When it comes to Bonsai cultivation, pines are very popular and a lot of people even consider them as the most common type of Bonsai trees. Pine bonsai trees are evergreen, and they are coniferous resinous or cone-bearing trees with cones and needles appearing in bundles of 2 to 5.
Pines can grow in various shapes in nature, so they can be creatively shaped in any style Bonsai is famous for. Pine bonsai trees are Japan’s classic type of bonsai, maintaining them for many generations.
The genus Pinus or Pine bonsai is extensive with 120 species. Some species are more popular than others and majority of the pine species can be used in the art of bonsai.
|Scientific/Botanical Name||Pinus sp.|
|Description||The genus Pinus is extensive, having about 120 species. While the majority of the species are amenable to the art of bonsai, some are more popular than others. The species that are used above all others are: Pinus thunbergii|
This species is otherwise referred to as Japanese Black Pine. In Japan, Pinus thunbergii and bonsai artistry are inextricably-linked. By virtue of its lofty pedigree, many self-respecting bonsai enthusiasts feel honor-bound to undertake the growing of this revered bonsai tree. It is nevertheless a challenging tree to grow, due in part to its long needles and slow growth.
Pinus mugo also goes by the name of Mountain Pine. Its hardy nature has earned the tree a special appeal among bonsai enthusiasts. Pinus mugo takes inclement weather and temperature extremes in its stride without a change in its gorgeous color or the drop of a needle. It also produces exquisite purple blooms.
Also called Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris is well-mannered and easy-to-please. Where other trees may sulk, rebel or otherwise cause their growers undue grief, Scots Pine obligingly assumes any shape asked of it by the grower, and all while keeping its lovely canopy.
Pinus parviflora, or Japanese White Pine, is sought out for its unusual and utterly unique white needles.
|Position||Pines need plentiful sunlight during the spring, summer and fall seasons. When deprived of sufficient light, the tree will develop elongated needles and experience die-back of the branches that are exposed to shade. The tree is hardy in winter, but freezing winds can be a threat while their roots remain frozen.|
|Watering||Water pines to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Under no circumstances should the plant be allowed to become completely dry. A regular schedule of misting benefits the plant greatly.|
|Feeding||Two or three times each year, replace the usual fertilizer with Miracid.|
|Leaf and Branch Pruning||The pruning of pine bonsai trees is a slow and patient undertaking. Bonsai enthusiasts must resist the urge to remove too much foliage or growth. Any heavy pruning of the branch or trunk should be carried out in the fall to minimize sap loss. All wounds can be sealed with petroleum jelly.|
|Re-potting & Growing Medium||The extent of the trees root development will dictate when it should be re-potted. On average, re-potting becomes necessary after two to five years. Re-potting should be carried out in mid-spring just as new growth begins. Mugo pine, however, responds more favorably to being re-potted in the summer months. Pine should be re-potted in soil that is highly free-draining. The roots should not be washed, and some of the old soil should be incorporated into the new soil because it will contain Micorrhiza. Micorrhiza are fungi that help to maintain the health of the plant.|
|Wiring||The tree responds to wiring, but it must be approached in the same way as pruning: Just a little at a time.|
|Notes||Pine bonsai trees, while beautiful, are not for the uninitiated. The trees are highly challenging, and beginner bonsai enthusiasts should gain experience with other species of trees before attempting to train pine trees.|
Popular Pine Species
Pine is a sizable genus that has roughly 120 species. Most of them can be grown as bonsai trees. However, certain species have gained popularity for one reason or another.
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Also known as the Japanese Black Pine, Pinus thunbergii is widely regarded as the quintessential bonsai species, the species you are most likely to see classically cultivated in Japan itself. Bonsai enthusiasts often grow at least one of these beauties as an homage to the origins of this ancient art. This species is prized for the thick, pitted bark it develops with age. However, it is slow growing, has long needles and is notoriously difficult to work with.
Also known as the Mountain Pine, Pinus mugo is prized as a bonsai tree because it is one of the hardiest species available. It will weather freezing temperatures and scorching summers with little effect to the plant at all. When well cared for, Pinus mugo produces dense, bushy growth that can be pruned out and shaped in different styles. And this hardy species is beautifully colored. Young wood starts its life with a purplish hue. And when in bloom it produces beautifully delicate purple flowers.
