Informal Upright Five Needle Pine

The next tree I was tasked to work on is another Five needle pine.  Surprised?  Once the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter arrives, I’ll be more focused more on Black Pines and Maples.  In this post, I will talk about what I did on this tree, share some tips on fan shaped pads and an overview of when to work on Five Needle Pines and other high mountain pines.

Here is the tree before the work.  Mr. Tanaka said that he wired the main branches down years ago so all I have to do is wire the smaller branches and style the tree.  Easy right?  um…

The first thing I did was cut the old needles off.  Sometimes the old needles need to be cut and sometimes they can be pulled off.  You can test the tree by pulling a couple of needles and if it pulls off the skin of the branch, then it’s a good idea to cut the needles instead. I had to cut the needles on this one.


Before I started wiring the tree, Mr. Tanaka said, make the spaces on your spirals bigger and use less wire.  It surprised me a bit because I thought my wiring was pretty good.  I talked to Mr. Tanaka more about this and he said that my wire was good, but if I can do the same work with less wire, that is better. He said, “your wiring is too good.”  What???  I didn’t really understand what he meant by that but after working on this tree, I started  understood what he meant.  The way I wired the formal upright in a previous post was very strict to the rules of wiring.  I wired it so that I could just about bend any area of the branch I needed.  I believe what Mr. Tanaka was trying to tell me is that the wiring doesn’t have to be that refined and applying the wire only on the areas I need to bend is more efficient and important.  I guess with the cost of copper these days, I don’t blame him.  I do often wonder how some of the pros were able to get a tree looking really good without wiring every branch.

On this tree, I tried to focus my wiring on the areas I know I needed to bend and I didn’t wire every branch.  It turns out that not wiring every branch is more difficult then wiring every branch and get the results that you wanted.  I saw that I really needed to have a sense of what I wanted the tree to look like before I applied the wire.  Before, it’s always been somewhat cloudy to exactly where I wanted everything and having ever branch wired catered to that because I could move any branch anywhere I wanted. I would say that this is my first attempt at styling a tree without wiring almost every branch.

Here is my end result.  What do you think?  This tree took be about three days total from start to finish.  The height of the tree is 58cm (23 in).  The trunk is 23 cm (9 in) wide and the root spread is about 34 cm (13 in).

What I did and what learned

As I was wiring and setting the branches, I was thinking about some core principles in style.  I looked at all the branches coming out of the trunk and made sure that they were all in sync with each other (Mr. Tanaka always refers to it as the bones of the tree). Did any of them needed to be brought down any more or were they all in good position.  I ended up guide wiring the second lowest left branch down slightly.  Once all the main branches were looking good, I started making nice round fan shape pads.  The largest pad on the tree is the key branch which is the lower left.  On the right side of the tree I started playing around with making large and small pads here and there to give the tree a bit of a more natural soft feel.  I noticed on all the good White Pine bonsais, the pads are never really one large pad but multiple small pads that make up a large pad.  This technique is much more tricky then it sounds. Making one large pad is easy compare to many small pads within a large pad.  I also tried to keep the lines of each pad nice and clean so they can be seen clearly, especially for a 2D picture.

The most important thing I learned on this tree was how to use less wire and still make the tree come out nice.  I’d say that I probably used about 20 percent less wire on this tree then other trees I’ve previously worked on.  It was difficult at first but after awhile of head scratching and restless nights, I got the hang of it and pressed on.  I wouldn’t say that I’m proficient at it yet, but getting there.

Thoughts on the future of this tree

As this tree gets older, I would like to see more branch ramification on the sparse areas and perhaps more branches to cover the trunk a little bit more at the top.  I’m not a big fan of seeing the trunk line from bottom to top.  I prefer to see more of the bottom and have the top disappear into the foliage.  There are a couple of pads on the tree that I would have liked to make a little bit more fuller and rounder but the tree lacked the branches to do so at this point so that will be something for the future.  Overall, I’m happy with how the tree came out and what I’ve learned.

Mr. Tanaka’s thoughts

Since the people of Kinbon magazine (Japanese bonsai magazine) was here doing a article on Mr. Tanaka, he didn’t get a chance to really critic and adjust the tree.  A few days later though, I showed him the picture and here is what he said.  Mr. Tanaka said that overall the tree looks very nice and the picture came out good.  He said that he’d like to see the key branch slightly longer in the future. He also likes the space between the key branch and the branch above it and said that was good (I was somewhat concerned with that). He did add that there is a large side branch off of the key branch that needed to be brought down slightly to hide it a bit. After a few grunts he said that the tree looked good and that I did a good job. (Yes!)


