You’ve seen the pictures in the books and magazines. Before decandling your Japanese black pines, divide the new growth into four categories of differing vigor. Below that simple instruction one will find a photo that resembles the following:
Spring growth as reported by the mainstream bonsai media
Actual spring growth
Our trees, however, tend to produce a much broader range of candles. And younger trees tend to produce even more vigorous growth. Short of counting needles on the new shoots, what is one to do?
Counting needles is a great way of managing balance in pines, but it is not necessary for determining which shoots to cut in any given week during the decandling season. Which, depending on where you live, is likely starting or finishing about now.
The first thing I do when sizing up spring candles is to see how many categories really stand out. Sometimes 90% of the new growth falls into two categories. In these years I’m likely to do two rounds of cutback. Other years the new growth takes all kinds of forms, as it did this year – hence the photo. These are the years I balance my free time with the tree’s need for balance to determine my course of action.
When it’s time to start cutting I try to focus on the candles that fall between categories. For each I ask, do I want this branch to be stronger or weaker? If stronger, I cut; if weaker, I wait until the next round.
What if you’re completing your spring decandling all in one day? You can apply the same criteria but use different techniques. Time is but one – other techniques include needle thinning and leaving different sized stubs at the base of each candle. Which of these techniques one uses is rarely as important as the application of the technique.
I have one more round of decandling and needle-pulling scheduled for this coming Thursday – we’ll see how it goes. Since the proof is in the pudding, I’ll likely have far more to say on the topic this fall when I see the result of all the clipping and plucking. Until then, I wish you all the best of luck with your scissors and tweezers.
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