when I’m close to retirement but I got to start somewhere. And aren’t we all in the “long game” anyways when we practice bonsai?

Here’s a link to the article referenced. It’s a really good resource. I refer to it often.

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You probably have about 8+ good growing months and can therefore get about 50% more growth than I can in the Spokane, WA area. 12 inches with taper is doable in the timeframe you have.

Thank you for that link. Great information in that article!

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