The transition from spring to summer marks the middle of decandling season, the time of year when we remove spring shoots from black pines to produce more compact summer growth. If a tree is healthy and received a lot of fertilizer in spring, it’s a good candidate for decandling. Based on this criteria, the black pine below made a good candidate this year.
Black pine before decandling – tea bags are filled with cottonseed meal
I removed all but the weakest shoots to give them a chance to catch up with the more vigorous ones.
Black pine – after decandling
My large cork bark pine is healthy but not all areas of the tree are vigorous. As a result, I decandled the strong areas and left the weaker areas alone.
Cork bark black pine – before decandling
After decandling the strong areas
Decandling select areas of a tree can yield funny results as the spring needles will be long, the summer needles, short. I don’t typically take this approach, but am curious to see how it goes. It will take at least one more year after this year to produce even growth so I expect to be living with uneven growth for a while.
For those curious about my visits to so many Kyushu bonsai gardens, the answer is simple – Daisaku Nomoto. In addition to hosting the Kyushu portion of my recent visit to Japan, long-time friend and teacher Nomoto designed an itinerary to suit my interest in developing bonsai from scratch. So instead of visiting some of the top collections in the area, we focused on a handful of the more interesting gardens where I could see development techniques up close and ask whatever questions came to mind. This very thoughtful planning made for a outstanding visit – for this, thank you Daisaku!
Of course, many of these visits focused on techniques for developing black pine bonsai. Nomoto, who apprenticed with Kihachiro Kamiya, is well-known for his pine work. Here are some of the black pines at his Miyazaki nursery, Nomoto Chinshou-en.
Daisaku Nomoto with a cascade black pine at Nomoto Chinshou-en
It was fun to see the pines in Nomoto’s nursery after visiting so many different pine growers. Many of these pines were still under development, though most were further along than the trees we’d seen elsewhere.
Young black pine
The pines ranged from big to small, including a number of shohin.
Shohin black pine
Shohin black pine
Shohin black pine
Small black pine
Medium-sized black pine
Large black pine
There were also a number of pine projects, including grafted cork bark and Kotobuki black pines.
Cork bark pine
Young Kotobuki black pine
Exposed root black pine
As is typical of nurseries belonging to bonsai professions, many of the better pines in the garden belonged to Nomoto’s customers. With the rest, Nomoto is free to do as he wishes. And as there’s never enough time to give every tree one’s full attention, even the brief tour of the nursery provided Nomoto time to reflect about future plans for a number of the trees in his garden, including the interesting pine below.
Nomoto considers a pine’s future
In addition to black pines, Nomoto Chinshou-en was full of different varieties – more on these next week.
I’ve been growing black pines in colanders for years. Thanks to Bonsai Today issue #20 and Boon Manakitivipart, many enthusiasts have been doing the same. Sizes are convenient, drainage is great, and the cost is reasonable. I have yet to find pots that make it easier to keep black pines healthy.
In general, I’ve grown pines in colanders until the trunks reached the desired size. At this point, I’d transplant the trees into ceramic pots made for bonsai and get to work developing the branches.
I began to think twice about this approach after my recent visit to Mr. Iwakiri’s garden. Iwakiri keeps his pines in colanders throughout the entire development process. Based on his results, it’s hard to argue that more formal pots are necessary to produce outstanding bonsai.
Young black pine in colander
A slightly more developed pine
Even further development – the small-sized tree begins to take shape
What most stood out to me is the quality of the bark on some of the older trees. Container-grown pines can produce great bark.
I was also surprised to see how large some of the trees were in relation to the size of the colander. As long as the trees get enough water, a surprisingly small pot can support a lot of tree.
Large tree in colander
In the corner of Iwakiri’s garden was an almost 8′ pine in a surprisingly small colander. The colander sat in a saucer that held runoff from watering. Near the base of the saucer was a chopstick protruding from a small hole. During extended periods of rain, Iwakiri could remove the chopstick to prevent the roots from sitting in water for too long.
The one colander-related technique of which I’m not a big fan is the double colander approach. Simply planting a tree – colander and all – into a larger colander is a simple and fast way to provide more space for roots with very little effort. Up until it’s time to repot anyway. Having clawed through thick roots and plastic fragments from the inner colander in the past, I prefer to remove the inner colander before setting the rootball in a new, larger, container.
If all of this isn’t enough to trigger some curiosity about growing bonsai in colanders, I’ll finish with two last trees, each around 32 years old, developed by Iwakiri. Not bad for a hobbyist.
Black pine in colander
Is there a way to determine whether or not my wiring is suitable for creating the bonsai in my mind’s eye? Yes! I learned about it in Mr. Iwakiri’s garden. Iwakiri recommends modeling the trunk line before wiring actual trees. He demonstrated the idea with newspaper and aluminum wire.
The idea is to create a mock-up of candidate trunk bends and then build up the model to the desired thickness of the future trunk to evaluate the success of the initial bends. Many bends look great on skinny trees but look funny or sometimes disappear entirely as the trunk thickens. Iwakiri recommends starting with a simple model, taking a photo of the model, and then adding clay or paper mâché to simulate the girth of the future trunk. The photos come in handy, he says, as it can be hard to remember what the bends look like beneath the clay.
Paper and wire represent the young trunk – the tea bottle is closer to the eventual thickness of the trunk
Mr. Iwakiri considers how to bend the model trunk
Iwakiri has put the technique to good use. Here’s a young tree he’s been developing for 30-40 years. Branch work has begun only recently.
Black pine in development