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As promised, I’ve been working my way through the seasonal needle work on my black pines. Its a busy time of year for pines (as the title’s poor taste pun suggests) and can become a bit monotonous.

Endless thinning out, cutting back and de-wiring in preparation for next season growth and future styling is the order of the season. It’s not particularly glamorous work but necessary much like the bulk of bonsai care, the dramatic styling we all know and love really are a minor part of growing bonsai.

Of the two trees in this post, one was de-candled last season, the other was not. Can you guess which is which?

Not a whole lot to say that the pictures cant do on their own so I might leave this update brief. I have a bunch more to get through so expect some more updates in the coming weeks.

I was hoping to have a few more done but as is often the way, I got side tracked and began to re-wire on of the trees I was working (possibly a subject of a future post). As a result, it pushed back the other trees I need to clean up but we should be back on track shortly.

Trees below:

Been busy as per usual but I have managed time to fit in a couple of customer trees.

Below is a quick before and after of a black pine that needed teasing out of a sea of needles. A fun tree to style.



The after shot is a little lacking in quality but I am sure you get the idea.

After a day or so work.

After a day or so work.

As the days get cooler we slowly approach the time of year where I like to style conifers. This year is gearing up to be a big one for bonsai work as I have taken on a number of customers trees to be styled. Following on from the last Black Pine I worked on, I had the opportunity to work on a similar tree.

Before starting the work.

Before starting the work.

At least it looked similar before the work begun, but soon after the old needles were removed a new set of structural challenged presented themselves to be solved.

Old needles removed and ready for pruning and styling.

Old needles removed and ready for pruning and styling. (slightly rotated)

I decided to rotate the front slightly which brought up the issue of the first branch. That is it was now heading towards the rear of the tree so with the help of a screw in the trunk I was able to bend it forwards. This then set the base of the tree and the rest of the canopy could be built around it. The head was finally lowered and rounded out to create the final image.

After the work.

After the work.

Again this tree now needs a couple of years to grow into its new shape but even after the couple of weeks that passed between starting the job and finishing, new buds are beginning to form which should see this tree become show-able in the not too distant future.

Over the years while growing black pines I have always strived for more buds. Each year i tried to get back buds to form and most times I was successful although sometimes the tree I was working on would show signs of promise and then wave them in my face as it took them away again.

What am I talking about? I am sure you have all seen them; those small buds that form and give you hope, only to swell but never open, and then after a few seasons growth, wither and die.

A few of the buds in question.

A few of the buds in question.

As far as i can work out, these are needle buds and or weak adventitious buds that for what ever reason can never really get themselves into gear. Even after candle pruning the rest of the tree theses buds often still sit and do nothing. The most frustrating thing about these buds is they always seem to appear right where you want them which makes seeing them die all the more difficult.

I have tried a number of methods to awaken them but none have worked. I have had them in both shaded locations and spots where they get full sun, on bottom branches and in the apex, on strong growth and on weak. Nothing seemed to work no matter where they occurred or what I tried.

But there is still hope. At the convention a month ago Ryan Neil talked about these buds and passed on a technique I had not heard of before. He said these buds could be awakened by slightly damaging them with a scissor cut done at the same time you candle prune. That is to say that when you cut the candles, you also make a small incision into these sleeping buds. He said it was this damage that would trigger these buds to put out a flush of growth at the same time as the cut candles re-grow their second flush.

As we in winter at the moment I have not yet had the chance to try this method out, but I look forward to trying it this coming summer. Hopefully it is the answer to this annoying sleeping bud issue.


As the season rolls on I am slowly getting to the end of my needle work which in turn will mark the time to begin preparing the deciduous trees for winter.

The tree below is another that has been slowly developing over the years and with another wiring and another years candle pruning I think it will be close to exhibit-able.

The tree has appeared on the blog before HERE where you can see the progress it has made and the ramification it has gained. It also makes obvious just how much it needs a re-wire.

Before the work

Before the work

After a the needle plucking.

After a the needle plucking.

