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 Black Pine Bonsai

 By Erik A. Olsen
Copyright © 2004
by Erik A. Olsen
Excerpted from Bonsai Gardening Secrets®
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 this process:

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 branch formation.

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 stronger.

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 the branches.

Leaf Size

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.

Fertility Level

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 balanced carefully.


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.

Black Pine Bonsai

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