I brought the white pine below to an Akio Kondo workshop this past August. The tree looked much like it does now but the old needles had yet to turn brown. New growth had appeared much like it had the year before, and I had prepared to spend an afternoon wiring the tree. Kondo took one look and said nope, the tree’s too weak. He suggested I water the tree lightly, every other day at most, and wait until the following year to cut or wire the tree. Kondo wanted to see vigorous new shoots before stressing the tree with cutback and wiring, and the new growth wasn’t exactly vigorous.
What to do? Not much. Now that some of the old needles have turned brown, I removed them by running my fingers through the foliage and put the tree back on the bench until next year.
White pine – October 2011
Shoot with old needles
Old needles gently removed
I took care not to remove all of the old needles, just the ones that fell away as I combed the foliage with my fingers. Typically fall is a good time to remove last year’s needles on strong white pines, but it’s best to leave weak trees alone until they get stronger. The photo below shows both first and second year needles, separated by a small gap along the branch.
Same shoot from below – first and second year needles remain
Loose needles removed
I expect that more second year needles will turn brown and fall away as the weather cools, and I’ll likely remove these around the end of the year.
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Did Akio Kondo advise you to fertilize it any differently next year to strengthen it?
Hi Graham, Jeremiah, Alex – Kondo and others typically recommend fertilizing white pines lightly toward the end of the growing season, that’s it. More water and fertilizer lead to longer needles and white pines are more valuable with short needles. Even more water can really stress white pines (too much water is hard on most varieties – the roots need to breathe). From what I’ve seen and heard, they like surprisingly little water, especially compared with black pines. They aren’t repotted frequently either. When the soil breaks down it helps keep the water from penetrating.
I suspect it will take a while for me to get the soil/water bit right to the point where the tree is really happy, but I feel like I have a better idea about how to make that happen.
jeremiah lee says
You have such an amazing Blog, I really appreciate every post and read each one several times! I’m wondering a few things about Akio’s comment about watering. Would watering this tree every other day at most be much less than normal around that time of year? Do you know why it’s better to reduce watering slightly and would this apply to other types of conifers as well if they were weak?
Alex V says
That is interesting about the watering. I have heard white pines don’t like water, and should be almost starved for water, to the point that weeds in the pot will wilt. I will be curious to see how the changed watering plan will effect the tree’s health.