Yet another of my trees that desperately needs a re-wire, it will have to get into line behind all the others that I plan on doing this winter.

This weekend gone by I got some time to do some needle work on a few more trees. One of which has featured on this blog before. It’s a bit of a strange tree and people either like it, or want to cut off the first branch. I like the first branch and as a result i haven’t cut it off just yet and actually now the tree is filling in a little bit more I am beginning to like it more than I did at first.

Looking a little shaggy

Looking a little shaggy

Probably the part of blogging I am enjoying the most is how it has forced me to catalogue my trees as they progress.  If you look at this tree 2 years ago HERE you can see that the tree has really improved over that short time. Looking at it day to day on the benches it is easy to lose perspective and feel like the tree is not progressing. It is only when you see a picture from a year or two ago that you realise just how much it has changed.

Needles removed revealing nice, new, short growth.

Needles removed revealing nice, new, short growth.

I am very happy with the progress I have achieved with it over the last couple of years and hopefully if I can keep this momentum up for a few more the tree will be well on the way to being exhibit-able.

I doubt if this tree is ever going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I think that it is now on a path where it will grow into a convincing image.


Its been a good year for growth in my garden which is always a bit of a double edged sword. A good seasons growth means that all your trees will have progressed and built further to their structure, ramification etc. but with lots of growth comes lots of maintenance.

With my pines this work takes longer and longer times. As the trees ramify the number of shoots double each year in turn doubling the time it takes to maintain them. As trees become more dense fingers can no longer reach areas of the branching so tweezers are employed which again can slow things down a little.

Here in Australia we are beginning to slip into autumn and it is time to shoot prune the second flush of growth and do needle work on the pine’s remaining growth.

The first tree off the bench was THIS little black pine.

Before the work.

Before the work.

Finally it is beginning to look like it belongs in a bonsai pot. you can see in the before picture how nicely the needle length has come down compared to the long needles attached to candles that were not pruned in spring due to them being weak. These weak candles now have strong buds at their tips getting ready for next springs flush.

After removing old needles.

After removing old needles.

After a few hours work things begin to look a whole lot neater. The new length of the needles is much more suited to the trees size and over all the tree is beginning to look more in proportion.  Next step is a re-wire which I hope to complete some time this winter and then a re-pot into something a bit nicer.

It has been a busy couple of weeks. Autumn has begun and with it a range of seasonal tasks. I have been madly plucking Japanese black and Red pine needles. Here in Melbourne we have a convention coming up for which I have to prepare a few trees so I tried to get my needle work out of the way early on.

It took a long time this year. What hadn’t really dawned on me until now was that needle pruning takes more and more time each year. Now this is not a bad thing, its more a by-product of a successful technique. As ramification increases, so does the amount of needles you have to remove. Where last year I was removing needles from one candle there are now two candles at that location that need needles removed from them. Not only are there more needles to pluck, but also the space you have to pluck them in becomes more and more cramped forcing you to use tweezers to negotiate the cramped conditions.




2012 after needle plucking.

The above tree has wholly been grown in Australia and has come great leaps and bounds since I learnt how to properly care for it during my first trip to Japan. It is becoming a nice little tree although it is not perfect and it bears the marks of many of my early mistakes. That being said it has taught me a lot and although I have though about selling it on a couple of occasions I think now I would find it a little hard to part with. After all I have invested a huge amount of time into it.

Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when deciding on how large your collection should grow. How much time do you have, and will this time be enough to maintain your trees to a high level? Bearing in mind that as your trees improve and refine, in turn their maintenance times increase. I really enjoy growing pines but I am very aware of the time I have to spend on them each year. Needle plucking, pruning, wiring and candle work all add up. On a tree that is starting to get refined I am guessing I would be sending 6-10 hours on each of them over the year. When you add up all the pines you grow and then the time you spend on them, combined with the tasks you have for all other species you grow you begin to realise that there is a limit to how many trees you can look after to a high level. I lean towards keeping a smaller collection that is well maintained rather than a larger collection that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That said it is hard to turn down a good tree.


