Twenty two degrees outside just now and the ground is frozen solid…a good time to get caught up here with some trees I worked on in November. No finish styling, just taking them another step along the way to becoming a bonsai in the true sense of the word, tray planting. I’ll start off with a Japanese black pine cultivar of unknown name that originally came from Don Howse here in Portland. Don has a specialty nursery, Porterhowse Farms, selling the type of material featured here. My friend Margie Kinoshita acquired the tree and kept it trying to decide what to do with it. She left it with me early last spring hoping I would see some direction to take it. It was a dense mop of foliage full of dead leaves and needles and in the process of cleaning out all the junk, I got out the saw and removed about 50% of the foliage with one large branch, the cut end of which can be seen in the first photo:

black pine

 

There was still plenty of foliage there and I fed it well throughout the growing season with Portland Rose Society fertilizer, which is a pelletized organic fertilizer; 5-4-4, low numbers as you can see that don’t promote coarse vigorous growth. It is also inoculated with mycorrhizae that can help a tree in a container continue to grow and not weaken until you can get to re-potting it. I have no idea how long the tree has been in the three gallon container, but it is apparent to see it is quite root-bound. I knew the tree could take some pruning as I had the chance to observe its growth throughout the growing season, which was vigorous in spite of its root-bound condition. The other problem with the tree is a slight swelling that starts a couple of inches above the soil line and creates a reverse taper when seen from certain positions around the trunk. The key to finding a good front for the tree was to find one of those positions where the trunk and its line and the branches all worked together to make a decent looking tree with some taper from the soil and a nice line with some movement leading to branches that are thicker at the base of the trunk and gradually get thinner as we go up the trunk. The next photo is of the tree after pruning unnecessary branches:

black pine

 

And the pile of branches:

black pine

 

When all was said and done, I reckon I eliminated close to two thirds of the tree’s branches over the course of a growing season and still had plenty of tree left to work with. I could see that there had been a major trunk chop earlier in the tree’s development, probably done at the nursery before it wound up with Margie and the reason for the fat little trunk you see here. Next I cleaned out any dead twigs and carved any un-natural stubs left by pruning into jins. I also removed any shoots that might be in my way when applying wire to the branches to give them movement downward and every which way to create more interest. Again, I apologize for not including the intermediate steps taken to arrive at the picture below. The important thing for me is that I got anything before work like this took place at all 😉 I need to hire a photographer!

black pine

 

And the tree ‘roughed in’ for now. I didn’t pluck needles thoroughly the way one would doing normal fall work on black pines. I approached this tree as though it had just been collected and prepared for styling for the first time. I have another shot I took the other day without the cluttered background:

black pine

 

The very long first branch on the left will be ‘chased in’ closer to the trunk for an even more compact silhouette. And another possible front and the view I presented before pruning and wiring:

black pine

 

The task at hand now is keeping the tree healthy through the winter and it looks like we’re up for one of the most challenging winters seen in our area for some time and certainly the coldest I’ve seen the short time I’ve lived here. January is typically the coldest month and that’s still a month away…the forecast for the coming week is for a gradual warm up and even some rain, something I’m actually looking forward to! And while I tough it out waiting for spring, I might keep my eye out for the right pot for this tree and if it appears to have survived the fall work, I’ll pot it up in a bonsai for the first time. Shall see. Stay tuned for more trees from November.

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