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Repotting A Trident Maple Bonsai

Trident Maple Bonsai Before Repotting

This is the Trident Maple we repotted. It has been growing in pure turface.

As the your bonsai begin to break dormancy, the energy moves from the roots to the buds, and the buds begin to swell. Once the energy has been allocated you can cut the roots without removing the energy from the tree in the process. Yesterday we repotted a Trident Maple (Acer buergeranum).

Trident Maple Buds & Energy Allocation

Notice how the bud at the tip of the branch is larger and further open than the rest. The tree is allocating more energy to this one!

Trees do not allocate energy equally among all buds. The way that the energy is distributed depends on the amount of light that branches receive and the tree’s natural growth habit. Bonsai are just trees, and this holds true for them as well! Buds that have been allocated more energy break sooner, swell larger, and will put out longer growth. You can use this knowledge to your advantage when training your tree.

Trident Maple Bonsai Rootball

The rootball of this bonsai. Notice how the roots have wrapped themselves in the shape of the pot. It’s definitely due to be repotted!

Trident Maple Bonsai White Roots

The white fleshy roots are the ones that take up water, nutrients, and CO2.

To start we cut the wires that were anchoring the tree into the pot, and carefully pulled the rootball out of the pot so that we could assess the health of the tree. The tree had been growing in pure turface and put out many new white, fleshy roots. These types of roots are designed to pull nutrients from the substrate into the tree. The more of these types of roots that you have, the more water, CO2, and nutrients the tree can absorb. This particular Trident Maple had many roots, to the point where they were wrapping around the pot. Maples usually grow their new roots after the leaves are out, so it was not clear whether the roots had formed over the winter or in the prior year.

Cutting Mesh For The Drainage Holes

The mesh is anchored in place over the drainage holes, allowing water to drain while keeping the medium in the pot.

Creating wire anchors for bonsai pot.

Anchors are created from wire, which hold the mesh in place over the drainage holes.

We started by preparing the pot. Bonsai pots have large drainage holes in the bottom, much larger than the size of the particles. This is to provide ample drainage so that the tree does not have “wet feet”. We need to keep the pot’s ability to drain, while keeping the substrate from falling out the bottom of the pot. Here we are using black plastic mesh, cut down to a size slightly larger than the drainage holes.

Mesh Over Drainage Holes In A Bonsai Pot

The mesh needs to be slightly larger than the drainage holes so that the potting medium stays in the pot.

Wire archor for bonsai drainage hole.

The finished anchor. Two are created, one for each drainage hole.

Threading The Anchor Through The Mesh

Putting Mesh In A Bonsai Pot

After the anchor wire gets threaded through the mesh, it is placed in the pot.

Anchoring Bonsai Mesh

To anchor the mesh, both ends of the wire are flattened against the bottom of the bonsai pot.

To keep the mesh in place we create a set of wire loops that get threaded through the mesh, and locked in place by bending the wire. Between the wire and the weight of the soil, it’s enough to keep the holes locked in place.

Bonsai Potting Medium - Lava And Peanut Shells

A course mix of lava and peanut shells is used. It will be porous and give the plant plenty of water and CO2.

All plants need a mixture of water, nutrients, and CO2. All three are taken up by the roots, but unless the water is moving (therefore oxygenated), the tree cannot absorb both its water and CO2 at the same time. Bonsai need a flush of water, followed by a flush of air. Too much time without water and the roots dry out and die. Too much time without air and the roots suffocate. It’s a balance, and one that is easier maintained by using larger particles which are porous. We will be potting this Trident Maple into lava rock mixed with a little bit of peanut shells.

Combing Trident Maple Roots With A Root Hook

We use a root hook to loosen up the roots. The root hook is held very loosely and we’re careful not to tear the roots.

We then started “combing” out the roots using a root hook. While we use the word “combing”, the hook is held very loosely between two fingers. The idea is to loosen the roots gradually, not to rip them off of the tree. A two-pronged rake can make the job go twice as fast, but remember to pull carefully, not rip!

Long Trident Maple Bonsai Roots

A bonsai’s roots can grow quite long! However, its energy is up in the buds so we can trim them back.

Cutting A Trident Maple Bonsai's Roots

We use a sharp pair of shears to create a clean cut.

Cut Trident Maple Roots

We try to take off 1/3 to 1/2 of the roots. Too little and the tree will be pot-bound too soon. Too much and the tree will not be able to support itself with resources.

Double-Pronged Root Hook

Combing roots is tiring! A double-prong hook does the job twice as fast.

When a bonsai’s roots wrap around the perimeter of the pot, they can be quite long! We want to remove enough of the roots so that new ones have room to grow, but not so much that the tree cannot support itself nutritionally. The rule of thumb is to only remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the tree’s roots. We cut them with a pair of sharp bonsai shears. A sharp, clean cut will encourage the roots to branch out where they were cut.

