Bonsai Study Group Forum

Species Specific => Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: JRob on April 04, 2012, 06:11 AM

Title: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: JRob on April 04, 2012, 06:11 AM
Good Morning All,

With the early start of things this year due to the warmer than usual weather will anyone be altering their normal times for de-candling and needle plucking?

Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: bwaynef on April 04, 2012, 07:35 AM
Decandling is determined by how much longer your growing season is, not how long the candles have been growing.  If your tree is at the stage that it needs to have candles broken (before they get too long, but before decandling) that will likely be affected by the unseasonably warm weather.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Dave Murphy on April 04, 2012, 07:47 AM
I agree with Wayne.  Because of the early spring, my pines came out of spring fully a month early, so I broke my candles early.  I still plan to decandle around July 10th.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Adair M on April 04, 2012, 08:30 AM
Can someone explain the "break the candles" process?  I'm fully up to speed on decandling in the summer.  Is it a "balance" technique? 

I can understand if, say, the top is a lot more vigorous than the bottom, to break the candles at the top to encourage the tree to direct energy lower.  But if you have strong candles on the lower part, wouldn't you leave them?  Or do we want candles even all over the tree?
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on April 04, 2012, 08:38 AM
Wayne you have learned. It makes me very happy to hear folks actually learn from the forums and pass on good information.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: MatsuBonsai on April 04, 2012, 08:47 AM
I'm about two weeks ahead of schedule for candle breakage. Still right on time for tridents. Weird.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Treebeard55 on April 04, 2012, 09:44 AM
JRob, no offense intended, but my first reaction to your thread-starter was, "Yes, of course!" I have moved several operations up, of necessity. But as Matsu said, different genera are being affected differently.

You really can't safely stick to a schedule, by the calendar, when it comes to plants. For us the calendar is useful as a rough, presumptive guideline -- nothing more.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: JRob on June 15, 2012, 01:20 PM
After doing the research, I decided to decandle and needle pull the same time as always even though things got off to an early start. I believe the research indicates the important time period is the growing time from when these task were completed to when the tree slows its growth enters dormance as fall and winter approach. If I decandled earlier it would in efect produce a greater growing season on the new growth and lead to longer needles and candles. So I kept my schedule the same this year for these tasks. I have also begun to cut back on both water and fertilizer as normal to keep the new needle growth short and under control as the heat of the summer sets in. In my area that means I started my needle pulling and decandling June 9th and will be complete by the July 4th holiday.

Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Larry Gockley on June 15, 2012, 01:54 PM
It sounds like you will be fine with the candle cutting, but I wonder, do people in your area also needle pluck at the same time. In a recent class with Ryan Neil, he said ( for here in Texas), to needle pluck in dormant time, November, and that needle plucking is about trying to balance the trees growth. In other words, pluck more needles on strong branches and fewer on weak ones. Here in Texas, he suggested candle cutting the first week of July, and to back that up, I saw on a Houston bonsai club site, they are having a candle cutting meeting on July 7th.. Larry
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 15, 2012, 09:13 PM
Larry, you really need to pluck in the summer and the fall: Here is my epistle for the ABS/BCI Black Pine workshop I am doing in Denver next week:

Black Pine Bud, Nee dle and Growth Management
John Kirby; ABS/BCI, 21-24 June, 2012; Denver, Colorado

Why do we remove spring candles from Japanese Black (and Red) Pines?

Spring candles are the strong early growth seen in Pines following their winter dormancy. On rapidly growing trees, these candles can shoot to 18-24” in a single sustained growth spurt, resulting in new wood and needles of 6” or greater length. Why does this happen? Like most trees, in contrast to “shrubs”, JBP are apically dominant and strive to grow both up and out. This results in a tree with a strong and wide canopy, with little internal growth on mature trees.  Why is there little growth internally and lower on the tree, except at the end of branches? Two prime reasons, the first is that the strong canopy shades the internal portions of the tree and the lack of sunlight results in the loss of internal foliage and the lack of new bud development. Second, the hormones (auxins) produced by the apical buds (the strongest growing buds) inhibit the growth and development of lateral and secondary buds, thus latent or dormant buds, are not likely to develop spontaneously while the apical buds are active. Unlike the mountain pines, Ponderosa, Japanese White Pine, Limber Pine, etc., the Japanese Black Pine has a very aggressive pattern of growth, this is most likely a result of its living in more moderate climates than the mountain pines. The Japanese Red Pine, also a pine from more mountainous regions has an intermediate growth pattern but is highly amenable to bud management techniques. All of these pines require full sun for optimal growth and some level of winter protection.

