Developing Japanese Black Pine Bonsai – Long Term Projects

Developing Japanese black pine bonsai is a rewarding and sometimes challenging process. When I first started, Japanese black pine was an intimidating species to grow because of all the varied approaches one might read about. Furthermore, the decandling technique seemed to be some sort of esoteric kung fu move shrouded in mystery. It can be quite confusing if you’re just getting started. But fear not, there is hope. Linked below is one of the most clear and easy to read explanations on the subject.

Decandling black pine bonsai – an in-depth guide by Jonas Dupuich of

Decandling however, is only one segment of growing and developing Japanese black pine. In this article I will touch more on the long term thought process.

This pine was first wired to add movement when it was a young tree. In the first picture the tree is about six years old in 2015. Next, the middle picture shows the tree growing well in July of 2018. Finally, the last picture shows it after a large sacrifice branch is removed and mekiri work, or decandling was performed. Looking back, I would have liked to have had another strong leader to cut back to rather than just the smaller branches. Hopefully it turns out well.

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

Next is one of the same age with a bit more movement in the trunk. At the beginning the main focus is creating an interesting trunk. I am also very careful to prune back specific branches that divide closer to the trunk and have nice placement. These will be used to make the final design but only once the trunk is the right thickness. I leave many small branches to the point of redundancy because I can always remove them later. Since Japanese black pine don’t normally back bud on old wood this is a critical part of development for how I am growing these. However, one could also successfully grow a great tree from a single branch. Here I cut back the main sacrifice branch to another smaller sacrifice branch, this is the preferred way. This tree’s bark is building up nicely, remember not to grab your pine’s trunk when working on it as you can lose years of nice bark.

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

Here is a tree destined to be shohin sized. I’m happy with the trunk movement but it’s too skinny below and looks awkward. To fix this the lowest branches will be allowed to grow very large and then cut off. The only purpose of the branch is to make the main trunk larger in the area I want (i.e. sacrifice branch).

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

This tree also suffers from reverse taper that needs fixed but I like the contorted trunk. I have noted that some Japanese growers use dozens or more sacrifice branches to the point they are merging into one another. I am fascinated by all the different methods and want to try and recreate this technique on other trees.

Growing bonsai over the years produces so many exquisite experiences. I now begin to feel their trunks like clay in my hands, shaping a form together with life itself. Nature makes no compromises, though it labors with all creatures. All ego and impatience is driven out of the artist of this labor. Harmony is found as one realizes their ability to control nature results in destruction without finding their proper place in this greater order. So we grow trees and listen closely, a splendid collaboration.

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Japanese Black Pine Bonsai


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