Trident Maples

By Neil Padbury

Shibui Bonsai Nursery

Originally from China and Japan, the Trident maple is not as popular as the Acer Palmatum (the popular Japanese Maple Bonsai), but without doubt very suitable for Bonsai purposes. Besides differing growth patterns the Trident maple can be distinguished by its 3-lobed leaves (as opposed to the 5-lobed leaves of the Acer Palmatum).

Its leaves are (dark) green, and color red and orange in autumn. The tree is strong and can take aggressive pruning/styling very well.

Excerpt from Bonsai Empire


  • You can grow tiny, small, large trident maples

  • They develop really well compared to other trees used for bonsai

  • Most styling is upright.

  • Trident maples are very hardy.

  • Deciduous trees do have broken branches and cracked wood in real life

  • Root over rock. Trident maple roots grow pretty quickly.

  • Multiple trunks can be very successful.

  • Grafting can be completed successfully.

  • Group style forests can be grown very successfully with trident maples.

  • Bonsai can be grown from maple seed.  Does take some time however.

  • Can start from seedlings

  • Trident maples are a tough tree and very fecund.

  • Japanese maples respond to similar approach but their development is more problematic.  Twice as difficult to grow.  Trident maple is more user friendly to grow as bonsai.

Care and maintenance

  • Keep very young plated seedlings in nursery situation to ensure regular watering and growth in Summer.

  • Can plant seedlings in ground, then dig up and prune.  Stimulates growth!!  Leads to root ramification and great nebari.


  • Never cut the top too hard. Cut base branches hard.

  • Best time to trim is early Winter when trees have lost their leaves.  Also root work.

  • Cut the top off plant and side branches will develop.

  • Annually trim roots and also top of tree.  When roots are severely trimmed, tree will send out new roots.  Cut off roots growing downwards.

  • Ongoing root trimming leads to great nebari development.

  • Set the initial branches with wire and let them grow for the year.  Then cut back.

  • Avoid wire on growing trees.  Neil prefers to prune in order to shape in the early stage.  Because trees grow quickly, the wire can quickly become embedded in tree and scar tree.

  • Use a small circular metal plate (ex road sign) through which to grow maple seedling in order to increase root development as tree is “strangled”.   Eventually, remove metal plate once roots have established. Creates lots of horizontal roots and a flared, bulging trunk base.

  • Twin trunks can be developed using a plate with 2+ holes.  Trunks will eventually grow together.  Same with clump style// more holes in plate.  eg. 7 holes/7 seedlings.

  • Retain the growing branches that have shorter internodes.  

  • Keep air away from tree cut wound with either putty, cut paste, acrylic paint or foil.


  • Nebari is really important.  Desirable to have the roots going out, not down.

  • Trees need very few roots to stay alive.  Can be trimmed right back and they will grow.

  • Plant well developed trimmed trees in grow beds during Winter.  They will be dormant in Winter.  In Spring, dig up and reassess tree in terms of showing promise or not.

  • Starting with trident maple cut off roots.  Side roots will develop.

  • Plant seedling on an angle to start development of curve.  We don’t need telegraph poles!  Bend is needed.

  • Neil plants all seedlings in one general potting mix.  No different mixes for different species!  Custom mix of 70% pine bark + 20% propagated sand + 10% ... made at Yarra Glen.


  • Prefer slightly acidic soil. Must be well drained and have fibrous roots.

  • Neil feeds plants but reduces size of grow pots in order to support reduction of nutrient uptake in order to create shorter internodes.

Nicole DentonTrident, Maple