Bonsai Trees

Case Histories

Scots Pine Hybrid - (pinus sylvestris)

Pine Bonsai Style: Formal Upright

For several years my collection lacked a pine tree. I had never found a suitable specimen despite much searching and wanted to learn more about this species. One winter I decided to visit as many garden centres as possible in my 'quest' for a pine tree, but most of the available trees were either very young or displayed bad grafts, which would only get worse as time progressed.

I was beginning to give up when I arrived at another plant nursery and immediately noticed a heavily trunked, well branched pine tree in an oak barrel. It was the centrepiece of their car park and was nicely under planted with cotoneasters and pansies. I felt sure that it would not be for sale and so looked around for similar material of which there was none.

The sales lady asked if I needed any help. I explained that I wanted a large bushy pine tree, rather like the one in the car park. Somewhat hesitantly, I asked whether I might possibly be able to purchase it. 'Of course!' came the reply. 'I'll sell anything when I'm in charge!' We walked over to the tree so that she could tell me how much it would be. I was told that most of their plants were priced by the size of the pot.

She wanted to keep the oak barrel, so that it could be replanted and went to find a large flower pot. Upon her return I was told that she could not find one big enough, but she had a smaller pot and would use that to price the tree! I had found an absolute bargain.

Pine Bonsai History: Training

The pine was instantly impressive and on the way home I bought a brown flower pot, large enough to plant it in. It was very pot bound and I gently teased out the roots around the edge, planting in a very gritty soil mix as I was aware that pines need good drainage. In the spring the candles began to extend and I pinched out the very tips.

By early summer the tree was starting to become overgrown and it was time for styling! The tree was methodically structured in a typical bonsai image, with horizontal branches forming a triangle. Some newly extended shoots were trimmed with scissors and many large branches were removed. The overall height was not reduced, as the trunk already exhibited good taper.

I purchased a large rectangular pot that was fairly formal that I thought would match the tree's strong image that was beginning to appear. That spring I removed the pine from the flower pot and combed out the roots, pruning any that were rather long. I was able to plant in the bonsai pot by removing about one third of the root ball and expected the tree to be slow to recover.

However, in a matter of months it was covered in fresh new candles and looked an absolute sight to behold. I pinched the candles, removing more as I progressed up towards the more vigorous areas at the top of the tree. That summer several branches began to bud back in bare areas.

In the winter I thinned the needles and wired all of the previous year's growth before the candles began to emerge, to extend the foliage pads that were beginning to form. When I reached the top of the tree I wired a small branch upwards to increase the height. By doing so, it seemed to make a gap near the top more obvious.

This short space of trunk had no branches and now that the foliage had been thinned out was an obvious problem. I decided that it could be improved by carefully 'ripping' a back branch near the top so that it could fill in this space. The trunk was split next to the branch with some large root pruners. After being tightly bound with raffia, the branch was pulled down and held in position with thick wire. The branch continued growing happily and the apex remained healthy - problem solved!

Over the years the bark has developed well helping the tree achieve a look of maturity. By finding such excellent material with many low useful branches on a powerful trunk, an impressive bonsai has been created in a relatively short space of time. As the years progress and the pads develop further the pine will become an imposing, large bonsai.

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