Although trees normally grow to tall sizes in outdoor landscapes, a few make nice tabletop plants. The Asian art of bonsai regulates the size and appearance of average trees, making them into dwarfed versions of larger specimens. Specific types of trees, including the Japanese red maple tree, work well for this art. Through careful pruning and training, these Japanese red bonsai trees resemble picturesque miniatures of larger, mature specimens found growing in nature.
Train only small, healthy Japanese red maple seedling. Do not use landscaping trees in large containers. These plants require early root constriction at a young age. Seedlings less than two years old readily respond to bonsai pruning and training. Use one with uniform growth, plenty of side shoots and a strong, sturdy trunk.
Prune the branches of your bonsai before transplanting it into your shallow container. Look for the natural direction of the branches and trunk when designing your bonsai shape. Draw a quick sketch of your desired result to use as a pattern. Start pruning near the lower portion of the trunk. Use a concave cutter to prune your bonsai. Look for this special bonsai tool at large nursery and florist shops. Cut off the upright branches and ones that grow inward. Leave two or three staggered, side branches. Do not leave branches opposite one another on the trunk.
Wire your bonsai to attain your desired shape. Push a piece of sturdy, flexible wire into the soil near the base of the trunk. Begin winding the wire in a spiral around the trunk at a 45-degree angle outwards. This will cause the vertical trunk to grow in this direction. Make your spirals about 1/4 inch apart. Leave this wire in place for the first year of growth. Prune the remaining branches to make the upper ones a little shorter than the lower ones.
Plant your bonsai in its permanent container in the fall, after the leaves fall from this deciduous tree. Use a shallow bonsai pot with large drainage holes. Cover the large holes with a piece of screening fabric to keep the fine particles from falling out. Purchase the screening fabric from a hardware store. Place a shallow layer of coarse potting soil over the screen. Place the bonsai's rootball on the soil and fill in the area around the rootball with the coarse soil. Allow about 1/2 to 1/4 of an inch of space between the soil and the rim of the pot.
Place your bonsai in a slightly shaded area. These trees thrive in areas with filtered sun or light shade. Do not set it in a southern window with bright, hot sunlight or in an area with fluctuating temperatures.
Water your Japanese red maple regularly. Keep it slightly moist during its active growing season. Reduce the frequency of watering when your bonsai goes through its dormant stage, watering only after the surface of the soil becomes dry. Continue shaping your bonsai tree by lightly pruning it every fall or winter, after the leaves fall. Cut out excessive side branches and bushy growth to encourage your desired shape.
Fertilize your bonsai about once a month during the growing season. Use a slow release fertilizer formulated for use on small deciduous trees such as your Japanese red maple tree. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for applying the correct amount of fertilizer for your small tree. Do not fertilize your bonsai tree during its dormant stage.