As you may have noticed, I like Larch, and I like working on them in the middle of winter. It is one of the species which I regularly buy and style, to eventually sell off again. I often come across larches which, with a little wire and pruning, can be made even more impact full. A good reason to explain a little how I go about styling larches
About growing Larch as bonsai
First and foremost: For Japanese and European Larch it is important to realize that there is no back budding. The living buds that are there, is what you have to work with. Very seldom do buds pop up on older branches so whenever working with Larch, ensure you do not accidentally break off buds, or trim branches beyond the last bud (If you want to keep a branch there). The buds in Larch are somewhat special: In spring the buds can grow a single rosette of needles, or can become an extending branch. Old larches often have many non-extending buds. By trimming old branches back one can trigger these into extending.
Let’s take a look at this lower branch. It was last wired 2 years ago. There is still a supporting wire around the main branch, ensuring it sets properly in shape. That wire was replaced in winter 2020/2021 as the original wire was being enveloped by the thickening branch. Over summer, the extending your growth has been pruned to encourage sire-branches. The thin brown branches are all growth from this year (See annotated 2021 growth). The more greyish branches are older. Pruning back the new branches to the branch profile, leaving roughly 2 new buds on each branch results in a perfectly fine pad.
Looking from the optimal viewing angle at the tree, one branch seems to grow towards the trunk. This is branch “A” in the annotated image. If we were to remove this, we can wire branch “B” down and create a pleasant continuation of the flow of the main branch. Branch “B” has a small side-branch “B1”, grown in 2021, which I will keep around so that in future work we can trim back to this. For now, it helps to fill the profile.
Some fine pruning of larch bonsai
Next, I look through the branch I am working on, and search for all spots where more than 2 branches emerge at junctions, and reduce each junction to two. Here I focus on taper (Removing the thicker over the thinner branches) and internode distance (Tighter internodes are better). Later on, if only trimming this years’ growth is no longer sufficient to reduce the width of the tree, cut-backs will occur into older wood, where a side-branch becomes a main branch.
Wiring a larch bonsai
After the pruning and selecting of branches, it is time to wire. When building the basic canopy, I wire all young branches every 1-2 years. The reason is that the new growth is usually quite straight. All branches grow in their own space yet do not form a consistent pattern. After wiring, I try to horizontally place each branchlet in its own space, with limited direct overlap on branches short below. This to reduce shading out of the buds one level below. At the same time, in the vertical plane, I like to position young branches by first wiring them up a little, off the main branch plane, and then parallel to the main branch line, creating, seen from the optimal front, a puffed-up branch pad.
This article is part of the series of manuals with techniques for bonsai development