Root Cycling in Deeply Planted A. Palmatums

Discussion in 'Maples' started by Kanuni, Nov 16, 2011.

  1. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

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    I had bought 6 A. Palmatums in pots this year and although some are a bit shaken, all have survived our hot summer. All of them seemed to be planted too deep, but I didn't touch them fearing that I could stress them in hot weathers. I had planned to wait until leaf drop to remove excess soil, when they would be planted to the ground anyway.

    Today, although the leaves haven't dropped yet (they are in fall color), I decided to remove some soil from the pots thinking that it would be better to remove roots in stages (since some roots would have to be teased / removed from the sides and the bottom at the time of planting anyway). All of the Japanese Maples have visible root flares now, but I had to remove a lot of fibrous roots to get to the root flares. I have 2 questions regarding this. 1st being a general question and 2nd being more specific about one of those pots.

    1. A lot of fibrous roots needed to be pruned. I had to remove as much as 3 inch (even in one of the plants I had to remove 4 inch!) excessive soil filled with fibrous roots. The root circling at the sides of the pots were terrible and clearly visible, so I am glad at least the top portion of the rootballs are good now. But I fear that removing so many roots can harm the tree. Normally, the trees should go dormant in 2-3 weeks anyway, but was it a bad decision not to wait until the trees went dormant? If it was indeed a bad decision, what can I do now to minimize the harm? Maybe plant the trees now and force them into a dormant state a bit earlier?

    2. In the photos below, you can see one of those trees (Inaba Shidare) had some bad looking root circling with a woody root (buttress?). I'm fearing that it might choke the trunk in future, but I didn't want to cut it fearing that I would harm the tree by cutting such a big woody root. It is one of my best looking Japanese Maples as it seems to be only slightly effected in our hot summer despite being in full sun. So I don't want to lose it. Where should I cut this root (if I should cut it at all) ? It seems to go out of the trunk at the place that marked with red. It comes from a deeper place actually, I guess it moved up because the tree was planted deep, but I am not sure since it was not possible to reach to it without damaging the buttress next to it. The starting point can even be the place marked with blue. The whole thing is also on top of another woody root which is also parallel to the trunk (would this also cause a problem). What do you suggest I should do with this root? Cut from the red mark? Cut also from the green and blue marks to be safe? Or should I not touch it at all? It isn't really possible for me to return this tree or ask for a refund. I would be more than happy to make this tree live even with serious die back if it is my only option.

    Thanks in advance.

    Attached Files:

  2. fortyonenorth

    fortyonenorth Member

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    NW Indiana
    I don't have a lot of experience in this area and don't want to offer advice that might prove to be erroneous. However, I found this article to be quite instructive with regard to the timing and technique for re-potting and root pruning. Even if these trees are destined for in-ground planting, I think you may find the article interesting:

    Good luck!
  3. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

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    Very interesting and informative article. Thanks...

    So, as I understand from the article, it was a mistake not to wait for leaf drop to prune those roots as deep as 3-4". I hope that this mistake won't harm the trees much. Also, I understand that I can safely cut off that woody root in the photos once the tree goes dormant. Any comments? Further ideas?
  4. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California
    Plant enthusiasts in cooler climates can get by
    with pruning roots than we can with plants in
    warmer climates. Heat stress always takes
    its toll in some fashion on the palmatum type
    Maples, which is why most bonsai enthusiasts
    I've known around here prune top growth back
    when they want to prune the roots. Aside from
    being able to force containment of the roots in
    a confined area, there really is not a good reason
    where I am to prune the roots for Maples that are
    to be planted in ground at some point in time.
    We have a few factors working against us in
    that we know or we should know by now that
    we have Verticillium alboatrum in the plants
    system of which the internal fungus thrives on
    planted related stresses caused by nature and
    caused by us. Some Maples do not need a
    reason for the fungal pathogen to plug up the
    vascular system, sometimes all it takes is a
    Maple that falters in its growth and development
    to the point that the plants starts a slow decline.
    Of which the fungus or at least more visible signs
    of disease becomes more apparent the longer
    the tree is stressed and yes, a decline is indeed
    a stressor to the tree.

    Let's assume your tree has Verticillium alboatrum
    in its plants system - by the way I have not ever
    seen an Inaba shidare that does not have this
    fungus in its plant system, then what purpose
    is there in pruning a root system when it is the
    root system properly working that is responsible
    for keeping the plant alive more than the top
    growth does? There is a science involved in
    dealing with root systems of which the bonsai
    people have been good at but there is one
    constant they seldom ever mention and that
    is the number of plants they lost due to their
    overzealousness in aiding and abetting the
    internal disease factor we have in the palmatum
    type plants. If we can prune the roots to allow
    for more regeneration of root shoot development,
    that does not cause a faltering of the plant, then
    pruning of the roots would be mainstream in the
    nursery industry but so far this has not happened
    and it is my opinion that it never will become a
    widely recognized cultural application for the
    palmatum type Maples.

