There is a whole school of thought in bonsai that less is more. The idea is that if you eliminate something from a tree you sometimes end up with a result that is more interesting and a better bonsai. On the other hand, it’s also possible that if you go cutting branches off willy nilly that you’re just going to end up with a bonsai that looks hacked up. Frequently, not only does the tree not look better, it actually looks worse.
I’m not much of a fan of bonsai by subtraction, which is what this is. As you may be able to tell from most of the posts on this blog, I tend to grow things into bonsai rather than chop them down into bonsai. While both approaches are valid, the chop-down approach seems to be an excuse to always be making large cuts followed by carving efforts to make a tree more compact and more powerful.
Some careful consideration is needed when eliminating large branches from trees, particularly when the tree is old or well established. There is what I like to call “the first-brancher”; which is a tree that has been cut back all the way to nothing but the first branch of the original composition. This frequently ends up producing a tree that is much simpler, but depending on the trunk movement, not necessarily more interesting.
This little pine had been sitting around my yard for a few months, one of a large batch of trees that I got all at the same time. I had previously offered it for sale to a few people but nobody seemed interested. The tree’s problem is that while there is some good trunk movement and an interesting nebari, the branching is too long to be a nice little compact informal upright. Grafting back foliage onto the larger old branches may have solved the problem, that would take a couple years to accomplish. Growing out a sacrifice branch to increase the trunk size also could have changed the proportions enough to make the tree significantly higher quality, that would take at least 2-3 years or perhaps 4-5 depending on the finished size. But, as I sat wiring the tree and bending the branches I suddenly decided that less would probably be more in the case of this tree.
After analyzing the low right branch and the top and finding them lacking I found myself staring at the second branch and the trunk line that lead to it. The tree seemed all of a sudden much much better than it had before. If you can make a tree drastically better than it was by eliminating something, then less is more!
It will take about 2-3 years to get the crown to look full, or perhaps longer. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is a better bonsai than what it was before! So, at least in this case, less is more!