Bonsai Tonight

Of red pines and black pines

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on July 22, 2014

I’ve found that mature red and black pines can sometimes be hard to tell apart. Leaf character and bark can vary wildly from specimen to specimen and many trees exhibit qualities associated with both varieties. Younger trees, however, are generally easy to distinguish. The black pines I’ve grown typically have straight, sturdy needles while the red pines frequently have needles that are less sturdy and less straight.

1-1/2 year-old pines

 1-1/2 year old black pine and red pine

The young black pines in my garden typically have darker green foliage than the young red pines, though I often see the opposite in older specimens.

2-1/2 year-old pines

2-1/2 year old black pine and red pine

Needle growth often appears more compact in black pines than in red pines.

3-1/2 year-old pines

3-1/2 year-old black pine and red pine

Much of this difference disappears when the trees are decandled, but when left alone, the varieties can often be distinguished by silhouette alone.

3-1/2 year-old pines

Black and red pines

One of the best ways to distinguish the varieties is to check bud color. Red pine buds are typically red.

Red pine buds

Red pine buds

Black pine buds are, counterintuitively, white.

Black pine buds

Black pine buds

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Developing black pine – setting the first curves

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on July 18, 2014

When developing bonsai from scratch – from seed or from very young stock - the first order of business is creating the trunk. This is easier said than done. Some of the very first curves are set when the tree is still young. For black and red pine, I’ve been applying the first wires at around 3 or 4 years old (see “Wiring 3 year-old black pines”). When wiring such young trees, I tend to use larger gauge wire as it doesn’t cut into the bark as quickly as thin gauge wire. Given enough time, however, the wire will cut in. And as young pines can grow quickly, care is required to ensure the wire doesn’t stay on too long.

How much is too much? I left the wire on the young pine below on a bit longer than I wanted. The wire had been in place for around 5 months.

Wire digging in

Wire cutting into the bark

A bit of cutting in is good as it helps set branches, but at some point too much cutting in can kill branches, or at least make them unsuitable for bonsai. Smaller scars don’t cause problems as they typically disappear as the trunk thickens.

After removing the wire

Scars left by leaving the wire on too long

I have a number of pines around the same age.

Young pine

4-year-old black pine

The wire here is cutting in but not too much.

Wire digging in

Wire cutting in

Removing the wire at this stage is easy. Here’s the trunk after removing the wire.

After removing the wire

After removing the wire

After removing the wire

Ready for more fertilizer and a return to the bench

When applying or removing bonsai wire, it’s important to apply (or remove) the wire with one hand and secure it with the other. This is especially true when the wire cuts in deeply. If not removed with care, the wire can tear through young bark and open large wounds.

Young pine

Another 4-year-old pine

Young pine

Both the trunk and the first branch have been wired

I usually secure the wire with my left hand and wind or unwind it with my right. Below, I’m securing the wire with my left hand so my right can unwind the wire about 180 degrees. At that point I’ll lower my left hand and secure a bend closer to the soil. From that position I can unwind the wire another 90-180 degrees. I continue re-securing the wire bend by bend until I reach the soil line and the wire comes free.

Securing the wire

Securing the wire

After removing the wire, I reapply fertilizer and return the trees to the bench. I’ll work on them next in fall or winter.

Young pines

Flat of young pines

A number of my 4-year-old pines were a bit larger and are already growing in colanders.

Young pine

4-year-old pine in colander

I followed the same process for these trees.

Wire digging in

Wire – copper in this case – beginning to cut in

After removing the wire

After removing the wire

This one tree had been wired with copper as I worked on it just before my last trip to Japan. Once in Japan, I saw examples of trees developed the same way with aluminum wire. It’s a cheaper material with a larger diameter making it just perfect for the job.

After removing the wire

Ready for the bench

Once that tree was done, I worked my way through the rest of the pines on the bench, removing all of the wires that were cutting in. When the wires weren’t cutting in, I left them in place. I’ll check these trees again next month and hold off on removing the wire until it’s begun to cut in.

Young pines

Young pines

 

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How to not make seedling-cuttings

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on July 15, 2014

I started my first batch of black pine bonsai from seed over 20 years ago. Most of these trees have been developed using the seedling-cutting technique. This year, I’m foregoing the technique and letting the seedlings grow freely for a change.

Pine seedlings

Black pine seedling – July 2014

Striking cuttings from seedlings can simplify the process of producing even root growth. This year I’m aiming to produce trees with uneven root growth. The idea is that natural root growth guided by selective pruning during repotting can also produce great surface roots. As I’ve often worked with seedling-cuttings, I’m looking forward to learning what differences, if any, working with non-seedling cuttings entails.

Pine seedlings

Black pine seedlings

The inspiration for letting the young trees grow freely this year? My visit to Miyakonojou this past winter. During this visit, I found evidence that great trees can be produced without the technique. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Developing young pine bonsai

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on July 11, 2014

Have you ever found yourself unsure about a young tree’s future? Me too. As young pines transition from trunk development to branch development, the main focus is on slowing the tree down and increasing branch density. I begin this process by decandling the tree and removing extraneous branches. I don’t need a final plan at this point, but the more I know about the tree’s future, the better.

Young black pine

10-year-old black pine – before decandling

Young black pine

After removing the spring growth

Next, I thinned out branches where three or more emerged from the same spot and shortened those that extended beyond the tree’s basic outline.

Young black pine

After removing unnecessary branches

As the foliage was still fairly dense in some areas, I removed extra needles to allow more light and air to reach the tree’s interior.

Young black pine

After removing needles where the foliage was dense

I left the long branch on top as I haven’t completely decided what I want to do with the trunk. I’ll revisit the decision this fall.

I followed the same process of removing spring growth and thinning unnecessary branches on a number of 10-year-old trees.

Young black pine

Black pine – before

Young black pine

After decandling and cutback

Young black pine

Before

Young black pine

After

One of the more fun trees from this batch was created by letting the roots grow through course rocks for several years (See “Repotting 1 year-old black pines” for details). Here’s the tree before decandling and cutback.

Young black pine

10-year-old exposed root black pine

Young black pine

After decandling

Young black pine

After cutback – front #1

The other side of the tree could also provide a compelling front.

Young black pine

Front #2

I’ll select one of these fronts or the other when I repot the tree this winter.

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