Bonsai Tonight

Decandling – how late is too late?

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on October 31, 2014

Getting the timing right when decandling is as much art as science – or so it can seem. While it can be tough to determine the ideal time to decandle a tree upfront, in hindsight it’s usually pretty clear what went right or wrong (see When to Decandle for details).

When the proper time to decandle has come and gone, the options are to put off decandling until the following year or to decandle late and see what happens. As I’m often busy during decandling season, it’s not uncommon for me to decandle pines on the late side, and this year I was more behind than usual. For most of the trees that missed the cutoff, I left the spring growth alone. For a few others, however, I decandled late to see what would happen.

In general, I can decandle healthy young pines in mid-June.

Black pine

Decandled 6/22

Black pine

Summer growth – 10/29

In some cases, I was able to postpone decandling without many consequences. I decandled the pine below two weeks later on July 7.

Young black pine

Decandled 7/6

Black pine - decandled 7/6

Summer growth – 10/29

Possibly giving the tree an extra reason to push, I removed a large, cascading branch when I decandled. The remaining stub is now covered with small buds.

Black pine

Dense growth

With other trees I was less lucky. I decandled the pine below around the same time as the tree above.

Black pine

Summer growth – 10/29

As you can see, no summer shoots appeared. This case is a bit different from the trees above in that it has several large escape branches.

Black pine

Escape branches

Typically, trees with escape branches aren’t decandled as escape branches are designed to encourage vigorous growth and decandling aims to slow down growth. The tree above is a poster child for not decandling trees with escape branches.

Where does the energy that drives summer growth go in these cases? Often it’s diverted into the escape branches.

Young black pine

Decandled July 7

Black pine - decandled 7/6

Summer growth – 10/29

Instead of producing summer shoots where I decandled, the tree produced summer shoots on the escape branch. The branches I cut, meanwhile, set plenty of buds for next year.

Black pine

Little summer growth

Strong buds

Healthy buds for next year

Of course, I decandled the above pine on the late side – July 7. I decandled a similar pine with a large escape branch that is twice its age – 20 years old instead of 10 years old – a month earlier. This tree came out fine.

Black pine - after decandling

Decandled June 7

Black pine - decandled 6/7

Summer growth – 10/29

Summer buds

Posted in Bonsai Development by Jonas Dupuich on July 25, 2014

When decandling pines throughout decandling season – late spring and early summer where I live – at any given time one can find summer buds at many different stages of development. The most recently decandled trees in my garden are barely showing signs of summer growth, while some of the first trees I decandled now have quite large shoots.

Some of these shoots sprang from adventitious buds, others from needle buds. I typically decandle pines to stimulate adventitious buds – the buds that emerge from the stub left behind after making the cut.

Adventitious buds

Adventitious buds

Needle buds usually show up after decandling when pines are extra vigorous. Needle buds are new shoots that emerge between needles.

Needle buds

Needle bud

Needle buds

Needle buds flanking an apical bud

Removing the most vigorous spring shoots can yield a profusion of buds.

Summer buds

Profusion of buds

Rather than thin the buds at this stage, I’ll leave them alone and consider removing the entire branch in fall to slow down growth.

Summer buds

Lots of summer growth

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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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