Pines by Rudi Adam

by Rudi Adam

There are more than 80 species of pine, which constitutes the largest group of conifers and are synonymous with the northern hemisphere. The distribution of the various species range from sea-level to high alpine, but all seem to prefer poor sandy, stony soils. All pines to my knowledge grow in conjunction with "Mycorrhiza", a friendly fungus that may be attached to or growing within the root-system and act as hair roots for the pine so forming a symbiotic relation ship. Pines without their specific mycorrhiza will grow poorly and may more often become infected with diseases.

Species used most frequently for cultivation as bonsai are:

  1. PINUS mugo = Mountain pine
  2. PINUS nigra austriacha = Austrian black pine
  3. PINUS sylvestris = Scots pine
  4. PINUS parviflora = Japanese white pine
  5. PINUS thunbergii = Japanese black pine
  6. And a number of new species are now being tried throughout the world.


The roots grow vigorously in the right soil-conditions. They emerge white, but darken with age and except for plants that are destined to become root-over-rock style, should be pruned every two years in the early and young phase of the tree's lifetime. A course and sandy medium will encourage plenty of roots, while a fine and rich medium will hold too much water, which impairs the growth of mycorrhiza and also slows down root development. Root tips will die quickly, if exposed to drying wind or sun. Expose surface roots gradually over the years, this will add greatly to the visual stability.


The bark is smooth when trees are young, but becomes beautifully rough as they mature (one of their most treasured features). It is also fairly loose on the trunk when sap is rising (spring) therefore avoid wiring and twisting of the trunk at this time. The species is extremely flexible and can therefore be wired and shaped into interesting forms.


Branches appear in whirls or multiples and must be thinned out, leaving only a two forked division, as more will cause an unsightly swelling in that area. Keep low branches as long as possible to increase the girth of the trunk and enhance the taper of the tree.


The wood is soft to semi-hard and very porous. The presence of aromatic resin, will protect it from rotting only for a short period of time, but it may very successfully be treated with the application of undiluted lime sulphur.


When candle-like shoots appear in spring and autumn, remove those that bear no needles within the first 3cm and pinch the others by one third or up to 50% of the new growth. Remove long primary shoots throughout the growing season as well as shoots that grow upwards, down-wards and in-wards. Over watering, poor light conditions and too much fertilizer in the spring season will cause large needles, and should therefore be avoided.


Pines have distinctive male and female flowers that appear at different times on the same tree, so it can not self pollinate. The male is catkin-like and emerges first, while the female is a miniature red cone usually born at the tip of a new shoot. This cone bears the seed and takes 2-3 years to ripen depending on the species.


Repotting every 2-3 years when young, 3-5 years as they mature, in spring. Water and fertilize sparingly as new candles and foliage appear, but liberally after maturation of foliage. Expose to high light and wind levels, this will keep foliage and inter-nodal distances short. Additional "blood meal" application will keep the needles in a dark green color during summer. Winter spray with lime sulphur at 50ml (10 teaspoons) per 1lt water, at least twice but better three times in 10 day interval, as full cover spray, will keep the dreaded Pine woolly aphid at bay as well as needle-scale. Protect containers that are not glazed, as it might stain them for some time.


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Random Bonsai Tip

If surface roots are unequally spread around the trunk or if they are lacking completely you can drill holes and insert match sticks or make deep scars around the base of the trunk on the side where the roots are needed below soil level. Apply hormone powder and sphagnum moss; cover with plastic and keep moist. Leave for 6 months to 1 year for the roots to develop.