Bonsai Study Group Forum

Species Specific => Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: jtucker on November 12, 2011, 12:56 PM

Title: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: jtucker on November 12, 2011, 12:56 PM
Hi All,

I'm kind of embarrassed because I feel like this and the other JBP are all out of sorts. I got this from the club raffle about a year and a half ago, and have really just been watering an fertilizing without any idea of what to do. This year, I decided I would try to work this tree. I cut candles in July, and put a little wire on in October when I thinned out some of the summer growth.
Since this is basically the first season this guy has had any training and he's not on a schedule that remotely resembles any "standard" way or working JBP, I'm kind of lost as far as pulling needles this year or what to let grow out or not... I've left that bottom foliage on just to help thicken the trunk a bit (I think this is a good idea?). Any help you all could offer would be greatly appreciated!

PS, I do plan on bringing these trees to my club meeting tomorrow to get input from more experienced folks there. AND sorry for the hasty pics, I was trying to get some in between rain showers. We San Diegans don't know what to do when that weird water stuff comes from the sky!
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: cbobgo on November 12, 2011, 01:15 PM
similar to my reply to your other post, there is really not much to do to this tree except let it grow.  You should not be removing candles on a young tree like this.

- bob
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: jtucker on November 12, 2011, 01:25 PM
Do you think a slip pot into a wide, shallow training pot would be acceptable at this time or wait until early spring?
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: MatsuBonsai on November 12, 2011, 08:07 PM
If it were mine I would probably wait until Spring and do a proper repot, giving you a chance to sort out the roots early and work to develop good nebari.

What did your club members have to say?
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: jtucker on November 12, 2011, 09:34 PM
Club meeting is tomorrow, will keep you all posted...

Not being flippant or combative, I've heard and read from many experienced and talented people, that great bonsai must be grown and trained as bonsai from the beginning. Yet with all of the sticks in pots (including these two trees I've put up), the advice from the more experienced and talented folks is "stick in in the ground or a bigger pot and just let it grow for a few years..."

Are there intermediate steps that can be done to make a stick-in-a-pot more resemble a bonsai during this growing out phase?

I think it's especially tricky for pines. While the techniques that we all read about for pines (decandling, needle pulling, etc.) are for already developed trees as you say, when there's an older tree on which these techniques haven't applied, everyone says, "This tree could have used more training when it was younger. Foliage is too far out, no ramification, etc."

I feel like this is a big conundrum that is a very difficult gap for beginners to cross...
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: Judy on November 13, 2011, 08:08 AM
I've always taken that saying to mean that you train the tree to be a bonsai from the start even while it is in the ground growing girth and roots.  There are a lot of things you can do to shape the tree to be bonsai while ground growing.  Putting the roots on a board or tile is very advantageous for having useable roots once you get to a pot stage.  Also there is no reason you can't shape and prune for shape while ground growing.  Now of course, you do have to let the tree have it's head to put on growth, but you can pick and choose branches to keep, and do shaping and pruning on some of the important ones.  Take a look at bonsai4me, and you'll see that Harry shapes a lot of his trees even before collecting. I believe that this is the meaning behind the words.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: MatsuBonsai on November 13, 2011, 08:39 AM
"Training" can include a variety of things.  Decandling, pinching, and needle pulling are typically reserved for more refined trees.  They can be applied as needed to specific areas of a tree in training. 

Shape and taper are important to introduce early.  Shape can be added with wire.  Taper can be gained by growing and cutting back.  Allow a leader to grow while pinching low strong growth early in the season.

It can be a bit frustrating as there's no written rules as every tree is different.  But, with a little understanding of how the tree grows and applying that knowledge to the tree it becomes easier.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: cbobgo on November 13, 2011, 12:16 PM
There are training techniques that should be applied throughout the lifetime of a tree, but the techniques used at one stage are not the same as those used at a different stage.

The training this tree needs now is letting sacrifice branches grow long, to build girth in the trunk.  Getting the roots evenly spaced out and coming out instead of down, to establish good nebari.  Preserving all low branches and buds to be selected in the future for final branches.  Establishing the direction and flow of the trunk movement, either through wiring or trunk chops. 

Branches that are not being used as sacrifice growth, and you think might be usable for the final tree can have some work done on them.  But you have to be able to predict what the tree is going to look like 5 or 10 years down the road to know if you are wiring them into the right place or not.  That can be a little tricky for newbies, so that's why I usually say don't worry too much about branch training (except for leaving all low branches intact) until the trunk is well established.

