A look at Black Pine strength – Spring Growth

Posted by on Apr 27, 2016 | 4 Comments
A look at Black Pine strength – Spring Growth

One of the things that I often say is: a tree must be healthy if you expect it to react to bonsai work in a predictable way. Assessing health in plants can be relatively straight forward in some cases, and more difficult in others. The more of a particular species you have the more comparison you can make, broadening your knowledge by illustrating the breadth of possibilities.

For Japanese Black Pine I find that spring growth elongation is one of the best indicators of overall plant health. There is a lot of nuance to be gleaned from the way that a tree sends out growth, particularly if you have dozens or even hundreds of examples to look through.

Seedling growth and top growth on young trees with sacrifice branches will often be the most vigorous. I remember seeing Jim Gremel walk into a BIB meeting one Tuesday years ago with what looked like a five-foot long walking stick covered in pine needles. He flopped it on the table and asked Boon if that’s what he meant by candle cutting. Black pine growth in the ground, where his tree was growing, can be exceptionally vigorous. In a container it will be slower but can still vary greatly among individual trees.

A bunch of four year old pines.   These vigorous vertical branches will mostly be sacrifice.   The important branching is below.   These trees are obviously quite healthy.

A bunch of four year old pines. These vigorous vertical branches will mostly be sacrifice. The important branching is below. These trees are obviously quite healthy.

A three year old in a pond basket.   The largest candle will be the sacrifice branch while the other two may be decandled to start some tight growth.   This tree is healthy but young.

A three year old in a pond basket. The largest candle will be the sacrifice branch while the other two may be decandled to start some tight growth. This tree is healthy but young.

In its eleventh growing season this tree has put on a vigorous flush of growth.   The candles are about 2-3 inches long and have needles already extended; this tree will definitely need decandling this year.

In its eleventh growing season this tree has put on a vigorous flush of growth. The candles are about 2-3 inches long and have needles already extended; this tree will definitely need decandling this year.

A moderately healthy branch.  The long needles tell us that it was not decandled last year.   This growth is not explosive, so could be kept to create a branch extension, but it will likely be decandled to keep the tree compact.

A moderately healthy branch. The long needles behind the spring growth tell us that it was not decandled last year. This growth is not explosive, so could be kept to create a branch extension, but it will likely be decandled to keep the tree compact.

An older tree that i just acquired may be the best contrast to the rest of the healthier trees.   The branch elongation on the apex is minimal.   It is unlikely that I will decandle the tree this year.

An older tree that i just acquired may be the best contrast to the rest of the healthier trees. The branch elongation on the apex is minimal. It is unlikely that I will decandle the tree this year.

A closeup of the bud.   Note how the needles have barely begun to elongate.

A closeup of the bud. Note how the needles have barely begun to elongate.

All the images in this post were taken on the same day, offering a glimpse into what it was like to walk around the garden examining different trees. The last two photos show a tree that has not had the resources to put on good growth. A season of sun, fertilizer and consistent watering will do a great deal to alleviate the problem.

Finally, notice anything odd about this branch?   This is an older tree that was decandled last year, perhaps despite my best judgement.   The branch is growing at all the tips, but many of the buds have put out growth that is so compact that only a few pairs of needles are being produced.   This tree will most likely not be decandled this year.

Finally, notice anything odd about this branch? This is an older tree that was decandled last year, perhaps despite my best judgement. The branch is growing at all the tips, but many of the buds have put out growth that is so compact that only a few pairs of needles are being produced. This tree will definitely not be decandled this year.

4 Comments

  1. Maurizio
    April 27, 2016

    Wonderful walk through your garden — thanks for the photos of each of these, helps delineate the varying levels of growth strength.

  2. Carter Beall
    May 5, 2016

    What method of decandling do you use? I was thinking of doing the method involving removing the weakest ones first, then a few weeks later, the strongest ones.

  3. Eric Schrader
    May 7, 2016

    I think you’re wise to try that technique. The stub technique is difficult to execute properly. With either timing or stubs you can also use selective needle reduction to further the balance between branches.

    Keep in mind that decandling is only for strong trees and only for trees where you want to develop branching. If you’re growing a trunk, decandling will be counter productive except where you need to keep side branching short.

    Good luck.

    • Carter Beall
      May 8, 2016

      Ok thanks. I am working on an old mature, but vigorous tree that I was given when I started bonsai. I will cut the first candles in a week or two (they are about 3+” long now).