Black Pine Bonsai
By Erik A. Olsen
Black Pine Bonsai
The maintenance of this type of Bonsai has
three primary elements, which include the selection of the bud, the
pinching of the candle, and the plucking of the needles. For the
overall development of this tree, each of these elements is crucial.
The goal in this case is to guide the tree to expend its energy in the
appropriate areas so that the formation of branches will be proper. We
have provided a breakdown of these three elements to help you with
Selection of the Bud
Typically, buds are formed in clusters located at the end of shoots.
What you want to do is choose two of them in early spring or late
summer to use and then remove any remaining buds. The two buds you
chose will be used to form a forked shoot, which is an excellent
If ramification work has already been done, where shoots from the
spring were removed in early summer, and now the tree has produced new
buds, these will need to be removed in late summer or early fall.
However, if the shoots were not removed until late fall, then the tree
will wait to produce new buds in the following spring, at which time
you would remove them.
Removing the buds comes with a number of considerations such as the
level of the branch on the tree, the relative position of the bud to
the tree’s trunk, the size of the branch, compared to the size it
needs to be, and the position of the bud on the shoot.
Because pines are apically dominant, that means the upper branches
will need to be restrained, which can be done by eliminating any
strong buds, keeping only the weak ones. A tremendous amount of energy
is sent to the apex so it is quite common for upper shoots to have as
many as five or more buds while lower branches might have two or
three. Because these lower branches require additional strength, you
would do best to keep three buds instead of two. This third shoot can
always be removed after producing new shoots.
The relative position to the trunk is also an important consideration.
Many times, the interior branches and buds are weak. Therefore, select
the stronger buds for the interior and then the weaker buds for the
end of the branches. This will help balance the amount of energy the
tree will expend. Sometimes, it would be wise to leave more buds than
actually necessary, which will help the interior branches become
If you were working on weak, lower branches, then allow the bud on the
end to grow out without being restrained. At this same time, you can
develop the shoots on the interior. By using this method, the branch
will become larger and stronger, and of course, it can be pruned later
if needed. This branch is called the “sacrifice branch”.
Now, you want to select the buds growing on the sides of the shoots
instead of those on top or bottom. The reason is that foliage pads can
form properly and the branch structure will be better. Although
getting a good bud on the side may not always be possible, do the best
you can. In other words, if you can only get buds from the top or
bottom, that that is fine.
Pinching of the Candle
This process helps regulate growth on pine trees. In early to
mid-spring, buds on pines lengthen into what are called “candles.”
Even if you made a careful selection the previous fall, chances are
that, the candles will be different lengths in the spring.
In this case, you will pinch the longest of the candles so the length
now matches the shortest candle. The one important thing is that you
want to make sure the candles are less than one inch. When pinching
the candles, if you pinch them prior to the needles breaking, then new
buds will form at the base of that candle.
However, if the candle is pinched after the needles break, then the
new buds will form at the end. Keep in mind that the location of the
candle is something to consider, as far as what the tree and branch
needs. As an example, consider pinching the strong candle a little
more at the apex if it is on the middle branch.
Since candles on the lower branch will require more energy, you might
want to leave it along until you prune the shoots later in the year.
Additionally, remember that when you leave a candle alone for a long
time, and when the candle is long, it draws tremendous energy to that
branch and shoot. Finally, the candles should never be pinched at an
angle. Instead, simply pinch them flat.
Plucking of the Needle
When it comes to maintaining a pine tree, this is a necessary process.
In this case, needles are pulled off in November, allowing more sun
and air to get through the foliage and into the interior shoots.
Additionally, plucking needles also helps restrain energy of the
shoots. Depending on the specific needs of the tree, you would pluck
old and new needles.
On the upper shoots, you want to leave less needle pairs, on the lower
shoots, leave more, and then on the middle shoots, an average amount.
In addition, leave more needles on the interior shoots while plucking
a greater number from the end of the branches.
Many times, needles are plucked from the interior shoots but remember
that you must consider the strength of the shoots and overall health
of the tree when doing this. For the upper shoots, you might leave
four pairs, 12 pairs on the lower shoots, and then six pair on the
middle shoots. These numbers are just a general guideline so you would
need to make an exact decision based on the tree’s strength and needs.
If you have a young pine tree, to help improve the budding process,
simply leave the tree alone during the season. Then in September, all
of that year’s growth would be cut off so all you leave are the prior
year’s needles. What this does is cause, a burst of new buds further
back on the branches. You will be amazed at the increased density of
Sometimes, the size of the leaves on a Bonsai becomes a problem. In
this situation, this along with the thickness of the twigs and lengths
of the internodes are all related to the balance of the canopy to the
root mass, the root age and density, fertility level, absence or
presence of hormones, and the amount of light and the intensity.
Canopy Balance to Root Mass
To keep balance, the roots and top growth are always in cyclical
motion. During the spring, most of the roots stored energy is used to
produce a new canopy of leaves, followed by new shoots. Then in the
summertime, this reverses so that the leaves supply the roots with
food and energy is increased for the top growth.
During the fall months, the leaves will completely stop the production
of food, although food does continue to move from the stems to the
tree’s tissue. For the roots, they will continue growing until
temperatures dip to 60 degrees by using stored food for the mass,
while retaining enough to start the springtime growth process.
When trying to manipulate your Bonsai’s growth, you need to learn this
cycle. For instance, if you were to prune a dormant tree, then any
buds would be stopped from receiving food the following spring.
Therefore, the existing buds would be over stimulated. The result
would be huge leaves and massive whips.
Now, if you were to prune the roots on a dormant plant or tree but not
prune the top, then an important part of the food supply would be
removed that would have been intended for the growth of new leaves and
fruit. In this case, the released buds would have very small leaves
and the internodes would be significantly shorter.
Another scenario would be pruning the top of the tree that has just
blossomed with leaves. Again, the food supply that was just created
for the roots is affected. This means the roots would have to come up
with energy from whatever reserve they could to grow a new set of
leaves. This is extremely hard on the roots and any new growth would
be small and short.
Age and Density
When you have new roots growing in fresh soil, they will absorb
nutrients and water well. This is perfect for the production of
balances leaves and internodes in that excess food was stored. Now, if
you have roots confined to a tight space, they would soon lose their
ability to store food.
The first symptom of this is called Chlorosis, which means the aged
root system is not capable of using essential nutrients. Then, as the
plant or tree begins to store less food in connection with what the
top growth stores, the leaves will become very small and the
internodes very short. For this reason, growing Bonsai in small pots
creates a nice appearance that is favored.
If your Bonsai is getting proper nutrition, then it will have healthy
leaves and internodes. However, when training your Bonsai,
particularly when in the first year as seedlings, you might find that
you get a number of internodes located close together and on the lower
portion of the trunk.
For seedlings, by not feeding them as often and allowing a little root
bound will help shorten the first internodes. Later in the training
process of your Bonsai, this will be helpful. Keep in mind that where
you have internodes, you will also have dense and vibrant buds,
especially on deciduous plants. Since nitrogen is what affects the
leaf and internode growth the most, you want to keep this value
Some hormones do affect on the size of leaves and internode length. In
most cases, gibberellic acid is the one that has the greatest impact
on the internodes.