So why do we remove spring candles from JBP (and JRP)? We remove candles to do four main things

1.   To stimulate back budding and the activation of dormant “adventitious” buds on the woody branches of trees. This is done to shorten branches and make trees more compact and to stimulate and aid in developing branch taper and movement.
2.   To regulate the structure and pattern of growth of branches. When you remove the apical bud (aka spring candles), the resulting new candles, known as summer candles, have a shorter barren “neck”, that is the barren, budless, space between subsequent years or cycles of growth is shortened. This results in shorter internodes. As the latent or adventitious buds are found at the base of the candle, shortening the internodes can result in a denser and more highly refined branch structure.
3.    To reduce the length of needles on the tree. JBP can have needles that are very long (6” or greater) , on a very, very large tree the long needles may be  useable, however on smaller trees the needles are always out of proportion and when cut have a brown tip. Prior to Mr. Suzuki’s (Daiju-en, Nagoya, Japan) development of the summer decandling protocol, needle length in JBP was controlled by restricting water and fertilization and by allowing the tree to be very highly root bound. This process was extremely stressful and often lethal to the trees. It is now possible to easily maintain shohin JBP bonsai with needles less than 1” in length, or larger trees with needles 2-3” long as needed. In fact, it is possible to get JBP needles too short for big trees, therefore, timing and consistency are very important.
4.   To facilitate the development of uniform strength, needle length and density from the apex to the bottom branches of the tree. Without using the decandling technique this is almost impossible to do on JBP

So how do we decandle Japanese Black Pines? What are the preparatory steps to the process?

First of all, to prepare JBP for decandling they must be strong, have healthy root systems and be free of obvious disease. Like all bonsai, JBP need to be planted in a rapidly draining yet moisture retentive soil mixture that has good oxygenation. I personally use an akadama, hyuga or kiriyu and volcanic  (scoria) blend that has added charcoal and no organic component for all trees that are in bonsai pots. Other mixes work just fine if they have the key attributes of rapidly draining, moisture retentive and well oxygenated. Next, JBP need to be well fertilized and watered. I fertilize with both organic and defined chemical fertilizer (osmocote) beginning just as the trees are waking up and continue fertilizing until the day that the trees are decandled. JBP also like to be well watered, the old school approach of withholding water is dangerous to the health of your tree. You need to balance watering with growth and health, however if JBP are in a good soil mix they are difficult to over water, particularly when growing. When the spring candles are removed, we remove the fertilizer and then replace it 4-8 weeks later depending on climate. I also do preventative systemic insecticide (like an imidacloprid granule) and fungicide (a rotation) treatment.

So the take away from this is that we are working to have a young and vigorously growing root system coupled with young and reliably growing foliage all attached to aged appearing nebari, trunk and main branch system.

One additional step that you can take is to pinch the overly long spring candles in preparation for summer decandling. The timing of this can vary, typically we pinch overly long candles in late April or May, your timing can vary depending on your climate, how you winter your trees, etc. By pinching candles I mean if you have candles that bolt to 4-6” or greater, a good way to balance growth is to break the candle with your fingers. This should be done above the lowest needles that are starting to form, leaving the needles will allow the candle to continue to grow and inhibit the development of summer buds until the timing for decandling is right. If you have candles get away from you, get very long and then have the needles emerge before you can pinch there is a second strategy. For those candles, after the needles have emerged pull all of the needles except for a dozen or so pairs at the very tip, that will keep the candle alive until the correct time for decandling, yet limit the energy it is capturing and help to balance growth. These pinched candles will be treated the same as the others when decandling occurs.
So when do we decandle Japanese Black Pines?

