Five Needle Pine – Quickly

Now that it’s September, we are starting to work on the Five Needle Pines.  For the last week I’ve been working on a lot of Trident Maples and Mr. Tanaka threw this one in the middle of it.  I was glad to work on it because I was starting to see Trident Maple leaves when I closed my eyes.  I was even starting to dream about them….  well no, not really.  Got you!  Anyways, I will write a future post about those Tridents in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that one.  In this post, I will give some general information  about Five Needle Pines and show some before and afters of my work and Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments.


Here at Aichien we start working on Five Needles Pines at the end of August through the Fall.  Things that we can do now are cutting the old needles, cutting branches and wiring the tree.  Here are some pictures to show what the old and the new needles look like.

This branch was cut from another Five Needle Pine.  I wanted to give an exaggerated example.  You can see the two new growth tips.  It looks like in the Spring, the center strong candle was removed.  This was probably done to either weaken the branch or develop the two remaining branches to achieve more structure.

Here’s the same branch with the old needles cut off.  The reason why we cut the old needles is because sometimes when you pull them off, they take some of the skin of the branch with it.  These tiny little injuries can compound into a dead branch.

Here’s a branch that I took off the tree I’m working on.  Can you tell where the old and the new needles end and begin?  If you look closely there are a couple of clues.  Between the new and old needles, there is a small gap.  This little gap will tell you where the old ends and the new begins.  This pictures doesn’t show the color too well but the old needles will usually be more yellowish and dull then the new needles.

Here is the same branch with the old needles cut off.  Sometimes if the new growth is too strong we will remove some of the new needles to slow the area down.

Fertilizing and watering

In the middle of August we started to lightly fertilize the Five Needle Pines here.  On refined trees, this will be the first time the tree gets food this year.  If we feed Five Needle Pines in the Spring, the needles and candle growth will become too long.  Since we do not de-candle Five Needle Pines like Black Pines, we have to control the feeding to keep the needles short.  If you’re developing a Five Needle Pine and want the tree to thicken or grow vigorously for main branch development, feeding should start in the Spring.  Mr. Tanaka told me, “On Black Pines, the bark is the most important thing, on Five Needle pines, the needle length is the most important thing.”

How much water we give a Five Needle Pine is one of the most important points to understand to develop them correctly.  Five Needle Pines do not like a lot of water (very clean water).  They prefer to be on the dry side.  How dry do you ask?  One day I was walking the yard and inspecting the trees.  I see one Five Needle Pine  that has some weeds growing out of the soil and they were wilted.  That’s how dry the roots need to be.  When we do water the trees, we water mainly the top soil only.  The water will slowly work it’s way down into the soil in time.  It’s not a good idea to completely water the roots unless the tree has just been repotted.  If the trees gets overwatered, they will start loosing branches, the new growth will be slow and the foliage will start turning yellow.

Here is what I came up with

Before I started the tree, Mr. Tanaka says he plans on selling this tree soon, so don’t spend too much time on it.  Work quickly and make the tree look nice.  I spent about 9 hours on this tree.  I think that was quick…?

Here is the final product after Mr. Tanaka made some adjustments.

Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments and what I learned

1.  If you look at my picture, there was a branch in the back left that is now gone.  I originally wanted to cut it off but Mr. Tanaka said, let just use it and see what it looks like.  I did that in my picture and when Mr. Tanaka adjusted the tree he cut it off!  The lesson there is that nothing is for sure and things will always change as the tree takes shape.

2. What disappointed me was that the branches on the  left lower side of the tree was somewhat set like Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments when I was working on it.  In the last minute I changed it and moved them more to the right.  That area was the first part that Mr. Tanaka adjusted.  All I could do was shake my head at my mistake.  Instead of asking Mr. Tanaka why he believe the change on the lower left branches are better, I decided to look at the tree and tried to figure out myself.  After some contemplating,  I found that the reason why Mr. Tanaka adjusted the foliage to the left was to balance it with the right side.  Note how after Mr. Tanaka adjusted the tree, the canopy and lower branches have a more triangular shape, whereas before in my picture, the triangle wasn’t quite complete. It’s either that, or he was using the foliage to cover some of the empty space on lower trunk.  What do you think?

3.  Some of my fan shaped pads were too broad and Mr. Tanaka tightened them by making them more rounder.  Here is an analogy. My fan shaped pads looked like a fan that was half open.  Mr. Tanaka made them look like the fan was open all the way.  Did that makes sense?  After Mr. Tanaka made the pad changes, the tree looked more softer and cloud like.  A good example of that is in the lower left pad.

Here’s a tip!

Did you notice how the bottom of the pads are very clean?  How do you suppose I did that?  I didn’t just pull off all the needles that were pointed down.  Here is what I did and something you, the reader can try on your pines.  It is an easy technique that will greatly improve how your pines will look after styling.

Here is a typical Five Needle Pine foliage.  There are needles that point down and if left there, will give the tree a untidy look.

