Fall Balancing Act with Japanese Black Pines

Nebari Bonsai

I was asked to respond to a post about balancing a Japanese Black Pine last month. The problem was that summer candle-pruning, or care thereafter had resulted in a pine that was growing less balanced in strength.

As an homage to Peter Warren’s Rastafarian Pine from 20 years ago, here is a shot of the pine under consideration, color-coded by strength:

Since we are in the fall season, the right work to do at this time is what we’d normally do with pines in the fall…pull needles, prune excess shoots, and reduce terminal buds to pairs.

How to start? Find the weakest areas of the tree (lower, interior, shaded branches). Count the needle pairs from this season’s growth on those shoots to establish an average. Next, size up the buds…determine the average size of the weakest buds. Consider this as the average weak shoot for our example. It has about…

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Fall cleanup on a black pine

Nebari Bonsai

This pine was candle-pruned all at once on July 5th, and the resulting new growth was somewhat unbalanced. Fall needle-pulling can help restore some of the balance throughout the tree; removing more needles in strong areas, and fewer needles in the weaker areas. Here are a few shots from along the way.

Here is a congested area:

Circled areas are particularly dense and need to be thinned out by removing old needles and pruning small shoots to give remaining shoots a chance to get light.


A wider shot clearly showing the difference between before and after the work:

See how much more light can get through the tree, and how each shoot has a place in the sun?
Unfortunately, I’d left this one to its own devices too long, and aphids had caught on to my lack of attention. They had moved in, in spades! Fortunately, Malathion is…

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When not to candle cut?

Nebari Bonsai

Candle-cutting is done at the latter stages of development, to shorten internodes and keep needle length short.
This tree is candle-pruned each summer, for the reasons above…


The pine in today’s post was candle cut last summer, when it really needed to be allowed to continue growing. Short internodes are good, but when developing the primary branch structure, ramification and short needles are secondary. This pine was not candle-cut this summer, but rather, pruned and wired in the fall. Maybe next year candle-cutting will become necessary.



So after the season’s flush of growth hardened off, the old needles were removed, new growth was balanced through selective pruning (prune to leave shoots emerging in pairs) and needle-pulling.
Before the work started:

Close-up shot of the lower-left area, before:

Same area, after:

After removing old needles, selective pruning, and balancing new growth:

At this point, the tree is ready for fall wiring…

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