    Why are we hesitant to ever prune the roots
    on a red dissectum top grafted onto a tall
    standard? You have your answer in a thread
    posted a long time ago dealing with a Red
    Filigree Lace in this forum. You prune the
    roots without pruning top growth and you
    risk losing more top growth than you will
    get in return of new roots. We prune the
    tops hoping to get more root growth, this is
    science but there are times our pruning
    ends up being futile in that depending
    on how much Verticillium alboatrum we
    have in the plant will slow down the amount
    of new growth we expect to get. One thing
    that people are unaware of is that we also
    get Verticillium in the root system as well.
    This has been going on with the palmatum
    type plants for over 150 years and little has
    changed since to overcome it. It is due to
    the Verticillium alboatrum issue is why the
    bonsai enthusiasts that want to grow palmatum
    type Maples prefer seedling plants as opposed
    to grafted plants. The oldtimer specialists
    in bonsai, the self-purported "brown thumbs",
    are the people I would have the most interest
    listening to and learning from.

    When trees are not deep watered the roots
    rise from the ground. Can happen when
    trees with well developed root systems
    hit a compacted soil layer and lose the
    ability to "punch" through that layer and
    as a result we see more surface roots.
    This condition does not mean the roots
    or the tree are in peril, the roots are just
    adapting to a condition that is not to their
    liking. So, what can we determine from
    the growth that you want to severe when
    to me it is a non issue? Actually to me is
    expected to see from top grafted Maples
    on rootstock standards over time. By the
    way I know of some bonsai enthusiasts
    that would not be overly worried about your
    Maple at all. There is no circling that we
    can see that may in time strangle your tree,
    which in itself it a rather infrequent condition.
    for the palmatum type plants.

  5. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    WA USA (Z8)
    Tops and roots are integrated, support of growth of each is provided by the other. Cut one and it dwarfs the other, until the cut part grows back. That is how root pruning of bonsai works, for a consistently slower-growing top the roots are pruned every year.

    In the case of root-bound plants the roots must be corrected at planting time or as soon as possible afterward to prevent future losses to girdling or toppling. This need trumps all other considerations.
  6. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California
    "In the case of root-bound plants the roots must be corrected at
    planting time or as soon as possible afterward to prevent future
    losses to girdling or toppling.

    No argument from me on this. I never have shied away from
    root bound Maples but will correct the roots, even if it means
    trimming them prior to planting. I never had stated that pruning
    roots is unnecessary but we have to learn to side with caution
    when giving advice to others. It is the root bound trees that
    are much more capable of girdling once in the ground in some
    areas more than some others. Although infrequently seen this
    condition is much more common for root bound potted trees
    and no doubt the toppling issue due to root boundness can
    be difficult to overcome - been there and done that with a
    Eucalyptus that took about three years to finally correct.
    At the expense of over half of the top growth of the tree
    being pruned off in stages to force root growth and overall
    stability. Later on we got adequate replacement top growth

    Thank you Ron for your most welcome comments!

  7. Gomero

    Gomero Well-Known Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Southwest France
    I hear what you say about :
    However while visiting Japanese nurseries, Tsukasa maples in particular, I was struck by the small surface available at the nursery and the resulting impossibility for them to repot to a higher size pot. I saw fairly large specimens (of palmatums) in tiny pots. I asked about their cultural practices and I was told that they systematically root pruned their maples to keep them in the small containers until they are sold.

  8. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

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    The roots that I removed (until I reached the root flare) were badly circled in fact. The photos above were taken after they were removed.

    As I indicated in my original message, I was also worried about removing so much roots. But isn't fall months "safer" for root pruning? I always thought that although the top growth stops due to dormancy, the roots continue growing underground, so I hoped that once the tree was planted in the ground, it could regain some of the roots that it lost due to pruning. Is this incorrect?

    Regarding the woody root... Well, as a matter of fact, I prefer not to prune it, because the space is too small and I am afraid of cutting the stem or other nearby roots which are not intended to cut. But, if I leave it, will it not grow into the stem and choke it after some years when it is big & thick enough? Or would that be a problem if the woody root actually surrounded the tree from all sides? Can a woody root harm the stem from a single side only?