Also known as the Scots Pine, Pinus Sylvestris is a great pine bonsai species because it naturally takes on the shape that bonsai cultivators must work hard to create in other trees. As Pinus sylvestris ages, it drops it’s lower branches. This gives the tree a beautiful canopied shape with little effort on the cultivator’s part.
Also known as the Japanese White Pine, Pinus parviflora is prized for its white needles which are fairly unique among pine species.
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In this guide, we will share with you the facts about Pine bonsai trees and how to take care of them the right way. You will learn about:
- How to Identify Pine Bonsai Species
- Positioning of Pine Bonsai Trees
- Right Watering Technique
- Proper Fertilizing
- Leaf and Branch Pruning
- Repotting and Growing Medium
- Wiring and Shaping Pine Bonsai
Pine bonsai trees are beautiful but they are not suitable for beginners. They are very challenging, needing knowledge, experience, and skills with other species of bonsai trees before attempting to work with pine trees. Let’s start learning about pine bonsai trees!
General Care Tips For Pine Bonsai Trees
There are a number of individual pine species. But these varied members of the genus require relatively the same care across the board.
A pine bonsai is happiest where it will receive full, direct sunlight. A pine that’s not getting enough sun will grow long, spindly needles, drop branches and thin out. To keep your pine thick and healthy, look for the sunniest spot on a sill, shelf or patio, set the bonsai securely in place and let it live out the warm months.
Watering a pine bonsai is an art. To gauge your pine bonsai’s water needs, feel the soil once or twice daily. When the soil is barely moist, on the verge of drying out completely, give your bonsai a long drink. Do not water when your bonsai does not need it. Pine trees do not like wet feet and they may develop root rot. They also dislike dry soil. Your bonsai may take some time to recover from bone dry soil from a skipped watering.
Bonsai pine trees must be fed minimally. Most pine species are prone to growing long pine needles. This looks beautiful on full-size pine trees but makes pruning bonsai pine trees difficult. By limiting your pine tree’s food supply you can limit the size of its needles.
Start your bonsai tree off with a 0-10-10 fertilizer. Apply one feeding in early spring as soon as the season’s growth starts. Apply a second feeding at the end of spring. Then fertilize the pine bonsai with a 12-10-10 fertilizer once every two weeks until the start of fall. Stop fertilizing the bonsai altogether in winter, then start up again in early spring. Follow the fertilizer’s instructions for application methods and amounts. Follow with a long drink of water after each fertilizer application.
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Pine is a cold hardy genus. But when grown in pots with limited soil, as bonsais are, their roots have little of the insulation that larger trees enjoy in the wild. When snow settles around and freezes your bonsai pine’s roots, its branches are susceptible to damage from freezing winds. Move the bonsai tree to a wind shelter or loosely cover its branches with landscape fabric during windy periods.
Bonsai pines are notoriously difficult to prune. Pruning a pine bonsai is no different than pruning any other bonsai species. But every change to a pine’s environment, foliage or pot must be accomplished slowly. Consequently, there are lots of “dont’s” that cultivators must follow to prevent harming or stunting the tree.
Hard prunes like trunk and large branch prunes must only be taken on in the fall when the bonsai stops its growth for the year. Only when it just begins to enter its dormancy can a pine bonsai tolerate a hard prune.
Never leave a large pruning cut exposed. Bonsai pine trees bleed sap profusely after they are cut. To stop the bleeding, coat pruning cuts made on the trunk or main branch with a layer of petroleum jelly. This will help the pine tree heal and protect it from disease or decay while it recovers during the dormant period.
Leave stumps left behind by pruning to dry for one full year before pruning them completely off and flush with their point of origin.
Never prune more than half of a pine’s top growth in one year. Pruning a bonsai pine takes time and is best accomplished in small stages. Your pine may not bounce back from severe trunk cuts.
Pine trees over 30 years old can only handle “one insult” per year. That means if you transplant one year, you must wait until the next year for hard pruning, wiring or any other invasive work. Two of these “insults” per year weaken the tree and may stunt or damage it. Younger pines can handle more than one insult per year but they don’t like it.
Bonsai pine trees are tough to handle. Pruning and shaping must be handled slowly as the tree grows and matures. But mature bonsai require much less fuss. With patience and expertise, pine bonsai grow into beautiful stately trees that are worth the extra care and attention.
