In general, we want two new shoots at the end each branch to develop on black and red pine bonsai.
Red pine – two summer shoots
Nature, however, doesn’t always provide us with what we’re looking for.
Black pine – three shoots
Four summer shoots
More shoots than I want to count
One shoot can be acceptable – especially when that’s all we get – but three shoots are less so. It’s easy to fill a silhouette with branches that have three, four, five or more shoots each, but this isn’t always desirable. What are the benefits of branches with two shoots each?
- More attractive branch structure
- No unsightly knuckles
- Easy to maintain balanced branch density
- Easy to wire
Are there any exceptions? Definitely. It’s fine, for example, to leave more than two shoots when preparing a tree for exhibit if extra foliage is needed to improve the silhouette. I also occasionally leave three or more branches on trees in development knowing that I’ll thin out extra branches in the future.
What do I do when more than two summer buds appear after decandling? Usually nothing. I’ve seen magazines recommend thinning summer buds to two to save us the work of fall cutback and to avoid swelling that results from large numbers of buds that emerge from the same spot. I’m not sure, however, that removing extra buds in summer always produces the desired effect.
The appearance of more than two shoots on a single branch is an indication that the branch is fairly strong. In general, the more summer shoots we find, the stronger the branch. Looking at problem in terms of strength, the problem to be solved is not the number of shoots but how best to deal with excessive vigor.
Why not remove the extra shoots? Reducing the number of shoots can channel remaining vigor into a smaller number of branches, thereby producing even more vigorous growth on the remaining shoots. It’s often better to let the extra shoots develop through summer and remove them when they harden off in fall or winter.
What if there are five or more shoots – won’t that create a large knuckle? My main concern in these cases is not scars or the unsightly branch unions that may develop, but overall branch vigor. Unless it’s important to preserve the branch, I’m more likely to remove it entirely as there’s too much energy to be of use in a refined tree.
I’ll run through some examples in fall when this summer’s new growth hardens off and cutback season begins. In the meantime, see Pine cutback basics for a head start.
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