The Consequences of Over-Aggressive Pruning

1 month ago Nebby 0

Source: My Bonsai Obsession Blog.
Although I’ve been known to do a trunk chop from time to time (with mixed results), when I chop my trees I often err on the side of caution, cutting back to the lowest branch and waiting for back-budding before cutting back further. It slows the progress, but it’s a safeguard against disaster.

When my succulent cuttings didn’t sell in October 2017, however, I decided to throw caution to the wind with them, leaving only minimal foliage on one of the thinner cuttings and none at all on the rest of them. On the advice of a senior member of my club I’d done a similar chop on another thick succulent a few years back and, though the tree’s recovery was slow, the result was satisfactory. I had no reason to suspect that things would turn out differently this time.

Perhaps October (late spring) wasn’t the best time of year for this operation. Perhaps I did something else wrong. I just know that where the two thicker trees were concerned, things did not go to plan.

The thinner trees quickly produced masses of new growth everywhere, with only minimal die-back, allowing me to remove excess new buds within weeks.

November 2017 – not much to do on this pair

The first pair didn’t need much work, but the one below was getting quite top heavy so I cut it back hard. I also removed the dead branch on the left.

November 2017 – before
November 2017 – after

The thicker trees were a lot slower to respond. By November they were showing signs of die-back on important branches, with little new growth high up and lots of tiny new buds at the base.

November 2017 – little new growth with nothing high up
Detail of the base of the above tree
November 2017 – little high growth and dying branch at base. New buds at
base not shown.

Perhaps if I’d removed some of the lowest buds I’d have got better growth higher up. Then again the trees might have died and, though they weren’t trees I really wanted, I didn’t want to take that chance. I hate killing trees.

By early January the thinner trees were doing really well.

January 2018
January 2018

Unfortunately, while the new buds at the base were growing strongly, the trunks of the two thicker trees had continued to decline. By now the thick branch at the base of this tree had deteriorated so badly that it snapped off with no effort, leaving a rotting hole which I attempted to carve away.

January 2018 – hole where branch had snapped off, before carving.

I was beginning to suspect that the entire trunk would be lost and developments over the past month make it seem my fears are justified.

February 2018 – carved hole, one month later.

The other one isn’t looking much better, though there’s no rot, so part of the trunk may survive.

January 2018

As I’m trying to cut down on the number of trees in my collection, I put the two thicker trees on my club’s raffle table last Saturday. While they’ll never be the trees I’d hoped they would be, in time someone may be able to develop them into decent clump style trees.

As for the remaining trees, I’m contemplating putting those on the raffle table too. Given their better condition I may do it in April, when my club is hosting an all day meeting attended by members of the other clubs in the region.