1) How to Identify Pine Bonsai Species
Pines trees of older variety have flaky or scaly bark. It is important to treat every pine bonsai species according to its natural growth and environment, so you need to determine if it produces just one flush or two flushes during the growing season. Decandling pine bonsai species in early summer is important so it will produce a second flush with smaller needles and shorter candles. Pine bonsai species with only one flush of growth should not be decandled because doing so will cause harm, but their candles can be shortened.
Two Flush Pines
The two most popular pine species that produce bonsai with two flushes per year originated from Japan and they grow near the shores. In June, storms and strong winds usually break off their newly formed candles so pine bonsai trees adapted and eventually learn to produce a second flush.
- The Japanese Black Pine or Pinus thunbergii is a very strong tree with dark green, hard, and long needles in two clusters. It usually grows nearby the sea.
- The Japanese Red Pine or Pinus densiflora is a more slender and delicate pine bonsai with thinner and softer paired needles that looks similar to the popular Scots Pine, growing a bit more uphill.
One Flush Pines
Pine bonsai species with just one flush of growth usually come from the mountainous regions. They have adapted to short growth periods and harsh weather conditions.
- Pinus parviflora or the Japanese White Pine (five-needle pine), has clusters of five and soft needles. It has a more feminine design and commonly found in high mountainous regions. For a more stable growth, Japanese White Pine is often grafted on the root systems of Japanese Black Pine. The dwarf cultivars of the Japanese White Pine include Kokonoe, Myojo, and Zuisho.
- Pinus Sylvestris or Scots Pine grows all over Europe and Siberia, with thin paired needles that can be twisted. The bark of Scots Pine in its upper trunk is usually reddish.
- Wired Scots Pine Bonsai – The Ponderosa Pine or Pinus ponderosa is a tall tree, and a native species in western North-America as well as the Rocky Mountains. It has clusters of three long needles. The bark is yellow to orange, and some Ponderosa Pine has pinkish plates with obvious black crevices.
- Ponderosa Pin – The Mountain Pine or Pinus mugo is a native to European mountains, forming depressed shrubs on the bedrock near their timberline. The needles are strong, short, paired, and dark green with dark brown bark. It has a very resinous and fibrous wood.
Knowing the pine bonsai tree species will give you a better idea of the best piece for your garden. It will be easier for you to identify each species and from there, work with ease and confidence caring and maintaining them, providing what they need to survive and become beautifully created bonsai.
2) The positioning of Pine Bonsai Trees
It is important to look into the details of the pine bonsai species you are cultivating when making a decision of the best place to position your bonsai. If the bonsai tree does not get enough sunlight, their needles grow. Pine bonsai trees are hardy, but they still need to be protected most especially during winter when they’re planted in pots or containers.
Important Factors to Consider
When deciding on the best position and location to place your pine bonsai trees can be challenging. The important factors to consider include the following:
Remember that the hotter the position of your bonsai, the more water your it will use. Just simply submerge your pine bonsai in water if the surface of the soil becomes hard during summer or hot weather. Covering the soil surface for 10 minutes after is also helpful.
Pine bonsai trees are generally hardy, able to withstand harsh environmental conditions.
Time of the Year
Keeping your bonsai trees in a cold frame or greenhouse during the winter is recommended. When these not available, you can place your bonsai in styrofoam covers around the containers or pots to protect their roots. You can also plant the pine bonsai including the pot in your garden, covering with soil until its first branching. Position your pine bonsai in a safe place, protecting it from frost if repotting a bonsai tree during the winter season.
Rule of Thumb When Positioning Pine Bonsai
Most outdoor pine bonsai trees are best positioned on a bright spot, protected from the gust of wind, and about half of the day exposed in direct sunlight. Indoor pine bonsai trees can also benefit if placed in a bright position. This is usually just right in front of a door or window facing the South. Placing indoor bonsai trees in a position with a constant temperature is ideal.
It is best to place your pine bonsai trees outside and exposed in direct sunlight to help the first and second flush grow and develop, adding to decreased needle size. Knowing how to best position your bonsai tree will help you maintain a healthy and beautiful bonsai at all times.