Testing The Planting Depth Of A Trident Maple Bonsai

We test the depth to make sure that the plant is not sitting too low or too high in the pot.

The tree is tested for planting debth. We want the soil line to approximately the same as it was before.

Wiring A Bonsai Pot

We wire a bonsai into the pot to make sure it doesn’t shift in the wind or when being moved, which would damage the fleshy roots.

Wiring A Bonsai Pot

The wire needs to be long enough so that it can be wrapped over the top of the root ball and have both ends twisted together.

The depth is good so we run a length of wire through the mesh, from one drainage hole, across the outside bottom of the pot, and back up and out of the other drainage hole. This wire will anchor the bonsai in its pot, particularly important while the new roots are growing.

Filling A Bonsai Pot With Lava Rock

We fill the pot with our substrate. Too much is purposely added as it will settle into the pot once we use a chopstick.

A Chopstick Settling Bonsai Soil

We use a chopstick to settle the soil around the roots. The chopstick is inserted into the medium and rotated.

We place a small amount of the substrate on the bottom of the pot. This is where most of the water will be held naturally in the pot, and you don’t want the area to dry too fast or too slow. The bonsai is placed in the pot, the anchor wire is run up through the rootball, and we fill the rest of the pot with our potting medium. A chopstick is used to settle the particles down around the roots. This is done to reduce the size of the airpockets, and increase contact of the roots with the substrate.

Hiding The Bonsai Wire Under Nebari

The wire is run beneath the nebari of this tree for aesthetics.

Locking The Anchor Wire In Place

A quarter-twist will lock our anchor wire tightly in place. This does not hurt the tree or interfere with its growth!

We then run the anchor wire across the top of the rootball and twist the two ends together. In this case, we run the wire beneath the nebari as to hide it. A final quarter-twist of the anchor wire underneath the pot pulls the anchor wire nice and tight.

Mycorrhiza For Bonsai

Mycorrhiza are fungi that help other plants grow. They will often form naturally in a bonsai pot, but this just helps the process.

Mycorrhiza Being Applied

We only need a small amount of the Mycorrhiza to be effective.

Mycorrhiza Added To Bonsai Soil

A small amount is sprinkled on the surface of the potting medium of the bonsai.

A little bit of Mycorrhizal innoculant is added to the surface of the substrate. Mycorrhiza are a beneficial fungi that form a symbiotic relationship with other plants, including bonsai. These fungi allow the tree to absorb water and nutrients more efficiently and can commonly be seen among the roots of bonsai, especially pines!

Watering The Trident Maple Bonsai

Now that the tree is repotted, we need to water it right away. Roots do not like being too dry for too long!

Repotted Trident Maple Bonsai

The finished job. This bonsai should be good for another two years before it has to be repotted again.

Finally we water the tree well but with a fine spray as to not wash the Mycorrhiza away. This Trident Maple should be good for about two years in its new lava rock!

    Posted in: Articles


  • When is the best time of year to replant a maple bonsai?

    • You mention “replant” and I’ll take that to mean your including “root pruning”. Maple trees do best when replanted or potted in the spring before they leaf-out. Don’t even consider replanting when the trees has leaves unless you are “slip potting” from one container to another. Here the idea is not to disturb the the roots but place them into another container for extra space.
      I hope this helps, Dave

  • I am very new to Bonsai I would like to know the best soil mix for a Trydent Maple. It is about 20 years old. I would really appreciate your advice. Thank You very much

    • At the nursery we use (and recommend) either haydite mixed with shredded fir bark, or 1/4″ lava rock mixed with shredded fir bark. We use either of these for all of our trees. Both are very fast-draining, and you will need to make sure that you water and fertilize appropriately, but trident maples do well in either. The mixture pictured here is 1/4″ lava rock. The same tree was re-potted again this spring. Make sure that you re-pot before the leaves come out!

      In 2013 we used peanut shells with the lava, now we use fir bark. Either will work equally well. The keys are a slow rate of decomposition and a high rate of availability.

  • I have a dawn redwood bonsai tree. I live in Arizona and it summer right now . It was doing great. From one day to the other it started to dry on the leaves. I would really appreciate your advice.

    thank You

  • Sheree Halliburton

    Thank You so much for your information!! I have a 19 year old trident maple and I’ve gotten to the point where I was afraid to do anything to it, but you really explained things and well, the buds are beginning to swell, so I’d better get to it. Have a Super Day and Thanks again!!

    • Thanks for writing. Please feel free to ask questions along the way. You can also post pictures of your progress and experience if you wish.
      Best in Bonsai….–Dave

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