- bob
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: scottroxburgh on November 14, 2011, 08:53 PM
The best money you will ever spend on learning JBP techniques... (
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: akeppler on November 20, 2011, 03:52 PM
For my money..

I would enjoy seeing some trees shown from seedling to speciman bonsai and the techniques employed to manage sacrifice branches and developing taper.

Most of the trees I see posted on forums are trees purchased in an advanced state of growth or imports that are managed. So much information gets thrown about, in regards to developing black pines while the real mastery has more to do with how to grow one from seed.

For instance I hear people talk of pines in their collection and talk of their technique, but do they really know how to "grow" a pine rather than "refine" a pine?

I believe the latter to be exclusive of the fomer.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: jtucker on November 20, 2011, 05:41 PM
I agree with Al about that elusive middle chunk of time and technique between "Stick it in the ground and grow it out..." and "Do x,y,z to refine and maintain a mostly finished tree..." Any thoughts?
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: John Kirby on November 20, 2011, 08:20 PM
So, a good Japanese Black Pine takes 50 years or more to get truly spectacular bark, little crappy ones  (like some of mine and others) can have mediocre bark in  15-20 years. So, the only good trees are the ones grown from seed? I have planted seed and dug trees for years. The really hard part is refining them to a density and degree of fine branching that truly suggests age. Some of Boon's old trees exhibit truly fine bark and foliage. Personally, for small trees, the recovery time from field growing is so significant, you are much better off growing the in pots.

So, try and refine a JBP, a big rough and  unhealthy one. Oh, by the way do we need to start our Caufornia or Sierra or Rocky Mountain Junipers from seed? Methuselah may be able to do it, the rst of us, not so much.

Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: MatsuBonsai on November 20, 2011, 08:30 PM
I've post my Big JBP #84 ( here before.  While I didn't start it from seed, I did purchase it as a trunk with a few key branches in the right places.  More branches are being grafted and refinement has started on others.  The bark is already starting, and in another decade or so it should be really good.  I'll post updates in the Spring. 

I've got a few others in various stages that have been in colanders for 2-5 years.  I'll post some of those in Spring as well.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: scottroxburgh on November 20, 2011, 09:16 PM
I agree that growing quality JBP from seed is true mastery and with no imports into Australia, almost the only way to get quality JBP stock.

While I cannot provide personal info, I am currently using what I can scrape together. I am sure that most here have seen this, but here is a start... ( ( (

I think one reason that most do not post on it, is that a lot of it is growing time. There has to be a lot of dedication to education to bother writing it up for others.

My understanding of the process is that a number of the 'refinement' techniques also apply to developing high quality stock, such as needle thining, root work etc. The best explanation of managing sacrifice branches I have seen is to remove them when they have done there job ;) I think another technique not highly published is culling poor performers.

There are a number of articles on here and the interweb.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: akeppler on November 20, 2011, 10:25 PM
Thanks Scott, but still we have a "how to" on making cuttings from seedlings, and then going to repotting seven year old material with sacrifice branches and good taper and the good start to branches.

How about the seven years in between?
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: scottroxburgh on November 20, 2011, 11:58 PM
It is not a step by step, but...

A pic of a similar tree in 2003 and one of it in 2009. I'm not sure that this tree was a seedling cutting though. It seems that some time between 2003 and 2009, 'refinement' techniques were used to start the branch development.

If the sacrifice was allowed to grow further, the twist would have become a little smoother. Control what you want to keep small, but let some heavy growth go to add girth.

Again I think a lot of the time is fert, growth, and rootwork much like your tridents.
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: bwaynef on November 21, 2011, 07:04 AM
How about the seven years in between?

As close as I've seen to what you're asking: (
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: John Kirby on November 21, 2011, 09:52 AM
Or you can go back to the original references as translated in Bonsai Today, which are fairly specific.

Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: bigDave on November 29, 2011, 11:19 PM
Club meeting is tomorrow, will keep you all posted...

So what happened at the club meeting, anything interesting?
Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: Woodguy on November 30, 2011, 05:55 PM
Thanks Scott, but still we have a "how to" on making cuttings from seedlings, and then going to repotting seven year old material with sacrifice branches and good taper and the good start to branches.

How about the seven years in between?

This is the best article I have seen on growing JBP. It's written by Brent Walston and I thought was on his website but I could not find it. Fortunately I saved it on my computer.

WARNING! Dense material ahead. If you can read this and really understand it in one go, you are a much smarter person than I.

