Tonight we had a talk on Japanese Black Pine by Andy, our new Vice Chairman and everyone who attended found it really interesting and useful. Andy started by explaining the different types of pines and how his talk was to focus on the two needles predominately which Japanese Black Pines are within.

He went on to explain what a Japanese Black Pine is ie in Latin Pinus thunbergii which is a native tree of Japan from low-lying regions, that lives in damp conditions within a warm temperate climate which is why they do well in the UK. Their needles are in pairs and they are revered for their black rugged bark and overall character particularly when old. They have a 2 flush growth habit and a large needle growth but can be reduced with pruning techniques.

Andy’s talk on Japanese Black Pines

Andy also explained that White Pine is grown on Japanese Black Pine rootstock as this is a more vigorous rootstock and White pine is not robust enough in the UK climate.

Andy then went on to explain the historic use of Japanese Black Pines in Japan and showed us some fabulous images of mature pines in gardens and being propped and supported by timbers and explained how they are revered and heavily cared for and maintained in Japan.

He also discussed the different bonsai styles from uprights, formal uprights, informal uprights, semi & full cascade, literati, clump, forest and windswept as well as went through the various sizes they are used from Shohin, Mame and Chuhin sizes and referred to some good examples could be seen at the Swindon Winter Image show this year of Shohin Japanese Black Pines.

With regard to feeding and watering, he explained that roots will rot in the wet, so don’t allow your pines to be waterlogged or stand in water. However, water thoroughly in the growing season and all year. Feed all year too as they are evergreen and in winter once a month foliage feed with seaweed extract. 

For repotting don’t clean off the soil from the central root ball, just tidy around the edges and try to keep some of the mycorrhizal fungi. Repot pines less frequently than deciduous, perhaps every 5 years.

Develop your pines using the 2 flush technique which aims to encourage back budding to keep the tree compact as Japanese Black pines back bud but only if branches have needles on. Also to keep growth even and aid with energy balancing and also to keep needles short for showing.

How they grow is from buds to branches, so start with buds which elongate into candles and then needles unfold from candles and candles become shoots. The shoots grow to become branches.

The 2 Flush technique 

Spring – Remove unwanted buds or candles – generally keep pairs

Early summer – Cut off shoots from the weak areas but leave individual very weak shoots and pull needles from string shoots, leaving sheaths. 10-14 days later – remove the shoots from the strong areas as the second flush of buds develop remove any unwanted ones 

Autumn – Remove old needles to let more air and light in

Early winter – Remove some of the new needles, aiming to leave an equal number of needles on every branch 

2nd flush is not guaranteed though due to weather and variable conditions but worth trying and persevering with as it does work.

Andy summed up his talk by explaining the historic import of Japanese Black Pines but confirmed they are now being imported again. However, during this time he started to grow them from seed and has had success with them and other species as seed grown. He also mentioned that Lee Verhorevoort Bonsai has recently just got a new shipment of Japanese Black Pines as well as many other trees so worth contacting Lee for more information or visiting his website. He ended the talk with a short YouTube video by Jonas Dupuich on growing bonsai from seed in preparation for the next part of the night for wiring some of the 3-year-old saplings Andy bought with him for members to wire.

Wiring pines

Andy and Mandy have also been growing Japanese Black Pines from seed and bought in a selection of these for club members to have a go at wiring including some Japanese Red Pines too.

Club night

The rest of the evening after Andy’s talk was a general discussion and workshop where members can work on their trees and discuss their progress. Alan had bought in his English Elms, one of which has had for 50 years and is styling it based on the image of the Fat Bellied Oak at Savernake and has just started to work on carving out the trunk but will progress this slowly. The Tree of the Month competition has lots of entries and the trees and winners will feature in a follow-up post. Derek was also photographing the most recent Chinese Elm project trees for all those who still have them.