Black Pine Revisited

Black Pine Revisited

Do any of you remember this tree?  If so, great memory!  This was one of the first Black Pines I worked on here at Aichien.  I worked on this tree back in April and the post that went with it was on my old blog site.  Recently I worked on it again so I thought I would repost the old post here and show you the recent work right after. Enjoy!

Wiring a Black Pine (April 14, 2011)

This is the second Black Pine that I was told to wire and style.  First thing to do was to pull the old needles and some of the new needles.  The strong areas I pulled the old and the new down to only three pairs of needles.  On medium areas, I left four pairs and on the weaker areas, I left five pairs.  (In California, I normally leave more needles overall.  In Nagoya, more is pulled, though one day back in California I’d like to see the results of pulling more needles.)

Here is a shot of the tree after the needles were pulled.  Afterwards I sat there looking at the tree for awhile and Mr. Tanaka says, “Start working!  Studying the tree is important, but work and study at the same time!”  I quickly got my tools and started to wire and cut the tree.

One of the first things that I wanted to do with the tree was make it shorter.  I consulted Mr. Tanaka and he agreed.

Here’s a shot of the tree after the apex was cut off

This is to give you an idea of how thick of a branch the apex was.

Here is what the tree looks like after I finished.

Some of the things that I did was bend many of the branches down.  Because this was my first time really styling a tree on my own, I wasn’t quite sure how Mr. Tanaka wanted me to cut the tree.  I have my own methods, but didn’t know if Mr. Tanaka would be happy with them.  I ended up only cutting some small branches and kept most of everything.  I figured that this way, Mr. Tanaka can always cut branches off as oppose to needing a branch that I cut off.  You can’t see it in the picture, but there is a foot long bar in the back of the tree.  I used it to pull the main branch on the right, back.

After I finished the work, I told Mr. Tanaka and he sat down and looked at the tree.  He told me to take the picture of my work, then he’s going to make some corrections.

Here is the tree after Mr. Tanaka’s adjustments


As I watched Mr. Tanaka work, I stood behind him and started to take notes on my notepad.  Here are some key things that I saw him do.

  • Tree was tilted to the right more
  • The branch structure was simplified by cutting branches that were too long or crowded
  • The main branch was shorted slightly
  • All the main branches were pulled down more
  • Multiple small branches that grew from the same point, were reduced down to two.
  • The fan of the pad was spread further apart and made wider
  • The pad itself was made flatter
  • The overall tree is more tight, whereas before the tree was too wide

After Mr. Tanaka finished, we talked about what he did and what I learned.  Watching him work, gave me a good idea of his styling and tree training characteristics.  The structure of the tree really came out nice after he adjusted everything.  I hope to apply what I learned today to future trees I work on.

Thanks for reading.

Note: This tree is by no means, “show ready.”  This is the work that is done during the developing stages.  Branches still need to be develop and branches left on the tree now, may be cut in the future.  One thing I’ve learned early on is that Bonsai takes many years to develop.  The whole idea of, “instant bonsai,” is not how real bonsai is developed and is mainly used as an entertainment tool during demonstrations.  When trees are put into shows here in Japan, they are worked on for many years in preparation for the show. 

Now the Present, January 2012

Here is what the tree looks like now.  In June, the tree was de-candled and pretty much looked just like it did after I wired it the first time in April.  The Meifu-ten show is coming up this weekend and Mr. Tanaka and I were walking the yard looking for trees that he wanted to sell.  He stopped at this one and said, clean this tree up and make it look nice for the sales area.  I felt excited that I was going to work on this tree again, but also a bit sad that it might be the last.

Here is the tree after I cleaned it up.

Preparing a tree for show or sale is much different then work done on developing a tree.  Since this tree was de-candled last June, the de-candled points had many candles growing out of them.  Normally at this time of year, we would go through the tree and pull off the old needles and thin out the multiple buds at the de-candled point to two.  If I did that to this tree, it was be about half as full.  To get this tree to look like this with the proper structure would take a couple of more years to develop.  Since this tree is going to the sales area, I kept the multiple candles so that the tree would looks much denser and ramified then it really is.  All I did was pull the brown old needles, clean up the pads, did some slight adjustments to the branches and added a few pieces of extra wire to move a few branches around.  The tree took me about 4 hours to clean up and prep.

Overall the tree came out pretty good.  If I was going to put it in a show, I’d probably make more refined tweaks to the branches and tilt the tree to the right a bit.  Did you notice that the apex centerline is on the left side of the trunk centerline?  That would be okay if the main branch was on the left side but it’s not. I thought about adjusting the foliage but the top of the trunk itself is somewhat leaning to the left as well.  Since I’m not repotting the tree at this point, I can’t make the adjustment.