Well, that depends on where you live and how big your trees are. If you have a range of sizes, from shohin to very large (3+ feet tall) ogata-bonsai, your decandling timing will extend over a period of several 2-4 weeks. In northern US and high altitude locations, we typically start decandling in early June and finish up by mid to late June. When I lived in Arkansas, I would start in mid to late June and finish in mid-July. What determines when you need to decandle? The critical factor to consider is when will growth stop in the fall, when will the needles be hardened off by the transition to fall. Why? You want your needles to be hardened off and fully ready for winter, you also want to have a reliable period of known growth so that the needles will grow a predictable amount before they stop and harden off. This means, the later in the fall that trees can reliably grow to, the later in the summer the trees can be decandled. Make sense? So, when we decandle we start with our largest trees (and cork bark (nishiki) pines as well), transition to our medium sized trees a week or so later and then our small (kifu) and finally shohin trees. For some this may seem counterintuitive, however, let me say it again- we start with out largest trees and proceed to our smallest trees. The last trees done should be the shohin/mame trees.

So how do we decandle Japanese Black Pines ? (and Japanese Red Pines)

There are a number of techniques that can be used, including dividing a tree into strong, medium and weak zones and removing candles by zone on a 10-14 day interval, so you would start by removing the weak buds first, followed by those of medium strength about 10 days later and finally the strongest candles 10-14 days after the medium. The trees needles are then balances with fall removal of old needles and typically a spring reduction in new needles as needed. Variations of this theme are common and have been used for a number of decades.  Remember we start with the weaker buds because we assume that it will take them longer to develop to a common stage of development than those from the stronger areas.

The approach we are going to use here is different. It is an approach used by many today because it allows you to do all of your work on a given tree in a single sitting. What we will do is to remove all of the candles in one day. Please note, very weak or internal buds will not be touched- they will be left for next year. How do we do this? We start at the top of the tree and work down. We are trying to balance energy and to stage the timing of summer candle growth. Back to the top of the tree, using sharp scissors start cutting candles, please ensure that you cut the candle square to the end of the branch. -The strongest candles are cur so as to be left with the longest “stub”, that is moving up the candle from last years needles, there is a bare neck with no needles. This tissue is producing some of the auxins that the apical buds use to slow down development of the adventitous and lateral buds. By leaving a ¼” to ½” long stub we allow the tissue to continue to produce auxin and slow down the lateral buds at that point, but not produce so much auxin that he impacts more distant buds. This stub will dry our over the next two-three weeks and then new buds will activate and develop. As you move to the medium strength candles, you will leave a shorter stub, about 1/8-14” in length and finally on the weaker, smaller, buds we essentially leave 1/16-1/8” of tissue. Again, leave the weakest and internal buds alone if needed.

After all of the buds have been removed, we move back to the top of the tree. Using straight tweezers, we begin to remove needles. How many needles that you leave will vary on climate, tree, and goals for the tree. When you are first starting to do this, I am asking that you leave 6-8 pairs of needles at the top and on the strongest points, 9-10 pairs of needles in the middle strength areas of the tree and 11-12 pairs of needles on the lower part of the tree. When you pull the needles, grasp both needles and the sheath with your tweezers and pull them in the direction that the needles are growing. This will result in a clean branch end. Unlike Ponderosa or Japanese white Pines, it is not recommended to cut the needles off of JBP.

When you are done, it is best to sit back and look to see that the tree looks balanced from side to side and that the tree will tend to have more needles on the bottom branches than at the top. You should expect to see new buds emerging in 10-14 days or so, on strong trees you should see a number of buds emerging at each point where a candle was cut, and some may also appear on interior branches.

What is the next step? Fall work.

After the summer candles have grown, you will notice that they will be more compact and the stem (neck) will be shorter. You may also have numerous candles at each point where a spring candle was removed. In fall work, the first step will be to reduce the number of candles at each branch end to two. It is best to remove all candles that grow down (off the bottom of the branch) or straight up, if possible. Essentially, you are developing a fork at each branch end, in addition to the up and down buds, it is best if you can two buds that are fairly equal in strength. Hint- leave smaller candles towards the top of the tree and larger candles towards the bottom of the tree.

