There is a lot to say about decandling pine bonsai. There are as many approaches to decandling as there are bonsai professionals, and many of these approaches have merit. As we go into this year’s decandling season, I’d like make a few comments on the topic in as straightforward a fashion as possible.
My starting point for this information is many years’ study with Boon Manakitivipart, occasional visits and conversations with Japanese bonsai professionals including Daisaku Nomoto, Akio Kondo and Junichiro Tanaka, and some great notes from John Kirby. Connecting the various approaches used by this group are a few common threads, and it is with these threads that I’ll begin.
Decandling refers to a set of cultivation techniques that focus on the removal of spring growth from red or black pines to stimulate a second flush of growth in summer.
Removing a spring shoot from a Japanese black pine – the primary act of decandling
The term typically refers to more than the simple act of removing spring candles as the timing of the practice and various techniques relating to after care have a large effect on the results of the practice.
What decandling isn’t
The following techniques are similar to decandling in that they focus on improving the balance and vigor of pine bonsai, but fall outside of the practices commonly referred to by the term “decandling.”
- Cutting, breaking or removing spring growth before the spring needles emerge. One technique for balancing vigor in pine bonsai involves the reduction of spring candles as they are elongating. These techniques produce very different results from decandling and will be considered separately.
- Removing part, but not all, of a spring shoot. Decandling involves the complete removal of given spring shoots. Reducing spring growth by half or some other percentage can be used to address vigor in pine bonsai, but produces different results from decandling.
A note on the term “decandling”
As spring growth develops on red and black pines, the emerging shoots can be said to resemble candles. As used here, however, the term decandling refers to the removal of spring shoots after the new needles have emerged. I don’t know how the term “decandling” came to be associated with the removal of growth after the shoot ceases to resemble candles, but I’m loath to introduce another term as the community in which I participate uses the term decandling consistently and successfully.
The Japanese phrase for decandling is me-kiri: “bud-” or “shoot-cutting” (芽切りor めきり, if you were curious). Next up – why we decandle.
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Leo de Leon says
Thank you for sharing your knowledge to us
As always, thank you for the informative posts and creative ideas. I have two questions about decandling young pines:
1. Does your recommendation to decandle in the spring apply to seedlings as well as mature trees? I have a number of red pine and mikawa black pine seedlings that are 2-3 years old (heights range from 5″ – 8″; a few with a side branch or two). I was under the impression I should simply let the seedlings grow for the first 4-5 years, feed and care for them, put a bend or two in the trunk (and branch), but do nothing else.
2. If decandling young seedlings IS recommended, at what point in the candle’s growth cycle does it become too late to do so? I live in northern Vermont; Spring comes late. The candles on my seedlings right now are about 2″ in length, still extending growth and starting to open. Have I missed the opportunity?
Thanks for any feedback you can provide.
Jonas Dupuich says
Hi Richard – good questions. Typically decandling doesn’t start until the trunk has reached the desired size so no lost opportunities this year. As for the timing (once your trees are ready for decandling) I’ll likely defer to people who’ve successfully decandled pines living in Vermont. I’ll say a bit more about both topics next week. Hope this helps!
I have had fairly good luck with either breaking the candles or cutting the shoots in about one-half with seedlings. Allows some growth, but keeps the internodes reasonable. My gut feeling is that cutting the shoots would result in more thickening since the needles will have come out, but I do not have any data. I too look forward to more of Jonas’ details on decandling.
Techniques like pinching or candle trimming are usually intended for refined bonsai that have a well developed trunk and branches already. It is easy to do an experiment though, take 2 seedlings of the same size and cut the growth on one each year for a few years. The difference is staggering.
Keep up the great articles Jonas!