The art of Bonsai originated in China which was later acquired by the Japanese and mastered to perfection. The Red Maple bonsai is a reproduction of the Red Leaf Japanese Maple tree in a miniature form. The Japanese Red Maple tree has purplish-red leaves which turn green in late summer, and a beautiful red in fall. Its leaves have five deep lobes and resemble the human hand. Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish doctor and botanist who was stationed in Japan during the period of 1775-76, drew the red maple tree and took the drawing with him back home in 1920. This is how the tree came to the world’s attention. Carl gave the species a name ‘Acer palmatum’ after the hand-like shape of its leaves.
In Japanese folklore, passing a child through the branches of a Maple tree is said to bring good health, success and wealth. It is also referred to by the Japanese as ‘Momigi’, meaning ‘Baby’s Hands’.
The Japanese Red Maple tree is native to Japan and should not be confused with the American Red Maple also known as Acer Rubrum, one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern and central North America.
The beauty of Japanese Red Maple inspired the Japanese bonsai masters to create a perfect bonsai. Today, it is regarded as one of the most popular types of bonsai due to its beautiful and vibrant colors which are all the more attractive in the miniature form. Also known as the dwarf red maple, it grows only about two inches a year and may reach a height of 3 or 4 feet when around ten years old.
The best way is to grow a red maple bonsai from seed. There is no such thing as a Bonsai seed, it’s the process and the size of pot that matters. Once bought or acquired, the seeds should be kept in a cool dry place before stratifying them. Stratification is a process of creating artificial winters for trees that are not tropical, to set off the internal clock that spring triggers and makes seed sprout as temperatures rise. Before stratification, the seeds need to be first soaked in hot tap water for 24 hours. After 24 hours, they should be placed in a plastic freezer bag with damp sand or peat. A fungicide can be used in the sand to keep soil borne diseases from killing the seedlings. Poke a few holes in the bag and place it in the refrigerator.
After stratifying, it takes around 90 days for the seeds to be ready for plantation so choose the timing accordingly. However, keep checking the bag regularly after 60 to see if the seeds start to sprout. Sow the sprouted seeds in a light and friable soil mixture so that it drains well to prevent fungus and sprinkle peat moss over them. Once the seedlings start to grow they’ll need sunlight to develop properly.
The tree grows best in areas that receive ample amount of sunlight, however it should not be placed in direct sunlight as a direct exposure could burn the delicate foliage. It must be maintained in a cool environment during the winter season. It is preferable to grow the tree outdoors, however it could be kept indoor as long as it is being provided sufficient sunlight for at least 5-6 hours a day.
The tree needs sufficient watering and it should be watered whenever the soil appears dry. Adequate care must be taken for proper drainage to avoid root rotting. Bonsai plants usually die early because of poor watering, as compared to any other causes. A moisture meter could be used initially, post which one gets familiar with the requirements of the Bonsai tree. Watering should be done with a watering can or hose attachment which should dispense the water in a soft enough manner as not to disturb the soil.
Since the bonsai will be growing in a relatively lesser amount of soil, proper fertilizing is very important to ensure the supply of nutrients periodically. Moreover, fertilizer supplies the right amount of minerals and vitamins that the bonsai needs to develop properly. It is best to use an organic fertilizer, however chemical fertilizers could be used too at half of their recommended strength.
Pruning is one of the most important steps in growing a proper red maple bonsai. Apart from Root pruning, branches need to be pruned too, mainly in fall or winter to avoid excess loss of sap and to give a proper shape to the tree. Pruning wounds should be sealed with a wound dressing or a putty and can be cleaned up after the wound has healed. In order to encourage smaller leaves, remove all the leaves during the growing season, every other year, leaving the leaf stems on the branches. The second set of leaves will be smaller than the first set.
The plant must be repotted every two or three years for older trees, usually when their root system has filled the pot. This ensures the supply of fresh soil for the plant. Any dead or damaged roots should be removed to avoid root rot.
To protect the tree from insects and diseases, the same methods could be applied as in the case of a full-fledged tree. Aphids, mildew, or root rot may become a problem which could be controlled by spraying and by maintaining a good drainage to prevent root rotting.
It is not an easy task to grow task and maintain a red maple bonsai and requires a lot of skill and dedication. The results however are worthwhile as the plant has a long life and continues to be a part of the family for generations. Not many plants can equal the beauty of a Japanese Maple Bonsai in the autumn landscape.