Here is the same branch after I wired it.  At the end of the wire I made a little hook that cradled the bottom and pushes the needles that were pointing downwards, up.  Now the bottom is nice and clean.

Here’s a picture of the bottom and a better view of the hook.  It takes some practice to get the hook at just the right place.  If the hook is too short, it will not cradle the downward needles.  If the hook is too far out, it will compress the needles together and the puffy feeling of the foliage will be lost.

I hope you all got some good information from this post.  I’ll be working on more Five Needle Pines in the future and I’ll be sure to share them with you.  If you have any particular questions about Five Needle Pines that I did not cover, feel free to ask a question in the comment area.  I would be more then happy to answer any questions you may have.  Thanks for visiting and as always…

Thanks for reading.

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24 thoughts on “Five Needle Pine – Quickly

  1. […] Peter offers a little tip on cleaning up White pine needles. […]

  2. […] Peter offers a little tip on cleaning up White pine needles. […]

  3. Hawk says:

    Outstanding blog, added it to bookmarks and will follow you closely. Interesting to hear about the feeding and watering.

  4. Donald Rodriguez says:

    hello peter,
    Great work as usual. If white pine is grafted on black pine root stock is there any difference in care for the tree? Looking foward to your trident maple post.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Donald,

      I would treat a white pine grafted to black pine stock like a white pine. Control the water because the foliage is not going to take a lot of water and keep the tree protected in the Summer. The heat in your area will burn the needles and the tree will become weak. In the winter, really be careful of the watering. If it’s raining a lot, you should put a block of wood under one side to help the pot drain better or move the tree to a overhang so that it doesn’t get wet. In the summer here, if the soil is still wet, we don’t water the white pines. I hope this answers your questions Donald. Hope you’re doing well. Take care my friend

  5. Peter Tea says:

    Thanks everybody! Every comment makes me feel like I’m a little closer to home!

  6. Dirk Schmitz says:

    Hello Peter, thank you so much. Your website is really the best site for bonsai information in the whole internet. Please keep writing.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks Dirk! I don’t know if my site is the best in the whole internet. LOL I really appreciate the compliment! I’ll keep them coming. Take care!

  7. Candace Key says:

    Hi Peter, Another amazing post. It is great the way you illustrate what you are saying in such detail. Very easy to follow and appreciate. Loved hearing about one of the ‘other’ pines. You post just became my bible on 5 needle pines.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thanks for following the blog Candace! I’m glad I’m able to help people out with my post. I think it’s just the coolest thing to show people back home what’s going on here in Japan. Take care!

  8. Great post, Peter. Very informative, as usual. You quickly turned that WP into a real head-turner!
    Do you use different soil (size and composition) for JBP and WP’s at Aichi-en?

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for the compliment! The soil mix used for JBP and WP is very much different. For JBP we use about 50 percent akadama, 25 percent pumice and 25 percent coarse river sand. For WP we use almost 80-90 percent akadama and a splash of pumice and river sand. I know it sounds backwards since WP’s like to be on the dry side. I plan on writing a post about soil mixes in the future and how they affect tree and root growth. its very different then what I have learned in the past. Probably sometime next Spring. Thanks Greg!

  9. Greg Brenden says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. John Kirby says:

    Very nice Peter.

  11. David says:

    Again very interesting. Especially the part about feeding white pines.

  12. Jay Conor says:

    Hi Peter, first let me thank you for all this wonderful info your providing the bonsai community around the world. One of the topics I do appreciate you adding in some posts is watering needs for the tree your writing about. How about a separate post on what your learning about proper watering techniques. J.C.

  13. WOW! I’m speechless (for once)

  14. Ron says:

    Hi Peter great post….Hey your giving away some secrets….I like that! Funny how different the Pines can be. I remember receiving info from boon on the 5 needle pine….Cut No Pull. Makes more sense now. After reading about the patina on pots and this blog my hair hurts!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Ron,

      When it comes to Bonsai, I have no secrets. I’ll share everything. Maybe I need to put a mask on so that the other Bonsai professionals won’t know who’s telling. LOL. and Sorry I made your hair hurt. Haha

  15. Jeff Lahr says:

    Very informative. People do not grow white pine where I live on the Central Coast of CA, I don’t think that it gets cold enough. But I do love the love of a five-needle pine. Thanks for sharing.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Yes, one of the main problems in your area and in the south is that it doesn’t get cold enough. I can get away with it in San Jose if the tree is protected and the watering schedule is strict. A shohin Five Needle Pine and a spare refrigerator might work? ;o)

  16. Bonsai Eejit says:

    Great post again Peter. I love the way you show your work and then the adjustments, not that they were major!

    As for your question about the empty space or more triangular, it achieved both! 🙂

  17. Frank says:

    Peter———— good job on the Goyo ! I do see a small difference when Mr. Tanaka made minor adjustments but your work is excellent ! Can you just imagine how your tweaking will be after 4 or 5 years there ! It’s almost there already and you have not been there a year ! Keep it up and you will surly be a great asset to the US bonsai world ! Thanks

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