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3) Right Watering Technique
Routine watering of bonsai is not advisable. You have to observe the condition of the soil and the bonsai to prevent a permanently wet compost. They may need to be watered daily or even twice a day during hot summer days or early spring. Routine watering may lead to overwatering causing problems like fungus and rot.
What You Need to Prepare
Hoses or Watering Cans
Using an overly concentrated and overflowing stream of water can wash out the soil of the bonsai pot. For your small bonsai trees, use a small watering can that is fitted with a rose, which is enough to water the soil properly without causing soil displacement. You can also use a hose that is fitted with a spray gun, setting to mist or shower to avoid disturbing the soil.
Suitable Water For Bonsai
Your bonsai can be watered using plain tap water. However, if you live in an area where the water is hard water, you can occasionally water your bonsai with rainwater to get rid of any salt build up in the soil.
You can collect rainwater in a water butt that is attached to a house or shed downpipe. Don’t use water from water softening systems because they have increased diluted salts in the water that can harm your bonsai.
How to Avoid Overwatering Your Bonsai
- Check your bonsai trees at least once a day to observe water requirements. The soil surface or bonsai composts may change appearance and color when it begins to dry out. The changes can take occur from 12 hours up to a week or longer after watering, depending on environmental temperature, pot size, plant vigor, and whether the plant benefited from rain or not. but never assume that because it has rained, your bonsai tree has received sufficient water most especially during summer.
- During summer, daily watering is required but with lower temperature. You need to decrease watering during autumn when rainfall occurs. However, check your bonsai to ensure it received enough water or the upper layers are just wet, thus requiring watering.
- The right time to water is when the compost’s top centimeter started to dry out. You should be able to water your bonsai when it is required for regular daily monitoring. Allow the compost to dry a little in between watering to ensure they are not overwatered.
Guidelines When Watering Bonsai
- When a bonsai tree does require water, you need to thoroughly soak it. Every time you water, the body of compost and the entire root system should wet properly to avoid dry soil pockets where roots are left to dry out and eventually die.
- Water your bonsai trees twice in one session. The first watering should adequately wet the soil for dry soil particles to accept moisture better. Apply water all over the surface of the compost until the water can be seen running out of the pot’s drainage holes. Leave the bonsai for 10 to 20 minutes, and then apply water to any previously dry areas of the bonsai compost.
Watering is an important activity when caring for bonsai trees. It should be done correctly to avoid overwatering and underwatering. Soaking the bonsai and compost thoroughly is important to avoid dry soil pockets that can harm the roots of your bonsai. No need to do the routine watering. The time depends on the condition of the soil’s surface. Knowing the right watering techniques will help you provide the needed and correct water requirements of your bonsai.
4) Proper Fertilizing
When it comes to fertilizing your bonsai, weak trees should be fertilized all year round, provided that the temperatures don’t drop too low. From early spring to early summer you have to fertilize healthy bonsai trees until their candles are cut. When using solid organic fertilizer, they should be applied at least thrice at 4 weeks interval before decanding. Once the secondary candle growth hardened, stop fertilizing, and resume early to late autumn.
Black Pine Bonsai Fertilizing Tips
When fertilizing Japanese black pine bonsai, it is pretty straightforward.
Tip #1: Determine the stage of development of your Japanese black pine bonsai. If the bonsai tree is young, you need to focus on increasing the trunk size following one path. If your bonsai has reached its desired size, you have to focus on increasing the branch density.
Tip#2: Start fertilizing a developed black pine bonsai when the daytime temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tip#3: For bonsai trees that were recently repotted, you need to wait at least 30 days after repotting before you fertilize.
Tip#4: If you want to fertilize your Bonsai heavily during spring, repot them early so you can begin fertilizing them as soon as possible. Pine bonsai trees need heavy fertilizing to build up enough strength to produce stronger summer buds after being decandled.
Tip#5: Start fertilizing your bonsai trees by placing 1 to 2 tea bags packed with cottonseed meal on the soil’s surface, adding 1 to 2 more bags every week until the soil’s surface is covered with the solid fertilizer. After 2 to 3 months, the potency of the fertilizer in tea bags may lose.
Tip#6: For liquid fertilizers like fish emulsion or Miracle-Gro, feed your bonsai trees regularly starting spring until they are decandled, and 30 days after through fall.