I had some time this weekend to work on one of my pines. This time i chose to re-wire a small Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii).

The tree in question had belonged to a member of one of the clubs I belong to. When i received the tree it was estimated to be around 30 years old. It had been a nice little tree, but the last few years before I received the tree it had become leggy and some wire had also been left in the apex which had caused some large swelling and scarring. As a result, I had to prune most of the branches back quite hard and also remove the damaged section of the apex and upper trunk which essentially shortened the tree by a third.

The first wiring happened in March 2009.

One of the first wirings. Before and after, March 2009.

The little pine responded well to heavy feeding and was re-potted into a better mix. It budded back quite well and was ready for another light wiring by April of 2010.

After wiring the tips out. April, 2010.

As you can see the apex still needs a lot of developement. After cutting the damaged upper trunk off in 2009, I had then had to re-build the apex from a single branch. It is a slow process to rebuild a crown but this little pine responded well and produced a number of buds where i needed them.

The tree slowly coming to shape. Pre-wire, first branch and then secondary branches wired.

Every year the ramification increases and I am able to remove problem branches and replace them with better growth. The apex has now taken shape and now needs to increase its ramification to fill out its silhouette.

After the latest wiring.

Looking at the above picture the shape of the tree becomes clearer, but i think it still has a way to go. I like the long first branch, but am still toying up whether or not to break the foliage mass up into a couple of pads or keep it as a single mass. This years wiring was not the final wiring the tree will see and was done to achieve two things. The first was to start to set the form of the branches a little closer to how I imagine their final positions and also to let more light into the interiors of the structure. By letting more light into the interior I should be able to strengthen weak inner buds and also encourage further back budding.

I hope that in a couple more seasons I should be able to even out the foliage density and have the tree ready for show.

It’s that time of the year again.

It’s a time of the year that I both look forward to and dread. Once you amass a certain number of pines you begin to realise just how much time you need to set aside to give each tree its seasonal maintenance. This year, I have moved house and as a result some of the trees I would have normally have worked on earlier in the month were left until now, so the back log of tasks compounded the time I needed to spend on them. That being said, once I began the work I really enjoyed getting to see  just how each tree had been growing over the season. When you thin needles you get to inspect very closely every branch of the tree and evaluate each new bud, needle and twig. You really get to know your trees while doing these tasks.

Why do you thin needles? You should thin needles at this time of year for a few reasons.

  • By removing last season needles you let more light and air into the canopy which in turn encourages back-budding.
  • By removing some of this seasons needles on strong areas you are able to balance strength across the tree foliage.
  • By removing surplus needles you also reduce the amount of places that insects and other pests are able to hide.

I like to think that needle reduction for pines works a little like defoliation does for deciduous trees. I figure that the pine realises it suddenly has less foliage and as a result sets new buds which will grow the following spring to replace the needles that you removed. As pines cannot simply grow new needles they have to throw new buds. Most of these new buds will be dormant buds back within the canopy. These are the buds you want. This back-budding is what will give you foliage to cut back to in the future and which will prevent branches becoming leggy.

This year I have left a few more pairs of needles then I usually may on some trees as I plan to re-pot them come spring and figure they could benefit from the extra strength more needles will provide.

A Formal upright Black Pine in the making. This image was taken prior to beginning needle thinning.

The same tree after thinning. It is still very much in developement but after a few years of work i hope to have a more complete looking tree.

This is another JBP from the same batch as the above pine. It has developed much better than the above pine. It avoided many of the mistakes the other tree had to endure as i was learning. Photo was taken before thinning.

The same tree after thinning. It needs the apex developed but otherwise is on the right track. I am also planning to graft a back branch or two into the upper section this spring which may be the topic of a future post.

I also thinned my large Radiata. I again left more needles on it that i usually might for two reasons. The first reason is because I will be re-potting it this spring and I want it to be strong. The second reason is because I am experimenting with leaving more foliage on it much like you would on a white pine. We will have to see how that works out.

A Radiata branch prior to thinning.

And the same foliage after a light thinning.

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