The two main objectives in growing JBP bonsai are 1) achieving a large tapered trunk, at least in the base section, and 2) getting enough back budding and branches to make a sufficient number of sacrifice and final branch candidates. Doing either of these is not all that difficult. Doing both at the same time is the challenge since the methods of achieving these objectives are at odds with each other. To achieve a large trunk you must let the tree, or parts of it grow undisturbed. To obtain backbudding and maintain branches, you must cut this growth back or even off.

How do you achieve both at the same time, or tell when to use one method or the other? Branching and bud breaking on the trunk must occur while the tree is young and vigorous, or it will never happen. A trunk can be enlarged at any time, so it can be delayed, but not forgotten. With the use of sacrifice branches you can actually achieve both objectives at the same time with only minor setbacks. But the planning and execution can be daunting until you have a good grasp of the techniques and an understanding of how pines grow. At least you don't have to reinvent the wheel. It took me twenty years to acquire this knowledge through experimentation guided by the little printed material on the subject that exists, even to this day. You will find TONS of information on plucking needles, balancing energy, and candling, but precious little on how to get a tree to the state that you even need to do these things.

So, it's probably best for most of you to forget what you have already learned; it will only get you in trouble. Drag out that information twenty years from now when you have some decent material to work on. Instead, develop your vision of what you want your tree to look like and be able to articulate what makes these trees what they are. It's good to MOVED by powerful trees, but it's necessary to be able to analyze the elements of each to be able to create one. Then learn the techniques for producing these elements.

First and foremost is the base of the tree, as it is in most bonsai. This element anchors the tree both physically and visually. It needs to be tapered, thick, and broaden into the nebari (we aren't considering bunjin here). It can be informally upright with a little movement, or it can have a low sharp turn and be very dynamic. JBP bonsai often have this low turn and it is the element that makes for a powerful moving tree. It can carry the first branch, but it usually does not. In the informal upright, there will be a small amount of movement at this location, but a lot of taper. Both of these forms are achieved the same way. This is the site of the lowest trunk chop. In tree A above it is clearly pointed out with the red lines. Chopping at this point gives you both the low turn and the thick base. Directing the new trunk line into the first branch gives you the taper.

How long do you let this leader grow before removing it? As with all sacrifice branches and leaders, you let them grow until they have done their job (sufficient thickening), or they begin to develop incompatible characteristics, such as reverse taper, or overly weakening of the rest of the 'tree'. I usually let these grow ten years or more, but this is growing them slowly in containers. Faster growth could be achieved in five years for most trunks around two inches. How do you keep this wild leader from weakening the rest of the tree? You remove all the lower branches of the sacrifice leader to keep it from shading the 'tree'. As long as the lower part of the tree gets light, it will usually stay active and give you a decent amount of growth. If becomes too weak, then you have to reduce or remove the sacrifice to save the 'tree', and start over with a sacrifice branch in the lowest trunk section.

Which brings us to the point with which I opened this post. If you don't have branches below the sacrifice leader's first node (the base section) before you let the leader grow, you will never get them (unless you have kissed the Blarney Stone). So, the most important factor in choosing material to grow out is to look for lots of low branches and buds in the lowest portion of the tree and DON'T remove any of them. Fortunately, both of these trees pictured have a plethora of low growth. Good choices. If your material does not have this growth, then you HAVE to get it before you can grow out the sacrifice leader. To get backbudding on JBP, you have to let it grow wildly and as strongly as possible and then whack it back within three years (before this growth drops its needles at the lowest point. Usually, chopping off the leader at the first node will give you backbudding at the node itself as well as BELOW it, where you really need it. If it doesn't, then you can begin removing branches from the first node to try to force growth lower. If this doesn't work, throw it away, it's not worth the effort, start over with decent material. Now you can see the inherent conflict in this process. You can't be growing out the trunk if you are whacking the tree to get it to back bud.

These are the basics of getting the first trunk section. In a minute, we will actually get to growing a few branches. But first, there is the process of refining and enhancing the first trunk section. This is done with sacrifice branches that came with the tree or were induced by the process above. If you don't use sacrifice branches in the base section, you will not get the taper WITHIN this section which will turn a good tree into an exceptional tree. In general, you want the sacrifice branches as low as you can get them, and NOT at the same level. Branches high in the first section (just below the first node or branch) will often give you REVERSE taper. Branches at the same level will also give you reverse taper. One or two low branches at different levels will give you an enormous tapered base. If you are really lucky, you will have a branch right in the nebari. These are like gold because they will give you not only a buttress, but a dinner plate nebari. The trees above appear to have such branching, but it's difficult to tell without the nebari exposed.