Here’s a before and after of the tree together

A tip on creating fan shaped pads with many branches vs. few branches

Here is a top view of the lowest left side pad.  There are many branches available so I was able to make the lower branch fairly full looking and made it the size that I wanted.

Here is a pad above the lowest left side pad.  Notice how the spaces between the branches are wider?  By spacing the branches further apart, I was able to  make the pad the size I want with less branches. Since there is plenty of room between the branches now, I should have no problem growing more branches in the future.  If I tried to make the spacing between the branches similar to the lowest fuller pad, this pad would end up being too small.

Five needle pine and high mountain pine time table.

I may have stated this in previous posts but it’s worth repeating.  Here is a time table of when to work one your five needle pine or any other high mountain pines.

Jan-March (Winter)= repotting

April-May (Spring) = pinching new grow where needed (this step is only for more refined trees).  If it’s a developing tree, you can begin feeding the tree.

August-November (Fall) = remove old needles, reduce new branches to two and wire the tree.  This is also the time to start feeding refined trees til Winter.

and repeat….  pretty straight forward huh?  Depending on your area, the time table may be shifted forward or backwards. This schedule is good for Japan and the US and I believe most countries in the northern hemisphere.  In the southern hemisphere where the seasons are at different times, adjust it according to the season.

Also note that high mountain pines do not like a lot of water so take care not to over water the trees and allow them to stay on the dryer side relative to other species.


I would again like to thank all of you readers out there for visiting the site and subscribing.  I’m getting more readers every day and it’s amazing that there are people all over the world doing Bonsai.  Seeing Bonsai grow more and more in the world  motives me  more so to keep writing and to continue to spread information.  I hope you all enjoyed this post because I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Well there you have it.  One more tree done and many more to go.

Thanks for reading.

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16 thoughts on “Informal Upright Five Needle Pine

  1. Benny says:

    Thank you for the post, Peter. The close-up pictures of the foliage pads are extremely helpful, and the Time Table is exactly what I need.
    Question for you: Are there any ‘multiple mini pads within a larger pad’ in any of the above pictures? I can not envision what it would look like.

    Thanks again for another informative post,

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Benny,

      I didn’t get a good shot of them and for this tree the pictures are difficult to take. It’s all about clumping branches together and having small gaps between them. Overall, they make the large fan shape pad that you see. I’ll try to get some shots of some examples and post them in the future to better explain how they work. For the most part on this tree, the branches are all evenly spaced apart to give everything room to grow. In the future when the tree grows more branches, I hope to make more adjustments and show off the mini pads within the big pads. Thanks and take care Benny.

  2. Barry McDonnell says:

    I enjoyed reading both posts today, the pine and the cracked pot. I had a similar experience with wiring with my teacher also. I needed to clean out and wire a ficus forest planting that had a good growing season this summer and fall. Chase R., my teacher, wanted me to thin out the growth and wire “some banches” to give each tree some definition and create an overall triangular outline to the group. I, of course, ended up wiring every branch that was left after thinning. When asked if I was overdoing the wiring, he of course responed YES! The last few trees received less wire, and looked just fine. You learn by doing.

  3. Daniel Dolan says:


    Really appreciated this latest post. Again especially with the timing of key tasks….now if you could just complete this for every Bonsai Species….self-publish it as a mini manual and you could probably sell it for $25 each.

    My question today relates to the clusters of needles at the tip of each small branchlette I’ll call them. They do appear to be “full” clusters with the neat loop of wire tilting them up.

    I am often instructed to cut or pluck out the bottom pointing needles….but at least from these photos you don’t seem to have done this.

    Please advise.

    Best regards,


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Hum… 25 bucks you say…. ;o)

      Here is the answer to your needle question. The needles that are pointing down should be pulled if they are along the branch. The needles at the end of the branch should not be pulled and slightly tilted up instead. Having said that, sometimes there’s always a couple of needles that point down even when you point the end up. If that is the case, you can pull a few of those off too. But overall, the end should be a 360 in needles.

