Do you remember this tree? If you don’t or at least, need a little help to remember, you can learn more about its history by reading the previous post about it (Remember Me?).
Last April, I revisited this tree again, and you guessed it, pulled all the needles off. Except, this time, we took it one step further to really see how much this tree can take. Last year, we found that pulling all the needles off the tree didn’t kill the tree (Cool!) as long as we left the terminal bud intact, but still yielded long needles (about 2+ inches (5+ cm)).
Since we now know that the tree will survive a defoliation, we thought about different ways of stressing it further so that it would produce shorter needles. We came up with three options:
1. Pull off all the needles and repot the tree.
2. Pull off all the needles and wire the tree.
3. Pull off all the needles and cut off the terminal buds.
All three of these methods will definitely weaken the tree, but which one do we do? After much discussion, we decided to go with option 2 because it was the least stressful for the tree. Though wiring can be stressful for a tree, repotting and especially cutting off terminal buds can be much more stressful. Since we’re trying to find that tipping point between continued growth and die back, we decided to push the tree in small steps.
Here is the tree after I pulled all the needles off. I even pulled off the needles in the weaker interior buds as well. The tree looks very naked and un-pine like (This blog contains adult content…). :op
Here is a close up of the different strength terminal buds. Note how the bud sticking straight up are the biggest buds. This is the case because they tend to received the most sunlight. Some of these large terminal buds are the reason why we thought about cutting the strong buds as well as pulling the needles.
Here is the tree after I wired it! It was a bit strange at first but went by very quickly since I didn’t have to worry about the needles. It was like wiring a deciduous tree after defoliating. Somehow, I feel a Black Pine can’t quite pull off the whole, “Winter silhouette,” like a maple can. Hum….?
In this photo, you can see that I pointed all the buds outwards and slightly upwards. How the buds are pointed will greatly play into how strong the branch will grow. Downwards = weaken(0), Upwards = strengthen(10). I got the buds at about 7.
What Are We Looking For This Time?
Interestingly enough, as I was pulling off the needles, I noticed that the tree had many new back buds everywhere! As I wired the tree, I actually had to cut some of them away to reduce the crowding. Could I be on to something here??? My initial thoughts were that since the tree had no foliage, plenty of sunlight reached the interior and the tree responded by budding out (Isn’t that why we thin trees out?). I asked Mr. Tanaka his thoughts and he said it’s hard to say what caused the back budding. Since the tree has been de-candled every year, except for last year, the tree may have just reacted strangely and that the needle lost didn’t play a part at all. He then added that sone trees just back bud more easily then others. Of course, on the other hand, perhaps it is because so much sunlight is getting into the tree.
Nothing conclusive yet, but all very interesting…
Here are some things I’m going to be looking for as the tree continues to grow till the end of Fall.
1. Candle and Needle length
2. Changes in strength in the new terminal buds
3. Increased back budding
Currently, I checked on the tree and the terminal buds have started to push out new needles. Once October or November comes around, I will thoroughly go through the tree and post my findings with some pictures of course. I’m hoping by the end of the year, we’ll see shorter needles produced and the continuation of strong back budding.
The important thing about this experiment is not to see how good we can make this tree. Sure if things work out, that’s great, but what’s important is to recognize how the tree will react to certain stresses and give us a better understanding of Black Pines. Perhaps the different outcomes we see in this tree can lead to newer and better techniques. Maybe, maybe not… but at least we’re trying, which gives us at least some chance of learning something new as opposed to doing nothing, which means we learn nothing.
Thanks for following our little experiment. Lets see what the Fall brings!
Thanks for reading.
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I notice that you have left the needle sheath intact on most of this tree. That is probably part of the secret for being able to totally defoliate black pine. On some pines the needles will tear off some of the bark and striping needles would remove enough to do serious damage. I hope that everyone who tries this technique on a non-black pine checks to see what is actually stripped off before they go for a total defoliation.
Zack well spotted and thanks for letting noobs like me know 🙂
Actually, I left the sheath on because I was too lazy to pull them off. LOL!
Leaving the sheath and pulling it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference on black Pines. Though the sheath is still intact, with the needles pulled out, the damage is already done. If we want maximum safety, I would suggest cutting the needles off.