I showed the tree to Mr. Tanaka and he was satisfied with the work and the tree was placed with the other trees going to sale.  I showed Mr. Tanaka the photo of the tree and told him I was surprised as to how quickly the tree started to look good since I did cut the apex off only 7 months ago and the tree itself was so sparse after I wired it  Mr. Tanaka looked at me jokingly and said, “did you forget where you’re apprenticing?” (My face turned red and we both started laughing)

I hope Mr. Tanaka is able to sell the tree and make some good money.  On the other hand, I hope he doesn’t so that I can continue to develop the tree (sshhhh don’t tell him that!).

Thanks for reading.

P.S. If you are actively reading this blog, I would appreciate it if you subscribe to it (right column of the blog).  This is one of the best ways for me to know how many people are reading.  Thanks!

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18 thoughts on “Black Pine Revisited

  1. michaeljermiah says:

    i live on the gold coast in queensland we donot really have a winter and of course
    the seasons are reversed i have 1 black pine about 15 yrs it is in very good
    condition but i have never been game to do any thing risky in styling after reading
    your blog i will pluck up courage and go for it

    thanks for every thing michael jeremiah

  2. Lonnie says:

    I noticed a little bird on your site, it looks like you are now on twitter! This great, I’m looking forward to what you have to say. Excellent job on the tree, I also am amazed at how nice it looks just in a single growing season.

  3. Peter Tea says:

    Thanks everybody for reading as usual! I’ll keep them coming!

  4. Mike Arakaki says:

    Wow, just subtle differences between you and your oyakata. I guess the difference between being good and being great! You still do a mightly fine job in my eyes! Thanks for an interesting post.

  5. jeremiah lee says:

    Geez, what a transition and in such a short amount of time. Awesome!

  6. It is interesting to see how disordered and messy the tree looks before your work and how neat it looks after. With the old needles gone the tree looks so vibrant and healthy. I am amazed at how much improvement you can accomplish in just 4 hours. Beautiful work and very inspiring.

  7. Brian VF says:

    Fantastic work Peter! Thanks for continuing to share your apprenticeship!

  8. glenn van winkle says:

    It is delightful to watch the development of the tree as you have worked on it. I see the fertilizer bags at the corners of the tree. Is that a commercial product or home brewed. To see the tree ready for the sale table you would never know that the crown was cut back so hard…keep the posts coming I love the read and get lots from them…..Glenn

  9. Seiji says:

    Great blog. Very informative and educational. It’s great seeing the progress and the comments as the trees progress. Keep them coming.

  10. bonsaijapan says:

    Hi Peter,

    Interesting you mentioned that needles are pulled to leave 3, 4 and 5 pair groupings in strong, medium and weak areas respectively. This was how i saw pines plucked at Taisho-en as well and several other nurseries around the place.

    I have used this method on my trees back at home and have had good results. I believe that my home conditions are similar to that of yours in California with the exception of your water problems so i can’t imagine you having any issues with this amount of needle reduction once you get back home.

    Perhaps leaving a few more needles keep the tree a little more healthy as it is able to photosynthesise more, or perhaps the extra removed foliage encourages more budding to replace the removed needles. It would be interesting to test side by side.


    • Peter Tea says:

      “Perhaps leaving a few more needles keep the tree a little more healthy as it is able to photosynthesize more, or perhaps the extra removed foliage encourages more budding to replace the removed needles. It would be interesting to test side by side.”

      Hi BonsaiJapan, Last June when I was home, I pulled more needles then I use to and the tree seems to be doing fine. It’s very interesting what you said in your comment and I quoted a portion of it because I had a conversation with Mr. Tanaka about it when I first came to Japan. The tricky part about working with Black Pines is that keeping more needles can strengthen and weaken the area, whereas removing more needles can weaken and strengthen the area. HUH???

      It’s very complicated and hard to explain. It’s a combination of a feeling that you have when you work on the tree and your understanding of the overall balance of the tree. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to explain it in words for a post and have found it very difficult. It’s almost something that can only be learned by doing it and experience.

      Hopefully one day I can explain it all! Thanks for the great comment!

  11. Darrell S. says:

    This kind of post is so helpful for someone like myself who is still relatively new to the art. I would have been paralyzed at the thought of shortening the tree by removing such a substantial branch….. However, to see the final result, the balance and symmetry of the fresh growth…. very inspirational Peter!

    Thank You!

  12. Tung Tran says:

    I can’t believe it this tree turning great after 7 months. You’re awesome, Peter. Don’t forget to tell us how much you sell this tree for.
    Thanks for the follow up in this tree.

  13. Steve DaSilva says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Penny Pawl says:

    This gives me more courage to pull old needles. Penny

  15. xwires says:

    Good work Peter – looking forward to the Meifu-ten report!

  16. Mac says:

    Peter, Thank you for the follow up on this tree. We all can learn something from your work and comments.

  17. Tom M says:

    Peter great post and great pine. It definitely developed quickly. Keep the posts coming your blog is great.

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