Japanese black pine bonsai entails a set of refining techniques known as decandling. At its most simple, it refers to the process of removing spring growth to encourage summer growth. At its most complex it involves more variables than I can address in a single post. Regardless the approach, the goals remain the same – shorter needles, shorter internodes, greater ramification.
Hats off to Saichi Suzuki of Daiju En for mastering the technique and allowing black pine bonsai to gain refinement previously limited to white pines. As a result of his work, decandling is today a summer ritual for pine-growing bonsai practitioners around the world.
The number of black pines one has determines how busy one will be during decandling season. For while the basics are simple and quickly achieved, even a small pine like the tree below can require careful work on multiple occasions.
This year the tree sent out large and very large candles which led me to remove the new shoots in two groups ten days apart. I began by removing the weaker shoots.
After cutting the weaker shoots
This made for a funny looking tree. Ten days later I removed the more vigorous shoots – the remainder of the spring growth save for a few weak buds in the tree’s interior.
Removing the vigorous shoots
Seeing the number of shoots removed on a single day provides a good reminder for how stressful decandling can be for a pine. Unless a tree is in good health and has been fed well throughout the spring, decandling can hurt more than help. Because this tree is young and healthy I can expect it to produce a generous number of summer buds.
Simply removing the tree’s spring growth is easy. To further balance strong and weak branches and to allow more light into the tree’s interior, I removed extraneous needles from the stronger branches. Doing this work at decandling time does wonders for the tree’s balance and makes fall work easier.
After needle thinning
I’m fortunate that I only have a handful of trees that require decandling. What scares me is that I have a much larger number of young trees that will require decandling in a several years. To mitigate the increased decandling burden I’ll likely fall back on one of my favorite techniques – selling trees that I don’t have time to work on.
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