On high mountain pines such as white pines, I noticed that pulling the needles will cause a big chunk of tissue to come out hence why the needles are normally cut off instead of pulled. On Black pines, if you grab multiple strong needles and pull, that too will cause a big chunk of tissue to come out. I recommend pulling one pair at a time and in the direction the needles are growing out.
Good observation Zack! Thanks and take care!
Hello Peter, i work at the Montreal botanic gardens, with the Penjing collection, and my shifu has done the same experiment as you, admittedly for different reasons.
He had some scale on a black pine, so he defoliated to treat , hoping he would get all the scale in the nooks and crannies.
This year he has done it with a cork bark black pine, witch i beleive had been repotted maybe 1 month prior to defoliation. Now he lost a bit of a branch from this … maybe the pine wasn’T in top shape… but overall it survived.
He has also done this with white pine. And it works… are the needles shorter, i will let you know.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and that it works on White Pines as well. Take care!
hey peter! Almost 2 years ago I did this experiment just playing around curious to see what would happen. To my surprise the original needles went from 3 1/2 – 4 inch, to 1 inch. The only problem is I don’t remember what month I defoliated in. Only thing I can say is it wasn’t when one should probably do so.. Lol I know that dosnt help much but you guys have the right idea. I was excited to see my results even though I wasn’t aiming for needle reduction, good luck from the central coast of ca!
I really look forward to your updates and this one didn’t disappoint ,the technique you are employing would not have even been thought of 20 yr s ago
Basic thoughts were don’t water or feed the tree to achieve shorter needle size which led to a sick tree with short needles
Keep the posts coming I for one look forward to them
what a great fun and exciting experiment – without this type of stuff bonsai would never progress…..last year i decandled a healthy strong black pine as usual, selected just two of the new buds that formed to keep and as they just started to extend I defoliated all the older needles. This was excelent !! – the candles stopped extending and opened – but the actual needles were all about 1″ long when they hardened off.
it was a medium sized tree – 26-28″ tall and looked very different with such short needles and larger spaces between the pads – but a friend fell in love with it so i traded it so dont have it any more
thanks for another great post,
oh, and this year i have just cut all the old needles off very short on a white pine (pinus pentaphylla, ungrafted) as the candles are opening to see what happens – it seems to have stopped the candles extending again, so growth is staying compact.
Wow, this is very interesting stuff here. We are all definitely told the opposite with pines so I am curious to see the results this year. I’m glad you are able to do the dirty work for us, I won’t be defoliating my pine anytime soon.
Thanks for letting us watch this process
Peter, to me it is something totally new: I have as a taboo not to defoliate – ever – a pine. Living and learning. Thanks
Just curios Peter,
As I understand, the traditional way to get shorter needles is to cut the candles off right were they emerge from last year’s growth. Done in June. That is supposed to force new buds to form. By selecting the weaker buds from what forms the tree is supposed to give up shorter needles. Both the additional energy needed to produce more budding in the same year and the smaller buds being kept contributes to making the needles smaller.
Has this been tried in the past on this tree?
Regards and Keep Up The Good Work,
Basically when de-candling, we yield shorter needles purely because we essentially cut the growing season in half for the new candle. Instead of April to November of growth, it’s just June to November, hence the short needles. Selecting weaker or strong candles after de-candling plays a part in balancing the tree so that all the candles/needles grow more even with one another the following year.
This tree has had that done to it for many years in the past. We just decided to use this tree as an experiment to find new ways of reducing needle length. Personally, I believe de-candling is still the way to go on Black Pines, but perhaps this experiment will tell us something new. Would I use this in place of de-candling? Probably not, but maybe I’ll use it if I have a tree that doesn’t seem to want to back bud? Hopefully this experiment can give us insights to other things we can do with Black Pines.
Thanks for the comment as always Mac! Take care!
I especially liked your “What’s Important” paragraph as it really says it all. I so honor you for being able to take the time to get this intense training with Mr Tanaka. Experimenting like this is so valuable. For me, it reminds me of a Chinese elm I purchased in the ’90’s, from a more mature club member. It was the best tree I ever had. I took it to a workshop and Ernie Kuo just looked at it and started to sketch… in silence. What I began to notice is that many of the branches on my tree were NOT on his drawing. I began to sweat. I did what he said and now I know first hand what can actually be done to an elm. Your work on this pine is so cool! Thanks for sharing it.
interesting experiment you are carrying out there. well thought out and considering the the health of the tree in general. It will be interesting to see what happens with your tree in the future.