The basic idea of sacrifice branches is a simple one: develop sacrifice branches in order to thicken the trunk and then remove them when the trunk reaches the desired thickness.
The application of this idea is where things can get tricky, so let’s start with a simple example.
My goal for the pine below has been to develop a trunk with interesting movement but little taper. To achieve this, I let a single sacrifice branch grow from a spot near the future apex while maintaining relatively low branches that can be used to fill in the future silhouette.
Japanese black pine – 14-years old
The sacrifice branch has been growing freely for about 7 years. During this time, the trunk grew to its current thickness. Because I am satisfied with the diameter of the trunk, I removed the sacrifice branch.
After removing the sacrifice branch
From this point forward, my strategy for developing the tree will shift from growing the trunk to refining the branches. This is where techniques such as branch thinning, needle plucking and decandling come into play.
I began this refinement work by shortening two of the larger branches on the tree in an effort to encourage new growth closer to the trunk.
After shortening the branch
I did the same thing on a second branch by removing the long shoots and leaving several smaller ones closer to the trunk.
Branch to be shortened
Those few cuts are the extent of the work I’ll do on the tree this season. Now would be an appropriate time to wire the branches I want to work with, but since the spring buds have started elongating, I’m better off wiring them later in the year.
Spring work complete – 13″ after cutback