The rest of the tree: Early on in the process of developing the base section, you have to select a branch from the first whorl (or an induced branch in the internode) that will be the SECOND trunk section. Once this is done, all the other branches from the whorl are removed unless you want to keep another small one (and it must stay small and refined) for the first branch. The takeaway for beginners here is to realize that when you are buying raw nursery stock, 90% of the tree that you are looking at will not be in the final 'tree', and the final tree itself doesn't even exist yet. That should make the selection of material easier. The character of the branch that will be the second trunk section will define the character of the final 'tree'. If it comes off at a sharp angle, it will have great movement and will probably end up as a slant form (but avoid a perfect 90 degree angle, it is too regular or recognizable). If it is upright or wired upright, it can be used to create an informal upright. You have some degree of control over this, through both selection and wiring.

In tree A above, this proposed branch is straighter and longer than I would have wished and ITS first internode is probably too long. Both of these can be corrected by getting back budding in this first internode. So that is first thing to do. Currently, it is not strong enough to chop back and reliably get back budding, so it has to be left to grow for another year. It should be pointed south to get maximum light and the sacrifice leader should be pruned back on this side of the tree to direct more growth energy into this branch. Hopefully it will grow a strong terminal shoot from its last node that can be removed next year. This is a young branch so it shouldn't be a problem to get it to perform. But don't underestimate the importance of getting internodal growth in this area, your 'tree' depends on it. Just like the base section, you need sacrifice branching near the base of this branch to make a smooth taper transition and to create taper WITHIN this second trunk section.

Somewhere in this second section you will have to begin the process of selecting final branch candidates. From this point on, until the tree is finished, ALL the branches will either be sacrifice branches or final branch candidates. You will have to keep repeating that to yourself because you will HAVE to know which are which, that is, to make that choice for every branch on the 'tree'. Why? Because they are trained in radically different fashions, and this is where you can 'lose' a tree in a single year by treating a branch improperly, and then it's back to restyling. Sacrifice branches are left to run wild. They are not pruned, except close to the 'tree' so as not to shade any other part of the tree. Most people really have no idea of my concept of sacrifices. These can, and SHOULD be enormous. I have pictures of some of mine somewhere on the blog. They can be ten feet long and two inches in diameter. JBP have a natural tendency toward 'stovepipe' growth. If you don't use internodal sacrifices, you will not be able to counteract this tendency. Any branch not a final branch candidate is a sacrifice branch, and remains a sacrifice until it is time to remove it (see above).

FINAL branch candidates are branches that are in possible positions for a credible final 'tree'. These positions are another whole chapter and beyond the scope of this post. If you cannot identify these positions, then you are hopelessly lost and cannot proceed until you have studied and memorized John Naka's Bonsai Techniques I. 'Tree' designs can and do change, so there is no point in putting all your marbles in one basket and betting on a single branch at a single position. Make all the useless position branches sacrifices and use all the others as final branch candidates. Even bar branches are ok because final branches are continually restrained and will not cause reverse taper. Which brings us to THEIR treatment. Unlike just about all other species for bonsai, pine branches have to exist and be trained throughout the trunk training process. For just about all deciduous species, you can completely finish a trunk before you start a single final branch. No so with pines. Final branches have to BE THERE when a trunk section is chosen or shortly thereafter, or you will never get a branch there, short of grafting. This means they have to be properly maintained throughout this whole long training process, sometimes twenty years or more.

How can you do this? By being smart enough to label a branch either a sacrifice or a final branch candidate, you can begin final training of a branch just as soon as it is identified. This process will refine and RESTRAIN these branches and keep them from getting too large and too thick. By the time the trunk is finished, all the final branches will be nearly finished as well. This gives you the opportunity to try out all the cool tricks that you have read about in the books, needle plucking and such. But I hope you walk away from this post with the realization that all the cool stuff you read about pines tells you absolutely nothing about how to grow one, and they are the very last things you do, not the first.

Title: Re: Raffle Table JBP... HELP!
Post by: bwaynef on January 10, 2012, 10:30 AM
He posted it to his blog in response to a post @ bonsaisite. (

I recommend following Brent's blog.  He doesn't update regularly ...but he does run a nursery mostly by himself.  ...And when he does, they're usually gems.