In February of 2006 I started a hundred Japanese Black Pine seeds on their way to being bonsai.
I had previously started a batch of Knobcone pines the prior spring but they all ended up dead of pine pitch canker within the first year; apparently all the pines in my neighborhood are infected and the site where I trimmed the seedling tap root allowed the fungus to enter and kill the trees. After some consideration of the problems with fire pines I decided to go against my “natives only” or perhaps “mostly natives” tendencies and start a batch of black pines, one of the most-proven of all bonsai species.
The techniques for pine seedlings are seemingly well-documented in Bonsai Today #20. I would suggest that anyone interested in the topic pick up a copy of the article or check out the reprint of it in the Stone Lantern “Pines” book. In addition to the original article about pine seedlings, there is a second article in the same issue, (which didn’t make it into the Stone Lantern book) which covers making exposed-root trees from small seedlings.
I’ve covered some of my pines in posts to various internet bonsai forums but now I’m going to trace each one in as much detail as I can starting with this tree; which I’ll call “Exposed Root Pine #1” for lack of more descriptive idea.
The tree is 3 growing seasons old and has been planted in a large plastic cone for one growing season. This is approximately what I am thinking of as the back of the tree as it stands today.
From near what I am calling the current front. When I started exposing the roots the tree started to bend over slowly to the left.
In the February 2012 photo it’s interesting to note that what had originally been intended as the top of the tree ended up horizontal and heading back. I had wired a new leader to be the eventual top before taking the photo and selected a branch that was right at the base of the sacrifice as the key branch heading to the left. The flow of the tree will be strongly to the left so the branching needs to reflect that eventually.
In the November 2013 photo the tree has been almost transformed, in only two growing seasons from a somewhat interesting piece of stock to a really interesting one. The roots have gotten large enough and begun to fuse together to form a lower trunk that tapers rapidly from more than 6″ in diameter to only a couple inches near the first branching.
Sidebar about my life: I moved with all my trees in 2010 from San Francisco to Thousand Oaks. I became quite busy and had to spend a lot of my time just watering and fertilizing the trees with little time to actually work on them. Then in Dec 2012 I moved back to San Francisco. While living in SoCal many of my trees didn’t grow well, but the pines did pretty well. Well enough that by the time I was moving back there was no way I was going to get a bunch of lanky teenage-looking pine trees into my back yard in the city. I out-sourced the day-to-day care to a friend in the East Bay who has a lot more space than I do.
Back to this tree; from December of 2012 to June of 2014 this pine put on a lot of bark and a lot of wood in the exposed roots. I had removed all the wire sometime in the summer of 2013 and let the tree grow uncontained, with no thoughts of candle cutting or removing the sacrifice branch.
Mid-June 2014 and the smaller branching near the base that I’ve been training to be finished branches seemed like it’s getting too bushy and would be getting too long if I leave it alone again, so it’s time to cut back.
June 20th 2014, before any work.
The first thing to go is the large sacrifice branch, in this case there is already enough foliage lower down to allow for it to be completely removed.
Sawing the sacrifice branch off. I’ll leave a stub that will be reduced later.
Sacrifice disconnected and floating inexplicably.
Decandled except for one strong bud on the new top. I’ll let it grow for a few years to even out the taper between the large base and the new top trunk section.
The base after pruning and decandling. The large branch at left will be wired down to be the key branch – hopefully hiding the scars from the wire that was on last summer and the large branch on the right will likely be reduced further to enhance the flow to the left.