After the summer candle numbers have been reduced, it is time to remove all of the old needles. Using the straight tweezers, pull all of the old needles (those that you left on the tree when you cut the spring candles), again grasping both needles and the sheath, pulling them the direction that they grow. You may also chose to remove new needles from the strongest candles, not as many as in the summer , but reducing their number to limit spring candle growth to a more consistent level. Continue to feed the tree until it becomes dormant, then complete your fall work by cleaning the fertilizer, weeds, moss and trash from the soil surface and replace it with a clean covering of new soil.

Trees that will be shown in the Winter (December-March) should have their old needles and extra candles left on the tree until after the show to improve foliage density. Fall work is then done after the tree has been shown.

The process.

Decandling is a stressful procedure for pines. The stress is counteracted by the prolonged period of fertilization, watering and good sunlight. It can take a few years for your tree to stabilize and have uniform growth. Three to five years should get you a good deal of stability, this will however be affected by wiring, repotting, major restyling events. If you ever have a year where the tree doesn’t grow normally in the spring, poor or no candle growth, leave it alone. Remove old needles in the fall after candles grow and harden off, or if you get no candle growth, leave it completely alone and check to ensure it is draining well, etc.

Finally, styling Japanese Black Pines (and Red Pines) can be done most easily in the dormant period (December to March) or immediately after decandling, as long as care is taken to not damage the remaining needles. Strong trees can be wired in the late summer and fall, however the utmost in care must be taken to prevent needle damage.

I have not invented or discovered any of the techniques described herein. I have benefitted greatly by studying with Boon and learning and implementing these techniques over the past 8 years. There are numerous publications, online blogs and study groups,  that have covered this topic as well. I annually review Boon’s DVD on Decandling Japanese Black Pines ( ( to refresh my perspective as I begin to do summer work.

Good luck and good plucking!
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: akeppler on June 15, 2012, 10:48 PM
Thanks John. That was a lot of work. I would have paced about two miles to write that much.......
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Larry Gockley on June 15, 2012, 11:11 PM
I second that, thanks John. That WAS a lot of work. Larry
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Owen Reich on June 16, 2012, 03:58 AM
That's a pretty damn good summary  :).  There are a few things you can do to kick-start your trees that are a little weak as well.  I'll do a blog post on it soon.  Decandling a big weak BP  tomorrow to help it get back on track.  Sounds confusing I know.  I'll post after the new candles pop and extend in July. 
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Judy on June 16, 2012, 07:47 AM
I'll be looking forward to the post for weak trees.  I have a cork bark JBP that I did first major work on last winter, and repotted this spring, that does not seem strong enough for candling, but I need to spur back budding on....
Thanks for this thread, it's very concise and clear.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 16, 2012, 09:00 AM
Judy, you should wait. One thing that you can do is take sharp scissors and cut the old needles in half, this lets more light in and is what I do on rough trees. A second approach is to pull (with tweezers or fingers) all of the old needles that grow stright up or grow down on branches- except for the new needles, this will certainly leave the needle buds on the side and give opportunity for candle development. Also, if you have very strong candles at the apex you can cut the strongest ones, but leave the needles. Why don't you post a picture and we can look to see what is going on. Nishiki Pines can be finicky.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 16, 2012, 09:11 AM
Owen, just caught your post. I agree and understand, for my purposes it was best to teach by the standard. The nuances need to be learned in person and with the right material at the right time. Looking forward to seeing the piece.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Adair M on June 16, 2012, 10:50 AM

Excellent post about decandling and needle plucking.

I have some questions about the needle plucking:

Plucking as you described destoys the needle bud, does it not?  I saw your advice to Judy where you state to leave some side needles if she wanted to induce some needle buds to develop.  So, I'm thinking that if I have a tree that's earlier in it's refinement, I should leave some side needles so that I might get more interior buds/branches, and the technique you described is for more refined trees.

