As always, Sean gave a terrific demonstration full of interesting and useful information on pines. He brought several examples, both field-grown and developed from young stock, and discussed the merits of both for the bonsai grower suggesting that growing a pine from a seeding might actually give a quicker result than correcting the often straight trunk of a field-grown tree.

Pines take longer than other trees to develop, perhaps 6-12 years, and consistency is the key to achieving a good result. It is a process, that repeated annually, develops excellent trees over time. The result of the application of the correct technique applied at the right time and repeated over time is clearly evident in Sean’s pines.

Japanese black pine

Sean works on his pines twice a year. In December he candle-cuts (red pines before black pines) and in June he needle plucks to five pairs of needles, assuming a healthy tree, over the whole tree to balance the tree’s energy. This may take one or two years to achieve.

A tree is only repotted if necessary. That is, only if the needles look unhealthy, the tree is popping out of its pot, or the pot is failing to drain properly. Repotting is done in July/ August. For a tree in refinement, this may take 10-15 years.

Sean starts fertilising in mid-September every 10 days, using a liquid fertiliser combined with 40mls of Seasol. He stops fertilising in December when he candle cuts so the collars of the new growth don’t get too long. He recommences fertilising in April and May and stops over winter.

The pine on the right was used for the demonstration

Sean chose the stock pine on the right to work on. It is an odd tree as it has both red and black pine foliage. Pluses for this tree were that it was part red pine, had good movement, exposed roots and no straight lines while the negatives were the black pine foliage (which would be a slow and tricky process to get rid of while maintaining the black roots) and the flatness to the roots.

Sean had already needle plucked strong buds back from 30-40 to 10-15 needles which will let light in and encourage growth. The more foliage a branch has, the more energy will flow there, so Sean left more needles on the lower branches to encourage strength. He also decided on an angle change (see photo) which would give better movement and nicely show off the roots. The black pine will go becoming a jin or shari and the apex will be around or below the exposed roots.

Red pines are notorious for snapping and even though Sean only wants a gentle bend in keeping with the other branches, he uses a ‘keyhole’ technique to achieve this rather than the riskier option of just heavy wire. A Dremel, with a tiny bit, is used to take little balls out of the branch. To avoid drilling right through Sean measures the branch and puts a piece of tape around the bit at the desired depth to show when to stop drilling. He drills straight, up and down and left to right to get a little ball shape hole. His plan was two keyholes but a third was needed.

Sean uses tape rather than raffia and applying enough pressure runs the tape in the same direction that he will wire. He uses copper wire for all conifers. Once wired, he uses both hands, twisting and bending as he goes until the branch has moved by about 40° to a more pleasing position. All remaining, useable branches are wired and placed.

Coarser branches were removed where there were nicer, smaller buds available. Sean won’t repot until July next year using a mix of 2 parts pumice, 1 part scoria, 1 part pine nuggets and 1/2- 1 coir.

A good start for this red pine

Going forward, Sean will try to get rid of the flatness in the roots by moving smaller roots up but for now the wiring and bending are done and its a good start.

The Process

Month Action
  January   No fertiliser
  February   No fertiliser
  March   No fertiliser
  April   Resume fertilising
  May   Fertilise
  June   Needle pluck
  Bud selection
  No fertiliser
  July   No fertiliser
  Repot (if necessary)
  August   No fertiliser 
  Repot (if necessary)
  September (mid)   Fertilise
  October   Fertilise
  November   Fertilise