"Let it grow, then cut it back." A simple quote I've heard from Boon on multiple occasions which has helped me to better understand branch development.
I recently did some work on this Prunus Mume which I’ve had for about five or six years now. When I first purchased the tree it was just a stump without much branching that I selected from the growing fields of Muranka Bonsai in Nipomo, CA. Here's the tree shortly after being dug from the field, I believe in either 07 or 08.
This tree is relatively young in Bonsai years and has not yet developed many of the characteristics of old Ume that I love so much. Most of the trunk currently has smooth bark which gives off somewhat of a juvenile appearance. Like with many aspects of Bonsai there is no substitute for time when creating that crackly, rough bark which contrasts so well with the beautiful flowers.
Here's the tree the last time we left off in winter of 2012, right after cut back:
Ume don't heal their scars over as well many other types of Deciduous trees especially when grown in a container. They are also often shown with deadwood or hollow trunks which help to create the feeling of age. Rather than leave the current scars on the viewer’s right hand side of the trunk, I decided to pronounce this area more by creating a hollowed feature.
To do this I used this Makita Die Grinder and carved the area in Summer 2013. Boon helped me mark the outline of the area to be hollowed with a red pen.
I carved out the area between the red lines, making grooves in the carving to try and make it look more natural. Next, I sanded the carved area with a small piece of sand paper to try and get rid of the tool marks and smooth out all the wood.
I used my large Kaneshin root cutter to remove most of the area which died back from the last trunk chop. The goal was to create more tapper up to the new leader. I took several small bites out of this hard dead wood so I didn’t damage the root cutter, then used a Dremmel bit to finish smoothing this area.
Over the last several years the first 2-3 inches of each branch were wired to create movement and structure. The branches were then allowed to elongate and grow out well past the final design outline each year. During late fall I removed the leaves, then in winter the branches were cut back. When cutting back, the trees energy is pushed further into the interior creating more budding and future branches. Untill now, this Ume's branches have been created by letting the tree grow out each year and then cutting it back. I've heard that old ume generally have a more difficult time back budding, and at that point grafting is the best option to continue building branches.
Below is the tree in Dec of this year right before cut back. If you look closely, you might be able to see small flower buds starting to form on some of the branches. I could have waited until after the flowers bloomed, however because of scheduling issues and the fact that my primary focus is currently on branch structure I decided to cut the tree back before the flowers.
Here is the final image for now after Boon helped me cut the tree back. When cutting back we payed attention to the outline of the tree. We also examined whether the branch buds faced horizontally or vertically and removed the downward growing branches. The new leader was left alone to continue thickening the apex which should help create a more natural taper from bottom to top. In the future I hope to continue working on the branch structure and show the tree in a smaller pot while the tree is in full bloom.
Here's a short progression of the tree with the pictures I have. Thank you so much for reading, wishing you a very Happy New Year!!!