    Once again, thanks a lot for the help.
  9. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Likes Received:
    San Joaquin Valley, California
    Re: O.T. Where will this lead?

    Like what Ron stated we can have some control
    as to overall size of the tree due to root pruning.
    I am not opposed to doing this if we want a more
    twiggy tree with forced shortening of the nodal
    lengths and in some instances force the scaling
    down of the size of the leaves. As a matter of
    fact I saw about a 20 year old Bloodgood in Kyoto
    that really opened my eyes as to what we can do
    with a little hands on care, patience and a clean
    Maple to start with. We do not have the number
    of clean palmatum type Maples to choose from
    today that we had as little as 20 years ago. It
    is because of this is why I have advised people
    away from this forum to use seedlings from
    older trees in their home area to use for grafting
    as opposed to seed coming in from other areas
    of which we do not know anything about those
    plants to see how much Tight Bark is in those
    parent plants. Tim has access to old trees in
    North Carolina that do not show signs of Tight
    Bark. This is not a case that those mature
    and beyond mature aged trees outgrew Tight
    Bark over time, this just does not happen.

    For many years the Japanese chose to root
    cuttings instead of grafting to induce vigor
    and in some Maples introduce disease
    resistance into the host plant. An interesting
    question I'd have for Tsukasa nursery is if
    they still have the Tsukasa Maple to propagate
    at all as this Maple due to a physiological
    disorder was trouble to keep alive by way of
    rooted cuttings. This Maple had to be grafted
    in order to save it. Root pruning of this Maple
    as a rooted cutting in the past increased the
    chance that it would perish on us much sooner
    than we wanted. In some nurseries in Japan
    the Maple died out soon after the roots were
    pruned of which this practice for that Maple
    soon discontinued until the Maple was grafted
    onto a select, clean and vigorous rootstock.
    Then we could go back in and prune the roots
    without the fear that all we did was kill the
    plant before. We still have the same issue
    with Beni tsukasa but not to the degree that
    we had with the Tsukasa Maple. It can be
    argued that we still have the leaf issue with
    Tsuma gaki as well, one of the reasons why
    I swore years ago that I'd never own that Maple.
    I changed my mind a few years ago when I
    saw some nice plants from Iseli nursery come
    into a retail nursery near me and thought I'd
    try my hand with three of them. I can say
    that my old Beni tsukasa did not disappoint
    me in that the physiological leaf disorder
    still exists in that Maple when the tree
    lost some of its vigor and started to falter
    and during the falter stage I saw leaves
    with the issue all over again. When those
    leaves did not fall off the tree alboatrum
    came in and finished off the tree in three
    years. Not a lot I could do but stand idly
    by and watch the tree perish right before
    my eyes in due time. It is a frustrating
    learning experience to lose a mature
    aged tree but the keyword is learn from

    I've mentioned before that I broke root
    balls years ago, what do you think I
    was interested in doing? Do you
    suppose that I might have untangled
    roots, perhaps even trimmed roots
    and if I were to want to plant those
    trees that I may have pruned back
    some of the top growth as well after
    the roots were pruned? There is a
    reason why all of the balled and
    burlap trees are still alive in the
    misses yard and all it took was
    a little preventative hands on care.
    I just don't see or read of too many
    people that deal with these plants
    hands on any more, which is why
    I kinda liked the article in the
    GardenWeb. Which tells me the
    thread starter does have some
    hands on knowledge of plants,
    certainly is getting there and
    that to me makes a huge difference
    as opposed to someone telling
    others what to do and not have
    a clue what they are doing, just
    because a book author says do
    this and don't do that. In bonsai
    we try to please ourselves. The
    gratification comes from the inner
    peace we get from our plants as
    we can see the results of hands
    on care. There is an appreciation
    factor knowing we had some
    measure of changing what was
    or might have been and the plant
    itself thanks us for it, through its
    own beauty. Really, isn't that
    feeling more important to us than
    just taking a finished product
    plant and planting it in the
    ground and let nature play
    its role by keeping the
    plant alive. I like knowing
    I had a hand in that plant
    living, even from the ground
    stages of propagation to the
    time that tree dies a natural
    death. If the tree lives longer
    than me then someone else
    can or gets to enjoy it. This
    used to be the backbone
    philosophy of most all noted
    arboretums and botanical
    gardens being able to see
    and be around plants that
    we cannot see everyday and
    also know that many of those
    plants will still be there for the
    next generation and perhaps
    beyond to see, enjoy and
    hopefully learn from.

