Pinus parviflora/Japanese White Pine Bonsai Progression Series by T. Riley

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Japanese White Pine

This last summer (2006) was another real scorcher in the southern UK but the tree did well with just a light watering every day sitting in 80 deg F plus temperatures in full sunlight for 4-5 weeks straight.

In keeping with the development methodology outlined above, I did no general candle pinching at all during the 2006 growing season but did remove 2 or 3 massive shoots near the top of the tree.

I had a holiday in early September leaving the watering to younger family members. I moved everything to the shadier side of the garden in the shadow of a shrub border with instructions to soak everything with a fine hose mist every other day. I was please to find all my trees healthy and well on my return.

During October I removed a lot of yellowing needles that I recognised as 3 year old needles further back from the branch ends that were dying off and that should have been plucked off last winter.

As this year’s time (2006) for “pruning and plucking” drew nearer I was seeing more possibilities for the tree. I’d benefited from intense Bonsai forum activity, personal research and also an all day visit with Harry Harrington during August where we discussed, inter alia, wiring, and creating the illusion of foliage and branching on shohin trees.

The oval pot and the angle at which the emergency re-pot had been done were clearly not showing off the tree to its best advantage. After 2 years I had also started to get some back budding on older wood with new shoots that needed to be exposed to light and air in order to develop.

White Pine backbudding

In November 2006 I completely unwired the tree and removed all the guy wires. I pruned off a few over-long branch ends and the tufty topknot of an apex. For the first time I really did some serious needle pulling on the strongest shoots near the top of the tree and the ends of the strongest major branches.

After I did the best wiring job I’ve ever done on virtually every shoot, a few turns on the turntable and a bit of propping up made it apparent the tree would look better sitting up straighter and rotated slightly as shown in the pictures below.

Japanese White Pine

I had found out via Harry Harrington on the Bonsai Site Forum that the Bonsai Today Masters series book on Pines was available in the UK so I ordered it up from Kaizen Bonsai and began to read avidly. The photographs showing the needle pulling operation were particularly enlightening.

This gave me the additional confidence I needed to do even more needle pulling. I refined the wiring a little more to tidy up a few stray shoots and slipped it into another pot that I purchased with this tree in mind earlier in the year and took the photo below.

Japanese White Pine

Although this is by no means the “finished article” it is certainly becoming more like a Japanese White Pine bonsai although barely a foot high (30cm) from the pot rim.(shohin size)

The more extensive needle plucking has opened the tree out and we can just start to see the beginnings of a visible branch structure rather than a jumble of needles.

The more rounded top has matured the tree somewhat and the initial trunk angle from the pot with the subsequent movement to the right, forward slightly and then up does give some immediate visual interest I feel. The “frying pan handle” rear branch is now more under control and gives the tree some visual depth even in the photo.

The pot is about the correct depth. Something a bit plainer in style, slightly narrower, a tad more shallow and nearer to the trunk colour will probably be better eventually.

I added a line of moss along the front edge of the pot for the photo. There’s not tremendous nebari down there but there’s no faults either and maybe it should be shown off.

There is still too much foliage on the tree giving it very cuddly feel and the needles are comparatively large for such a small specimen. The foliage needs to more sparse and impressionistic and I’ll need to learn how to achieve that.

Walter Pall has a well known 100 year old Pinus Sylvestris ( Scots Pine) very much in the style I would like to aspire to . (see below)

Scots Pine by Walter Pall

Scots Pine by Walter Pall

In keeping with my “one season at a time” approach, I will wait until next November before really tackling this tree again. By then I may really have the confidence to reduce the needles down to 5 or 6 pairs on each shoot and see what happens.

T Riley
Dec 2006

Thanks to Harry Harrington, Vance Wood and Walter Pall for their assistance.

Appendix

Japanese White Pine

Suggested Personal Care Guide – for UK Zone 7-9

Please note that this care plan is aimed at trees in development – not show-ready bonsai.

Soil Initial mix was 60 % old soil and 40% medium akadama. I am now using Tesco Premium Lightweight Cat Litter (Kittydama) which is super hard clay balls along with Akadama in a 40% Akadama 40% Kittydama 20% old soil mix by volume. I have added a small handful of composted bark (soil conditioner) on occasion but am omitting this now.
Watering
Water thoroughly with a light spray when the tree needs it and check it every day between April and October. I use a small, very fine rose watering can and often water daily in high summer but not if there has been recent rain. In the usually very wet UK winter I don’t water at all between November and March probably and sometimes protect the tree with a plastic cover in times of extreme rain.
Fertilizer 2 rapeseed cakes per 9 x 6 inch (22.5 x 15cm pot) starting in March changing them every month to 6 weeks. Add 2–3 slow release general-purpose cones in the pot corners – I’m using Osmocote. Miracid every other month at half strength. An inert soil mix based on Akadama, hard fired cat litter and/or grit will need regular fertilizer.
Pruning Hard prune in November to remove unwanted branches and over- strong or unwanted shoots. Think carefully before you remove anything and have an end design in mind. What is an out of place shoot now - may become a branch of the future or can be wired into position. (see diagram below)
 
Pruning Japanese White Pine
Candle pinching No full-scale candle pinching in spring or summer. Remove wildly out of place and downward pointing candles if you can’t resist. Spring and summer candle pinching becomes more important for developed trees to maintain shape.
Needle Pulling
Pull out bundles of needles on strong shoots near the top of the tree and at branch ends to leave at least 5 or 6 bundles minimum on the strongest shoots. These can also be cut off with sharp nail scissors leaving about 2mm of needle as a stub. Leave more needles on weaker shoots further back on the branch. (see diagram)
 
Needle Pulling Japanese White Pine
Bud Pruning After pruning and needle pulling aim to leave 2 buds in each position. Leave 2 weak buds on strong branch shoots and 2 strong buds on weak branch shoots Protect anything that looks like a bud further back on the branches.
Wiring I do my major wiring in winter taking care not to dislodge or damage latent or new buds where possible. Do your wiring after needle plucking to get a clear picture

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