This article was first published in July 2016. We're republishing it today with an exciting update on the tree's progress!
Decandling Japanese Black Pines is a relatively straight forward process. If you have any questions in your mind about it you should check out the article that I published, "Nine Things You Need to Know About Decandling Japanese Black Pine".
With many bonsai, uniform application of technique can cause you to spin your wheels rather than advance the styling goals that you have set for your tree. In the case of this tree, which is one of eighteen that I still have from my 2006 seedling batch, decandling everything uniformly would not have given me the result that I am trying to achieve. Instead, this tree needs to be selectively decandled, leaving some branches to become longer and stronger, while containing other branches. Further, I plan to eliminate some of the branching entirely to show off more of the trunk.
The design inspiration for this tree comes from a great cascade-style white pine that currently resides in the nursery of Shinji Suzuki. Check out the video for some of my thoughts on the design inspiration.
The white pine, which I saw first on Matt Reel’s blog, and then in February 2016 when I visited Suzuki’s nursery and the Kokufu-ten bonsai show in Tokyo, Japan, seemed like the ideal design solution to show off the gnarly base of this pine. If I were to instead design the tree like many other bonsai, placing the branching above and around the entire trunk, it would hide some of the best features of the tree.
Design can be a very subjective thing. With this tree I had shown it to a number of people who all suggested different solutions. For now, I felt that my idea of making it into a cascade was superior to any of the other design ideas. The character of the trunk is what normally drives design decisions, and this tree has enough character to create a really unique cascade composition.
I started by decandling just the top portion. Since it is now established two years in this container, the shoots were long this spring. I’ve had in mind since last year that the lower branches need to elongate so that I can create a cascade composition matching the white pine. At the moment the lower right branching is stronger than the top growth; I wired a small portion of it last summer when the rest of the tree was decandled. This year, for the second year, I did not decandle the lower right branch on the tree.
At decandling time, it is often also a good time to remove excess branching, so after decandling the top growth to get a good look at the structure, I further cut back the branching to some short stubs. I then continued and removed the bark from the stubs to create some interesting small jin at the upper curve of the trunk. My design inspiration is a wild tree and it has natural deadwood; but because black pine are best-known for their bark characteristics I don’t want to create deadwood on the trunk of my tree. The jin will serve the same purpose while not interfering with the rugged character of the bark as it continues to develop.
In the fall I’ll apply more wire to the tree and move it another step closer to my goal by shaping the new compact growth that is the result of decandling. The strongest growth on the lower right branch, the part that was not decandled, will become a new sacrifice branch while the shorter buds on that same branch will serve as the new portion of the cascade branch that will eventually complete the design.
The work that I did on this tree is important for improving the design of the tree; it is not just maintenance. While decandling is a containment and maintenance technique, using it selectively allows for design improvement in young material like this tree. Whenever you perform work on your tree, keep the design in mind; that way you will be able to make the best decisions about whether or not uniform application of a technique like decandling will be beneficial.
Step by step reduction. Left: decandled, middle, cut back to stubs, right: stubs turned into jin.
February 2021 Update
Eric's work on the tree over the years produced a beauty which he aptly named "Twisting Fused Exposed Root Black Pine". Earlier this week, we sold it to a lucky new owner. As you can see in the photo, the roots of this tree make up the trunk, and they are fused tightly together creating interesting undulation. Tree dimensions: Height - 9", Width - 14" (root base to far branch tip).