    Most nurseries still desire to
    grow and sell trees to go into
    the landscape. This is still the
    number one desire for the purist
    nurseries. Once we push plants
    to get them up to size just to
    sell them, we tend to overlook,
    pass up and even frown upon
    quality control. Look at the
    photos or better yet see the
    trees at Esveld sometime and
    then ask yourself how many others
    will get trees up to those ages.
    With Tight Bark in the Japanese
    plants I seriously doubt that the
    Japanese will get anywhere near
    the ages of the old Maples at
    Esveld, Valley Gardens, perhaps
    Kew Gardens and at Hillier's.
    Funny thing that we can still
    see proof that the rooted cutting
    trees, depending on the cultivar,
    can outlive the grafted trees and
    no one knows what they are
    seeing from the venerable trees
    we still have access to seeing
    in these world famous gardens.

    I suppose if our market was to
    sell small trees ready to go into
    a landscape or for bonsai then
    we also would have pruned roots
    a lot to make our trees more
    compact if that was what our
    market forces wanted. We did
    grow plants for pre-bonsai and
    some plants like the hime Pines
    did not require any hands on
    root pruning. They naturally
    grew in the form that made
    them sell like hotcakes to
    the bonsai specialists that
    had their monthly meetings
    at the nursery and always
    went home with plants. It
    used to make us feel good
    to see plants that came from
    us or from Koto Matsubara
    at the annual bonsai show.

    We can learn to air trim the
    roots by placing the bonsai
    pots on well placed bricks
    or blocks (wood or cement)
    to allow air to limit the need
    to hand prune the roots for
    us. When we used to lift
    the hime Kuromatsu Pine
    out of the horse water trough,
    which was a two person job,
    we did not see any circling
    of the roots or any indication
    of it. The roots that would
    normally have circled in due
    time were air pruned off just
    like Toichi Domoto said they
    would, which is why he always
    placed his big boxed (36" - 60")
    plants on wooden blocks. We
    had a couple of sensei to fall
    back on for information too.

    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  10. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

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    First of all, thank you for your post Jim. I'll keep in mind in future when I grow Japanese Maples in pots, that I will avoid unnecessary root pruning. I will instead prefer the air trimming.

    But in this particular case, the reason I removed so many roots already was that the root flare was burried in the pot too deep. It probably stayed like that for quite some time before I bought the pot, but I had to do it before planting it to the ground, don't you agree? Would it not be bad for the tree to keep the root flare burried in the ground as much as 3'' - 4'' and plant it just like that? Well, maybe my timing was bad and that I should have waited until dormancy, or gradually remove soil & roots in the season without stressing the tree too much. But still, in the end, the roots had to be removed to expose the root flare, right?

    Aside from pruning the roots to expose the root flare, as I had said before the other problem is that woody root that turns around the stem, but I haven't touched it yet. I prefer not touching it in fact, so I had hoped people would advise in this thread to just leave it alone because it was not possible for it to choke the stem. This is because I am simply scared to touch it to hurt other parts of the tree. But to me, the issue is still not clear. Can that woody root, which is seen in the photos, pose a danger for the stem and the general health of the tree in the future or not? I guess I would go ahead and prune it no matter what, if it made more than half a circle around the stem, but I just don't know if it can pose a future danger in this particular situation where it will grow into the stem at 1 side only simply due to being parallel to the stem and getting thicker in time. If there is indeed a risk for the longterm health of the tree, I have to do it now before planting it. Please advise.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  11. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Likes Received:
    San Joaquin Valley, California
    Most likely the exposed "root flare" will not be
    an issue for this tree. Just to be safe I would
    not cover it up or cover over it with a potting
    soil or soil, Leave it exposed for now. You
    can cover over this growth later on, after the
    tree has been planted and had time to settle

    Many standards used as a top grafted rootstock
    can develop this same type of woody, surface root.
    Actually is more commonly seen in rooted cuttings
    to which as long as the tree does not become root
    bound, then this woody growth seldom strangles a
    tree or causes girdling to come about. This growth
    has been there for a while now. The problem is that
    once you sever the growth in the three spots you
    marked then you would have to lift the tree out of
    the container and gently pull all remnants of that
    root away from the rest of the roots. This may
    not be a big deal to some people but to others
    that have not done it or have not had things not
    go according to plan, it may indeed be a foolish
    thing to do. [I cannot see the overall root structure
    but I can anticipate what is there.] You risk not
    having much roots left to sustain the plant to be
    planted in ground next year. I just would not risk
    it. If the tree were mine I'd leave the growth alone
    but I do have a suggestion for you. If you are
    not expecting hard freezes this Winter then
    please lift the entire container out of the ground
    and place it on top of the ground. The current
    placement of the tree bothers me with an
    underlying clay soil underneath the container
    with a probable hardpan layer not far from the
    soil surface. You can create a root rot by doing
    what you've done if you have standing water for
    any length of time below the container. Let's
    better ensure that does not happen.

