One step at a time

Posted: February 23, 2017 in Bonsai, Bonsai styling, Japan, My Trees, Re-potting
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Around five years ago at a visit to Ken Fujiwara’s nursery I was checking out the tree’s and came across a white pine that caught my eye. It had very good leaf and looked healthy. It had some inverse taper though and I wasn’t sure if it was grafted on to black pine or if it was natural white pine. After a chat with my Sempai he confirmed it was grafted and that was why it had inverse taper. The bulge did have Shari to it one side and this gave that area some interest and not only a bad point. I could see that the tree had some potential and I knew it was bendable so, I proceeded with asking a price. Being as it was grafted on black pine it made the material more affordable for me, otherwise it probably still would be expensive as a natural white pine and Oyakata said he would of bought the tree if it was natural white pine. Setsu Goyomatsu can still command high prices if the are very good tree’s otherwise they have a tendency to be cheaper. I decided that I wanted to try to make the tree even though I didn’t know how exactly but, I thought there is a good tree in there.

One day when I had some free time at night I started working on the tree. Unfortunately I lost the photo’s of the initial bend before but, this is the tree in October of 2015 near the end of one growing season after I bent the tree. The big bend was bent best part of forty five degrees.


As you can probably see the tree suffered a little on the top where it had the hard bend.


You can see more clearly  from these two pictures. The first is the top of the tree and it pushed weakly with short new needles compared to the second photo of the bottom bench which was not so severely bent. It was this point I was glad I didn’t work the whole tree because it possibly could of been too much for the top section and died. With any type of tree, bending hard and later wiring is the safest option but, knowing your species and how far you can push them is paramount. White pines are certainly more tricky even when they are strong compared to other species.

Here you can see the damage and Shari caused from the bend after I removed the tape.


The tape doesn’t stop the damage happening but, helps to limit and hold the bark, cambian, etc.

I then followed up with some maintenance to try to help balance and strengthen the top part.

I left the top half alone, leaving all needle and on the strong area I cut all old needles leaving only this years needles. This is to open up the strong area, let light in and potential new buds from the cut needles can still form. Leaving the weak area should help to strengthen this part and give it the best chance to catch up with the lower branch.

This how the tree looked after the sessions work.

I then decided to re-pot in March 2016, to strengthen the tree and get into a better mix also to adjust its angle ready for its styling.


This was a quick snap mod re-potting, is isn’t take an after pick at the time and forgot to take later as I think it was getting late.

The tree was then left to grow and the only work for that growing season consisted of some candle pinching on the strongest of shoots on the main branch.


This is the tree in its new pot with the chosen front. The top half has got stronger but, still not quite caught up to the main branch on the right. The ceramic choice is maybe my favorite style of pots, of course not suited for every tree but, I believe a good choice for this one. I love very deep powerful ovals such as this one and this has just enough femininity to use with a white pine in my humble opinion.

Even still I decided it was ok to style and wire the tree.

Here you can see the detail of the Shari ball which is to be the focus and main interest of the tree. With the combination of the bend and angle change the tree looses most of its inverse taper and crates an interesting swirl of movement for a main trunk.

The start of the work consisted of running a screw through the bent part of the trunk to ensure that it wouldn’t move after I removed all the guy wires. I then proceed to remove all all needles and some new needles on the strong branch because it was still very strong and to give space to wire. I was only going to remove old needles on the weaker part if I needed to as I wired. I also cut any branches and made Jin which weren’t needed.

The tree then ready, I went on to wire one branch at a time starting with the main branch and working up.


I went branch by branch till I got to the apex. My analysis of the top was that it wasn’t the easiest to make but, had several options. There are three branches and all could be used. I discounted the already natural apex as it was too long, was difficult to fit and I couldn’t use it to fill in the top because it would always look like the tip of the apex if I left it. So I cut it out and the Jin you see in the picture above is it. It’s not always the best move cutting out parts you can use as the apex especially if you want the tree to look full but, in this case it had to be done to create better structure.  I was then left with one viable option in my mind as the other possible option had to be used to make a pad on the left.

I then laid down the left & the right branch and taped the back branch. My plan was to curl the branch around to fill in and form the apex. I felt it was the fullest, strongest and would make the best top on an already leggy apex.


I then curled the branch, following the curve, up and forwards using my jack (for ease and control) and a guy wire connected to the jin & wire.


I then wired the apex and this was the result after a little fixing.

I wasn’t really happy though and felt like the second branch on the right was hiding the nice sweep of the main branch which I wanted to show. That led me to taking it out and cutting it off.

This was the finished tree after it’s first wiring but, it still has a long road ahead of it to eventually become a bonsai. I’ve tried my best to be patient with this tree’s progression but, still try to push to develop it quickly enough. It’s not always easy with white pine knowing how far you can take them without going over the edge. From my experience I feel harder styling should be left in the dormant time, when the tree is strong and this is when I have had my best results.

Moving forward about another two years the tree has only been maintained with old needle and wire removal. I had the tree back in the workshop ready for a re-wiring, older and wiser hoping to improve on what has already been done.

Here I had already cut off a secondary branch from the main branch and the old secondary branch. My reasoning is to compact the tree as it’s grown out a lot and to make a more chuhin size. Another thing is to open it up if the balance branch was kept it would of hidden too much of the trunk. I then continued to wire brining down branches and spreading the apex so in time it will fill out better.

This was my initial finished image for the moment but, reviewing the photo Some changes need to be made. The apex is a little narrow for the moment but there isn’t anything that can be done for now about that but, It will fill out in the future considering it was so leggy.

What I wasn’t happy about is that the main branch and how separate and in compact it was. It was highlighted more from a photo, than in person. So using a guy wire I pulled it up and in to try to correct it.

This was the final image for now . I’m looking forward to see it develop, fill out and mature. It’s amazing how much it has thickened and changed in this short time.

Here is a short video, to give a better idea of the trunk.

Thank you for reading and merry Christmas everyone!

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