For the first time in a long time I did something special – I bought a new tree. I’ve had my eye on this white pine for maybe 8 years. I first saw after it had been purchased by a Bay Island Bonsai member. For a number of years the tree did well until its owner moved from Santa Cruz to Las Vegas. The excessive desert heat took its toll and several years later the tree returned to Boon’s garden to recuperate. After several years characterized by little new growth, the tree came out quite vigorously this year – enough so to make me confident that it would soon regain its original vigor.
The timing was good for me. Just one week later Akio Kondo held an all-day workshop – a perfect opportunity to learn how I should help this tree along the road to recovery. Here is what the tree looked like before getting started.
Japanese white pine
The tree had already lost several low branches and the lowest remaining branches were very weak. Years ago the tree was full enough to resemble a green gumdrop. Clearly the tree will take on a different character when it comes time for its first restyling. The first task, however, is ensuring that the tree is healthy and the growth balanced. Toward this end, my first task was removing the dead needles.
Branch with old needles
After removing last year’s needles
When Kondo first looked at the tree he gently tapped the underside of a few branches and found that a number of small brown bracts fell into his hand. He told us that when these bracts fall it’s time to work on white pine. He also pulled a few old needles to see if they bled. Since they didn’t it was safe for me to pluck rather than cut the old needles.
A weak branch
Weak branch after pulling old needles
Kondo instructed me to leave some of the second year needles on the weaker branches. The very weakest were cut. The odds these branches would strengthen enough to bud back or support a graft were slim to none – better to cut now and focus on the healthier branches.
After pulling old needles
The tree started to look good after pulling the old needles. What became clear at this point was that the top of the tree was much stronger than the lower branches. To balance the tree, Kondo removed strong buds whenever he could cut back to weaker ones and had me remove current year needles to further balance these strong areas.
New growth – the bundle on the left is far stronger than the one on the right
After removing some of this year’s needles
Because the new needles are active this time of year, I cut instead of pulling them to minimize the stress to the branches.
And that was it. Because the tree is still weak it is too soon to wire, graft or do anything more radical than simple clean-up and needle work. As I’m anxious to see the tree take on a new shape, I’m motivated to keep it healthy in the hope that we can make further progress next summer. It will be some time before the tree comes anywhere near an exhibit, but that’s fine. I’m far more interested in producing beautiful, healthy trees without regard to the time required to do so. It’s half the fun, really.
After removing old needles
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