As several approaches to decandling red and black pine involve pulling needles, I thought I’d include a few tips about how to properly pluck pine needles.
Why do we pull pine needles?
- To reduce food production. Decreasing the number of needles on a tree slows food production and reduces vigor. It also encourages the tree to push new buds in its attempt to increase food production.
- To increase the light and air available to remaining foliage and branches. Sunlight can help stimulate new buds. Good light and circulation can discourage some insects from preying on pines.
- To balance vigor. Some decandling techniques require leaving different numbers of needles in different areas (more on this soon). Reducing food production in strong areas by removing needles can help balance vigor.
Pulling needles also facilitates wiring, but that’s not usually not a motivation for the practice.
How do we pull pine needles?
We pull pine needles by grabbing the base of a needle pair with tweezers and pulling. This is typically done by pulling needles forward, in the direction the needles grow, to avoid tearing the skin of the branch. Older needles tend to separate easier than younger needles so care must be taken when removing healthy, vigorous needles.
Preparing to pluck a pair of needles
Needles and fascicle removed
If the tweezers grab hold of needles above the fascicle, it’s easy to leave it behind.
Grabbing the needles above the fascicle
Needles removed, fascicle left behind
If this happens, simply remove the fascicle with another pluck.
Grabbing the fascicle
Bracts, the protective sheaths that look like flat leaves, can also be removed. By keeping branches free of bracts and fascicles, wiring is simplified and our work looks clean.
Removing a bract
Sometimes bracts emerge at the base of needle pairs. These bracts can be removed with needles or separately.
Needle pair with bract
Needles and bract removed together
Needles removed, bract remains
Remaining bract removed
Pulling back on pine needles isn’t recommended as it can tear the skin of the branch. This is especially true for younger needles. Avoid this by pulling needles forward.
Pulling a needle pair backward opens a tear in the branch
Needle and a bit of branch removed
No need for cut-paste if a bit of skin comes off with the needle, but do try to avoid this as numerous openings can weaken the tree.