Internode lengths

I live in NE Oregon, zone 5. I have only been doing bonsai for a couple of years and very much enjoy it. I collect conifers in the Mts right outside of town. I am also trying some maples. all but one of them are pre-bonsai. I understand that it is best to keep the internodes short, but I am not sure what the best way is to do that. There is fertilizer, when to fertilize, and what to fertilize with etc, etc. All of the pre-bonsai are in grow pots, get the correct amount of sun and water and are fertilized with chemicals on a regular basis. For example, I have a Ryusen JM that is ready for a bonsai pot this spring. In a grow pot now and last year some of the internodes are twice the size as the year before. I’m sure that is not acceptable. Do I cut back to the older, short internodes and then re-pot a cut down on the fertilizer or what would you suggest on this nice tree? Thanks for help. Peter

You’ve noted the primary challenge of growing maples - how to get rapid growth and maintain short internodes. It’s tricky because you can only do one or the other. Either the trunk will thicken rapidly or it will develop short internodes.

One approach is to start slowly and build a tree with the internode length you need to realize your design. Then you can let sacrifice branches grow that will help thicken the trunk quickly. Once the trunk reaches the desired size you can focus on branches with short internodes.

The best alternative is to start fast, grow the trunk you want, then work on the branches. This will be easier with large trees than with small trees because maple internodes typically grow longer than we can use for small bonsai.

You can find a brief article on the topic here:

I’m working on a much longer article on the topic that will be ready next year. In the meantime, the best strategies on producing short internodes are:

  • increase density: the more branches a tree has, the shorter the internodes
  • slow growth: less room in the pot and less fertilizer will help slow growth
  • defoliation (and decandling): removing foliage slows trees down and encourages shorter internodes

Once you select an approach, we can help with what and when to prune or fertilizer strategies.

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