Looking across my benches last week I was struck by the very different speeds at which my pines were opening up. The differences seemed larger than usual this year. And I can’t blame pot size, fertilizer or the weather – not for the most part anyway.
The majority of my five-year-old pines had candles and cones like the following:
The candles had begun to elongate but very little green was showing. Needles on other trees were further along:
In this case I believe genetics accounts for most of the differences. The needles of tree #2 are farther away from each other than normal and they angle outward a bit more than normal. As each seedling is unique I expect this level of variation between trees.
Some of my more developed trees were much further along. The photo below is of a candle on a 15-year old pine, ten years older than the trees above and potted in a much shallower pot:
Why such a difference? Two items stand out. First, tree #3 wasn’t repotted this year. I’ve found that nothing slows down growth more than repotting, especially if the repotting is done late in the season. Second, tree #3 received more fertilizer than trees #1 & #2 over the past 12 months.
I try, each year, to repot my pines before they start moving, but invariably I finish after some candles have started moving. And while repotting a bit late can slow growth, repotting very late can inhibit all growth for a season. A number of years ago I repotted a few pines in May that didn’t move until the following year. No branches were lost, but the resulting growth pattern was funky.
Repotting late also cuts into your fertilizing. I usually wait 24-30 days after repotting before fertilizing. For black pines, repotting late cuts out a crucial month of fertilizing that can help trees recover from decandling. And for trees in development it cuts out fertilizer when the trees are most active. Much better to repot early and fertilize as much as possible.
Despite all this pine activity, there’s not a whole lot of work to do before decandling season. Breaking candles can be appropriate to help balance more developed trees, but for young trees I generally want all the growth I can get. Except for pine cones.
Young pine cones
Many of my young trees developed pine cones this year. As soon as they are big enough to pluck I remove then with a twist of my fingers – ideally just before they get as big as the ones pictured above.
Most of these cones are purple, however, this year I noticed that I have a tree with yellow-green cones. I don’t believe there’s anything special about this, but the cones do look cool:
Yellow-green pine cones
Pine cones can be a sign of stress on a tree, but generally not when vigorous growth is present. More indicative of stress is the presence of copious male flowers coupled with a lack of new growth. When trees sense they aren’t doing well they tend to throw what energy they have left into reproductive functions. I don’t worry about the cone to candle ratio below as the candles are quite large. That said, if I’d repotted earlier – and left more roots intact – these candles would be much further along.
Male “cones” or “flowers”
A sign of vigorous growth – and a far more exciting find in the garden – is the presence of compound candles:
Vigorous new growth
This tree exhibits several characteristics that are great for bonsai: vigor, density and straightness of needles, needles that grow close to the base of the candle, and dense budding habits. I’ll be tempted to let its cones mature some day as I’m interested in seeing if its seedlings exhibit the same characteristics.
Pine cones most commonly develop at the tips of candles, but it’s not always the case. It’s worth inspecting your trees closely for rogue cones:
One last place to check
After removing all of the cones at the tips of the candles I noticed that I’d neglected to remove several cones growing at the base of the new candles – or the tips of last year’s candles – where I’d usually expect to find male and not female cones growing.
Aha! a hidden pine cone.
I only found these on a few trees, but the find led me to more closely inspect all of my pines – always a good thing in the constant search for critters and subtle clues to the trees’ health.
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