Tip#7: For Apex and other time-release fertilizers, you can use a small amount as a baseline or you can use various fertilizers in increasing concentrations throughout the growing season.
Tip#8: Don’t water too much if the weather is cool and dry fertilizer tends to last longer. Dry fertilizers don’t last long during extended periods of high temperatures or spring rain that usually require frequent watering.
Tip#9: Two or three times every year, you can replace your usual bonsai fertilizer with Miracid. Miracid is highly recommended for acid-loving plants like bonsai at a given 30-15-15 ratio.
The goal for bonsai trees is to encourage plenty of growth, so many tend to apply too much fertilizer and leave it on throughout the entire growing season. However, you have to consider the climate, your bonsai, and other environmental factors to ensure you are not overfeeding your bonsai, and it grows healthy, strong, and beautiful.
5) Leaf and Branch Pruning
Pine bonsai trees classic worldwide, but they’re also one of the most difficult species to understand how to prune and style. Junipers and many conifers or deciduous species continuously produce new shoots and leaves on the entire growing season requiring continuous removal with the use of leaf and branch pruning techniques. Most bonsai pines in the northern temperate areas only have one flush and a different type of pruning methods must be applied accordingly.
It is easier to prune by observing the growth pattern of your bonsai tree. With the right environment, it will ensure that your bonsai tree is correctly pruned at the right time at its own pace, and not because it is the certain pruning time of the year.
Let’s concentrate on leaf and branch pruning of Japanese Black Pine or Pinus thunbergii. These methods are applied to other types of Pine species. Just simply observe the varying growth rates of your pine bonsai species. As vigorous species, Japanese Black Pines in two or three-needle pines will respond similarly most especially in warm climates.
Characteristics of Pine Growth
Pine bonsai trees are apically dominant, wherein the most vigorous area of their growth is towards the top portion or their outer-reaches.
- If the pine tree is left unpruned, the growth pattern will be focused on the center of the apex or on a top portion of the tree compromising the lower foliage and branches, that eventually weaken and die.
- A poorly pruned or unpruned pine displays characteristics of a heavy or leafy top and so as the outer foliage. The trunk has a little inner growth which is unsuitable for the bonsai.
- Pines produce buds from any part with needles, and it is rare for their buds to break anywhere except the tips of the shoots.
Forcing the pines to bud on branches or trunk is difficult so careful pruning is important, so the branches bare it and the ball of foliage at their tips.
Vigor Areas of a Pine Bonsai Tree
Area 1 as the most vigorous.
Area 2 is medium vigor.
Area 3 has the least vigorous area.
Another major fault with unpruned pine trees that you need to avoid is the natural tendency of producing bud ‘whorls’ at the end of their branches, elongating into several sub-branches. These look ugly and they cause problems with an inverse taper at the trunk or any point of the branch that they emanated from.
Hard Pruning or Removing Branches
Removing of branches or hard pruning is carried out when the growth of the pine slows down in the late Autumn until Spring, preventing excessive loss of sap. In winter, leaving a small stub instead of cutting back closer to the trunk is better. Leave a stub when pruning the pine trees because this will open a chance create jins in the future, and allowing time bypassing sap-flow from the missing branch, thus reducing the sap loss. Prune close to the trunk and hollow out in early spring so scars heal faster following spring growth.
It is best to be conservative when you are hard-pruning or reducing pine trees because severe reduction can be fatal without recovery, most especially with old and large trees. For the pine tree to adjust properly, it helps reducing the large branches and trunks gradually over time. Pruning can help your bonsai plants achieve the desired shape and height you want for them, and benefit from the equal distribution of light and to avoid other parts from weakening and dying.
6) Repotting and Growing Medium
The extent of the bonsai root development dictates the best time to re-pot it. On the average, repotting is required after 2 to 5 years. Re-potting is best carried out in mid-spring just as the new growth starts. Mugo pine responds favorably when re-potted during the summer months. The highly free-draining soil is the best for repotting pine, wherein the roots are not washed, and the old soil must be incorporated in the new soil containing Mycorrhiza, which is fungi helping to maintain the health of the bonsai plant.
Tips When Repotting
Tip#1: The frequency of re-potting depends on the container size and tree species. Fast growing trees should be repotted every 2 years (even sometimes every year).