    As long as you have adequate root growth
    on the sides of the root ball growing down
    inside the container you should be fine
    with this tree. You just have to guard
    against soil compaction now and later
    on when the tree is planted in ground,
    should you decide to use or are forced
    to use hose watering as your sole means
    of irrigation.

    The time the root flare can be a major issue
    is if you let this tree stay in too confined a
    container or pot for too long. Then if the
    tree becomes pot bound then the root flare
    might expand and send out all around
    horizontal shoots that may girdle the tree.
    Essentially, this is a worse case scenario,
    not common but can happen in due time.
    Ron is correct to mention root bound as a
    precaution, my concern is this tree ever
    being pot bound. Once the tree is in the
    ground the root flare is not a big concern
    as the ability of the roots to grown downward
    and later on grow outwards without restriction
    will allow this woody growth to become of
    no concern - a non issue if you will.

  12. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

    Likes Received:
    Northamptonshire, England
    If I was planting that particular tree, I would not cut the offending root, but leave it at the surface, making sure not to bury it, exactly as Jim has suggested. I don't have the multiple decades experience observing palmatums that he has, but I am experimenting with several trees I received years ago which turned out to have similarly deformed roots, keeping the growth at the surface in the shape of a foot or a boot. So far, so good.

    It would obviously have been better to correct these roots at an earlier stage in the plant's life, but that option was not available to us, and now we have to make the best of what we are presented with in the here and now.

    Regarding the timing of the planting of this maple, my preference would be to put it in the ground right away and not wait for leaf drop or whatever you are waiting for. It would be best for any remaining autumn root growth to be directed away from the rootball to help establish the plant in its new environment rather than being trapped within the current pot. Either that or wait until spring. Plant on a slight mound because of the underlying soil conditions.
  13. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

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    Thanks for all the advice.

    maf, I'd like to ask one last question after reading your advice about root development in this autumn. You can see in the below photos why I have to plant / replant many trees soon. (The reason why they seem like they are in a hole now is because I dig a little bit to see how deep they were planted and how far down the root flares were)

    Not even 1 of my japanese maples were planted correctly by my gardener last year. They were either planted extremely deeply, or they were well below soil line... So, apart from planting my potted trees, I also have to dig a lot of my trees, expose their root flare and replant them higher than the soil around them. (I will do it myself now and make sure that the root flare will be even above the line of those red border stones.) Some of my trees have only a few leaves left, like the first two photos. And some of them, like the shrubby one in the last photo, still have many leaves. Do you suggest me to start replanting them all NOW or should I wait a little more, at least for the ones that still have many leaves on them and wait for them to drop their leaves?

    Attached Files:

  14. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

    Likes Received:
    Btw, the reason they are surrounded with borders is because I have bermuda grass, and I had to prevent them crawling towards my jm. (The diameter of the border circles are about 3.5 feet.)
  15. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

    Likes Received:
    Northamptonshire, England
    Personally, I prefer to plant my Japanese maples while they still have leaves. In autumn there is usually a period of significant root growth, as top growth has ended for the year and all energy collected by the leaves is sent directly to the root system. As the leaves change colour and eventually dry up and fall off, stored energy in the form of sugars is moved out of the leaves and into the roots, further boosting root growth. Therefore I like to move them to their new home while there is still some time left in the growing season. September seems good in the UK, but in Turkey I imagine the best time would be a little later due to the longer season.

    In terms of time management, my priority would be to plant the ones from pots first, and dig and replant the inground trees second. Having said that, I am sure you will have good success whether you plant right away or wait. Given the proper aftercare, in most climates you can plant containerised maples in almost any month of the year as long as the ground is not frozen solid.
  16. Kanuni

    Kanuni Active Member

    Likes Received:

    I'm thrilled so far that, ALL of my japanese maples survived. Until now of course... All of them were either newly planted or transplanted. To my uneducated eyes they look good as of now and I hope they will survive our hot summer. Some of these trees have survived this climate for almost 3 years now despite all the negative factors (the climate itself is a negative factor of course, but in addition to that they were over-watered and planted too deeply at the beginning. Add transplanting last fall to all of that, and MAJOR root pruning so I am actually surprised that they are all still alive :) )

    Here are a few spring photos. Any comments & advise are highly appreciated.

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