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When we start our bonsai journey we get a lot of information from the internet, old books and maybe club members. The challenge with this is, pick up 50 books and each one will tell you something different and may attempt to prove that their old outdated information is the only way. Since there are too many variables out there to only be one way, I have attempted to practice what works for me in my area.
What I mean by that is, let's use black pine as a case study; and just ask one question. When do we pull needles and why. OK maybe that is two questions but let's just talk about this. I remember getting guidance from some people in the area about when to pull needles, and here was there advice. Pull needles the day after Thanksgiving no matter what. You know what, that's what I'd did. If you don't know better you will take advice from anyone. Please stop by my Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/bonsaifreak/
A young tree in training that could benefit from pulling the needles
Here we are almost 2014 and now I know what to do for me and my black pines in my area. When do we pull needles? Well there are a lot of variables; first you don't pull needles on an unhealthy tree. I would first focus on getting your tree in some good fast draining bonsai mix, and make sure the tree is tied into the pot correctly. Then study its progression and strive to get it healthy and growing. After a year, maybe two of healthy growth then you can begin to pull needles...that is, if it's in that stage of growth development. In other words there is no need to pull needles on a young black pine that is just growing a larger base or branch. What I am talking about is a little more of a mature tree. Not a young tree where we are pulling needles from the bottom of a branch to form a new branch.
OK, you say what other variables are there. First and probably foremost is the weather. Has it been too warm too long to even start pulling needles. This is exactly what has happened this year in California. How long does it have to be cold before you pull needles? The correct answer depends on probably where you live. The most important variable is to make sure it been cold long enough so that your tree is dormant and does not bleed when you pull the needles.
This year I called my Sensei and said “you know it's still too warm to pull needles, my Sensei said “not only too warm but to dry”. That told me that it's better to not only be cold but to have had some rain and extra moisture available when pulling needles. It finally did get cold enough and we were able to pull needles. The bad news for our trees is it has warmed back up into 70 degrees almost every day. Not rubbing it in or anything but really? The weatherman predicts 70 degrees all the way until after the first week in January! Not sure how long our trees will stay dormant unless we get another cold spell and it stays cold for a while. Our night time temperatures have dropped to about 35 almost every night. Honestly I think our poor trees are confused…Sleep, wake up, sleep, wake up and sleep, wake up? This is really not the norm for California temperature though it is nice here year round, it usually gets colder and stays colder for about three months. This will definitely give the global warming people a lot more to talk about.
This may seem redundant but if you have never pulled needles one may ask, why one pulls needles. There are many reasons why we pull needles. The three main reasons are to balance and slow down the top or apex growth, to allow sunlight to reach all areas of your tree and to allow air circulation. There is one reason why we leave less needles on the top branches as opposed to the middle and lower branches having even more needles left on…it’s called Balance.
After pulling some needles it was time to thin to two buds...that is another blog though. Here I am removing the middle and downward growing bud.
Recently I have been working on a new client’s tree and have been having to remove old dead branches. Why? Mainly because of neglect, such as not pulling needles on a mature tree that needed those needles pulled. Since they were not pulled there was not enough light reaching the bottom branches and literally they were shaded out and died. The good thing about a black pine though is, if it’s a healthy tree you can just grow a new branch. In other words three years is too long to go without pulling needles on a more mature finished tree. Two years is OK if you are giving your tree a break and allowing it to just grow.
I will thin to two buds over the whole tree after de-candling
Did I tell you I love Japanese black pines? They are the most predictable and easiest tree to grow once you know the secret formula. The fun part will be trying to figure out that secret formula for your area. For you see…Here, where I live the Japanese Black Pine just thrive! I can take Japanese Black Pines from the southern part of California or the northern part of California and bring them to Santa Cruz and it’s like the received an energy shot of growth hormones. I am not kidding they explode with growth. I do not think it’s my fertilizing regiment, my watering, my soil mix and the temperature, though that may help. But honestly I believe it’s also because I live a mile from the ocean and I believe this climate sort of mimics Japan. So in my UN-humble opinion this area feels like home to the trees.
OK I look forward to hearing your black pine stories once I post this. Have a great holiday season and be safe out there! May the rest of this year be filled with happiness, health and Joy!
I wish you a Happy New year and lots more bonsai Adventures!!