Tip#2: Older and more mature trees should be repotted every 3 to 5 years.
Tip#3: Don’t re-pot on a routine basis, just observe your trees every early spring to remove the bonsai tree from its container.
Tip#4: A pine bonsai tree needs to be repotted when its roots circle around the root system. If the roots are contained in soil, just wait another year before you check again.
Tip#5: The re-potting should be done during early spring when it is still dormant to reduce the damaging effects of repotting. Repotting during early spring ensures that any damage done by repotting to the root system will be healed and be repaired soon as the bonsai tree starts growing.
Choosing the Right Growing Medium or Soil Mixture
Choosing the right growing medium is important for the health of your bonsai trees. The soil mixture should be drained well enough to prevent the root rot. It is essential to absorb enough water to supply the bonsai tree adequately with water.
Although some bonsai tree species require special soil mixtures, the most suitable for most bonsai trees include Mix Akadama, lava rock, and pumice together in a 2:1:1 ratio. If you don’t have time to water your bonsai trees regularly, it is best to choose a highly water absorbing mixture or use Akadama. Choose a highly draining mixture or more lava rock if you live in a wet climate.
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Step-by-Step Guide to Repotting Bonsai
Step 1: Prepare your tools including scissors, a root rake, a chopstick, and wire cutter.
Step 2: Cut the wire that was used to anchor the plant in the pot.
Step 3: Remove the bonsai tree gently and carefully from the pot with the use of a root rake. The bonsai needs repotting if the roots are encircling inside the container.
Step 4: Use a chopstick and remove the old soil, beginning at the sides and towards the bottom of the bonsai tree. Avoid causing undue damage to the roots during the process. Leaving at least half the root mass of the pine bonsai tree untouched is important to protect the beneficial mycorrhizal fungus for the survival of your bonsai tree.
Step 5: Use scissors and cut away any too long roots. Avoid pruning more than thirty percent of all roots.
Step 6: Repot the bonsai tree into the same container. Prepare the container by covering its drainage holes using mesh.
Step 7: Using a piece of wire, hold the mesh in place.
Step 8: Attach an extra wire to anchor and stabilize the bonsai tree to the container later.
Step 9: Adding a thin layer of heavy grain soil is the first major step, such as grit, lava rock, or akadama, that serves as the drainage layer.
Step 10: The next step is to add another thin layer of compost soil.
Step 11: Place the bonsai tree in the container. Use the wires that were attached earlier to hold the bonsai tree in place.
Step 12: Add compost soil around the bonsai tree.
Step 13: Use a chopstick to work the compost soil and the roots. Make sure to cover all air pockets around the bonsai tree’s root system.
Step 14: Water the bonsai tree thoroughly.
Step 15: After 2 weeks, your bonsai tree should look like this.
Prevent your bonsai tree from experiencing pot-bound and starvation by re-potting. Re-potting will not keep your pine bonsai tree small but rather, it will supply new nutrients needed to grow and develop. Knowing the perfect time to repot your bonsai plant will help you prevent future root problems like rot.
7) Wiring and Shaping
There are many bonsai schools teaching the best time to wire a bonsai pine tree. Some would say to only wire in the latter part of autumn or winter because the cambium is not very active so the damage is kept at a minimum.
Others recommend bonsai wiring during summer when any branch damage can heal by itself. It is best to wire bonsai trees during late autumn and winter because the pine branches thicken faster during late summer wherein there is a higher risk of damage caused by wiring.
Encourage a good branch structure as well as proper formation and growth of foliage pads through wiring and shaping your pine bonsai. The buds showing on the sides of a shoot must be instead of those below or on top.
Wiring is one way to effectively distribute the energy and vigor to your pine bonsai tree. When the branches or trunk of a Pine bonsai tree is wired, there is a sluggish flow of sap through the trunk or these branches.
This will not allow all the energy of the bonsai tree to go directly into the tips of the branches. Knowing the best time and technique to the wire will help you care and maintain your bonsai trees so they grow healthy and beautiful.
We hope that you learned a lot from this guide. Although pine bonsai trees are not ideal for beginners, you can take some steps to increase your knowledge and soon gain and enhance your skills in growing this bonsai species.
Feel free to write your comments below and share your insights and experiences about growing pine bonsai trees.