      If you took a cluster and pulled every needle going down instead of wiring them up, the tree is going to look very stiff and unnatural because a natural needle cluster should be a, “cluster,” instead of a half cluster. This technique can be applied to all pines and junipers.

      I hope this clears things up Daniel. Thanks for the question and take care

  4. Alex Voorhies says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond! I knew there was more to the story, and your explanation makes a lot of sense. Balance in a tree is always tough to articulate, it seems like eventually we can see it, even if we can’t always explain why. I love the idea that personal choice could make so many great trees, but I also see the need to balance the foliage with the character of the trunk. I have always been taken with the use of negative space in paintings and sculpture, so it makes sense I would be obsessed with it in Bonsai as well. I am looking forward to a future post on balance and negative space, it seems like something the Japanese interact with very easily, and those of us in the US have a harder time with. Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

  5. Alex Voorhies says:

    Great work on the blog Peter, your bonsai skills are growing rapidly, and it is great to get to follow along. The influx of bonsai knowledge to the US is exciting!

    I have a question about pines in Japan. I see some pines that have a very regular silhouette like the one you worked on in this post, and others that have a more uneven and broken up outline. Sometimes this seems to be accomplished by using negative space and excluding some branches to make a gap, other times they make upper branches protrude just a bit farther, so that the the overall outline is even, but there is internal variation in branch lengths.

    Is this just a matter of aesthetic and preference? I am meaning more on informal uprights, slants etc as I realize formal uprights have their own concerns. I find myself preferring the more broken up look over the perfect silhouette, but I see photos of high quality trees being styled both ways. Any thoughts on this?

    Also, on this particular tree, the left side has less branches and negative spaces between, where as the right side is pretty packed. Does this create an imbalance in the tree? Would you prefer to have more branches on the left, or would you consider removing one or more pads from the right and rearranging branches to even out the right side with the left?

    Thanks again Peter, keep up the great work!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for reading the blog!
      Good observation of trees and a great questions. The answer can be somewhat complex and lengthy but here is a quick to the point explanation.

      The broken up look and the perfect silhouette look I came to find out is more of a personal preference to the artist. Having said that, the tree does still have to make sense. If the trunk on this tree was more wild looking with strange movements and curves, the broken up feeling with negative space would work very well. Because this tree has a fairly standard trunk that just has a powerful feeling to it (almost formal upright feeling) there needs to be more branches on the tree to go with that. Of course, If I decided to remove some branches, the the tree may look perfectly fine and just more open. Did it make the tree better or does it just become different? I believe that’s where the personal taste comes in. If I had to tree likes this, I’d probably style both in very different ways.

      As for the balance of the tree, you are correct that there is a imbalance with the tree. Foliage wise, the tree is very much imbalance, but we have to take into consideration of the trunk’s direction and that it’s leaning to the left which does adds weight to that side. If I had more branches on the left side, I might have to make the pads on the right side larger or longer to offset that extra weight. That large negative space on the left side can be a desirable affect because it does show the view that the main branch is the dominate branch. Normally, dominate branches like that will have large spaces between it and the branch above. It might also be used to signify why the tree is slanting to the left in the first place.

      Balance can be very tricky to explain or discuss because there are so many variables. Add that to the individual perspective of what balance is and you can have some very different looking trees sometimes. I’ve seen trees that only have foliage on one side but the tree still looks balance. Perhaps it’s the foliage in balance with the trunk as the counter or vise versa. I hope I was able to shed some light on balance on this tree and I’ll definitely be talking more about it in the future as I learn more and refined my thoughts on tree balance.

      Thanks again for the good questions Alex. I hope all is well with you and your research. Take care and hope to see you again in the future.

  6. Glenn Kozumi says:

    Very instructive Peter, thank you for the article.

  7. Paul Landis says:

    Great post Peter!!

  8. duane kalua says:

    Awesome job Peter! I really enjoy reading your posts & look foward to many more in the future.

  9. Very interesting to hear your train of thought while working on trees. This information you share is truely a gift. Thanks!

  10. Frank says:

    Your post just get better and better. Thanks for another great article.

  11. jesus says:

    Amazing Work!!! thanks for shared it.
    All the best.
    Jesus Cuevas

  12. Sam Edge says:

    Thanks again Peter for a very enjoyable article. I hope you get more time off to write more posts.

  13. cherylas2009 says:

    another good post, Peter!

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