Last fall I plucked all the old needles on a JBP that was pretty rough.  It was nursery stock, and I'm trying to get it to bud back to shorten the branches.  I plucked needles, one at a time, and intentionally left the sheath.  My thinking was that I would allow light in to the center of the tree, but not destroy the needle bud. 

My results?  I did induce a lot of back budding.  But not from where I had plucked needles.  Old dormant "adventitious" buds (Candle base buds) popped.  So I am getting the back budding I wanted.

However, I do see swelling at the locations that where I had plucked needles.  There might be buds developing there, just haven't had time to develop yet.  I will watch to see what happens when I decandle in a couple of weeks.  They may get stimulated to develop then.

I do have Boon's JBP series, and will watch it again before I decandle this year.  But his trees are farther along in their refinement than mine.  It seems there is a difference of what we need to do for fully refined trees vs rougher stock.

Anyway, thanks again for an excellent post.  I'm off to the bonsai shop to pick up my Zelkova I boarded there while I was in Costa Rica.  Yes, I did the canopy zip lines!  EEEYYOOoooowwwwww!  I did manage to avoid the flesh eating bacteria.


Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 16, 2012, 12:53 PM
On most black pines, the adventitious buds are the best source for new growth. You pluck the needles the bud dies, you pull needles out one at a time the bud dries up and dies, you cut the needles the bud dries out and dies. The best thing is to get the apical buds really strong (branch and top) fertilize the daylights out of the tree, let the candles run and raise the Auxin levels to really high levels and then cut them off, the energy produced, the release from hormone suppression and the presence of sunlight will kick the adventitious buds right off.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Chrisl on June 16, 2012, 12:58 PM
Great summary John!  Thanks for taking the time to type all that out! ;)
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Judy on June 16, 2012, 05:21 PM
Hi John, Here are some shots of my corker, the first one is prior to getting rid of the top whorl reverse taper issue, and winter work, the next is after the winter work, the last two are current. There appears to be small new buds in the center of the current growth, but the new growth didn't actually extend this year, just opened at the tips.  As I said, I did have to repot this spring, as the water wouldn't drain thru the old substrate.  It seems healthy, but not pushing strongly.  Thanks for the help!
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 16, 2012, 07:33 PM
Judy, I take it that you haven't repotted the tree yet. What is your fertilizing regimen? The tree looks like it is stronger than it was, but I would suggest not  decandling this year, fertilize well, repot next winter and get the roots cleaned up. You will need to bareroot 1/2 of the tree and get it into new soil. Good luck, John
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Owen Reich on June 16, 2012, 09:45 PM
John, i figured as much.  Got to start from a basic set of processes. 

Adair, just showed Fujikawa-San a clip of Monte Verde zip-lines.  I want to go back bad.
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Judy on June 17, 2012, 09:27 AM
John, I did repot it this spring.  The old soil was too broken down (old akadama) to allow good drainage, and I had to bare root it then. I think that may be part of why it's so slow right now, I did too much in one season.   It's in a haydite, river rock, and charcoal mix now...
 I have been using a combination of ferts.  I use Dyna-gro almost every other day, and have some green dream on it as well.  I've done a couple applications of Miracle grow recently to see if that will give it a boost.
 I got this as a learning tree 3 years ago, I didn't know at that time that cork barks were more difficult than regular pines, live and learn.  But I have learned a lot so far, just more s l o w l y  than I imagined.  Here is a photo of the tree the first year I had it as a comparison.  Thanks for taking the time to look at this.  Sorry if I clogged up the thread... :)
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: John Kirby on June 17, 2012, 01:23 PM
Judy, it is not a Nishiki, so I would treat its a regular black pine. Goof luck, it should pop with the repotting over the next year. John
Title: Re: Will Schedules Change - 2012 Calendar off
Post by: Judy on June 18, 2012, 07:58 AM
Thanks John, that's my hope too.
 I was told by the seller that it was Nishiki... Guess I don't know how to tell the difference. Thanks again for this thread, great info!