Pine Bonsai Pruning

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Pines are one of the classic tree genera used for bonsai throughout the world, however they are also one of the most difficult to understand how to style and prune. Deciduous species (and many conifers, such as Junipers), continuously produce new leaves and shoots throughout the growing season which require continual removal using techniques that can be applied to a tree, whichever variety it is. These techniques however are inappropriate to the growth patterns of pines. Unlike deciduous species, most Pines in Northern temperate areas have only one flush of growth and a different set of pruning techniques need to be applied accordingly.
Pine pruning techniques in reality are very straightforward, however trying to learn them can be very confusing as there is so much contradictory advice offered in Bonsai publications and books. This confusion normally arises from the attempt of Bonsai publications to be too specific about the precise time of the year that certain techniques should be carried out. Unfortunately, different pine species require pruning at slightly different times of the year; different climates will also affect the advancement of Pine growth through the year and this also causes creates confusion when trying to follow advice that has been written for a different climate.
My personal opinion is that it easier to learn to prune pines by observation of the growth pattern of your own tree in your own environment. This ensures that your tree is pruned correctly, at the right time, when your tree is ready; and not simply because it is a certain time of the year.
This article concentrates specifically on techniques for pruning Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii), but these techniques can just as equally be applied to other Pine species if simple observation of varying growth rates between different Pine species is noted. Japanese Black Pines are a vigorous species, particularly in warm climates, other two or three- needle pines with sufficient vigour will respond similarly.

Please note that Pinus mugo/Mugo Pines require a different approach to pruning and repotting, for further information refer to Mugo Pines Indepth

For Pruning and Care Guidelines specific to please refer to Japanese White Pine/P. parviflora Pruning and Care

Late Summer Pine Pruning: Needle Plucking and Shoot Trimming

Pine Growth Characteristics
Pines are extremely apically dominant. This means that their most vigorous area of growth is always towards the top or outer-reaches of the tree. If the tree is left unpruned, all growth will be centred on the apex/top of the tree at the expense of the lower branches and foliage, which, in time will weaken and dieback.
An unpruned or poorly pruned Pine will nearly always display characteristics of heavy top and outer foliage, with little inner growth near the trunk, which is unsuitable for bonsai.

Pines are able to produce buds from anywhere that there are still needles though it is rare for buds to break anywhere other than the tips of shoots. It is very difficult to force Pines to bud-back on the trunk or branches; without careful pruning, branches can be completely bare other than a ball of foliage at their very tips.

Diagram showing vigour areas of a Pine tree

Area 1 is the most vigorous.

Area 2 has medium vigour.

Area 3 is the least vigorous area.

Typically, the other major fault with unpruned pines that needs to be avoided is the natural tendency to produce ‘whorls’ of buds at the end of branches which elongate into multiple sub-branches that look ugly and create problems with inverse taper at the point in the branch (or trunk) that they emanate from.

Due to these growth characteristics, it is necessary to start shaping pines from an early age, pines that have left unpruned whilst developing their trunks can have little or no branch structure that is suitable for use when it comes to styling the tree. Often, in these cases grafting is the only way of encouraging branches low down on the trunk.

Diagram showing vigour areas of a Pine branch

Area 1 is the most vigorous.

Area 2 is of medium vigour.

Area 3 has the least vigour.

The best way to develop a thick trunk on a pine whilst retaining suitable branches low down on the trunk is to cultivate lower and inner shoots as future branches whilst allowing top other branches to extend freely as sacrificial growth that can be removed at a later date.

Hard Pruning/ Removing Branches
Pruning of branches is nearly always carried out when the trees’ growth slows down in late Autumn through to Spring to avoid excessive sap-loss. When pruning in Winter it is always best to leave a small stub rather than cut back close to the trunk. Leaving a stub when pruning pines is advantageous as it leaves open the opportunity in the future of creating jins and it also allows time for the sap-flow to bypass the missing branch, reducing sap-loss through bleeding. Pruning close to the trunk and hollowing out is best carried out whilst still semi-dormant in early Spring as scars will heal quickest with the Spring growth that follows.
It is better to be conservative when hard-pruning and reducing Pines. Severe reduction without allowing for recovery time can be fatal particularly with old or large trees. Reduce large trunks and/or branches gradually over a number of seasons so that the tree is able to adjust.

Wiring Pines
As well as being a useful tool for shaping and positioning trunks and branches, wiring is an effective way of distributing energy and vigour throughout a pine.
When the trunk or branches of a Pine are wired, the flow of sap through these branches is slowed so that not all the trees energy goes directly to its branch tips.
There are many schools of thought as to when the correct time to wire a Pine is. Some say that you should only wire in late Autumn or Winter as whilst the cambium is less active during this time, damage is reduced. Other bonsai enthusiasts recommend wiring during the Summer when any damage to the branch can be repaired immediately by the tree as it is still actively growing. My personal feeling is that it is better to wire during the late Autumn and Winter; pine branches tend to increase in thickness quickly during the late Summer and there is a greater risk of wire damage. Wiring after this time means that the wire can nearly always stay in place until the following Summer by which time the branch should have set in place correctly.

The pruning of pines for foliage and branch formation can be split into four basic areas; bud selection, candle pinching, shoot trimming and needle plucking.

Bud Selection
The development of foliage pads or branch structure on a bonsai dictates that the branch tips should fork and sub-divide into only two smaller sub-branches. As previously stated, Pine buds most often emerge in clusters or whorls at the end of branch tips. The basic rule in Bud Selection is to select two of the buds and remove the rest so that when the buds extend as shoots they form a two-pronged fork.

From Left to Right;

Image 1: Example of a typical bud-cluster
Image 2: A cluster in a dominant area should be reduced to two weak buds
Image 3: A cluster in a weaker area should be reduced to 2 or 3 stronger buds

Buds continually need to be reduced to two as they appear, in Autumn and in Spring. Deciding which 2 buds in a bud cluster should be retained needs some consideration. As previously stated pines are apically dominant, upper and outer areas can (and should) be restrained by careful bud selection and elimination. Apical areas of a pine can produce 5 or more buds to a shoot terminal, by removing the largest and strongest buds and retaining the two smallest and weakest, vigour is re-directed to wards inner and lower areas of the tree. Conversely, weaker lower branches are allowed to retain their largest, most vigorous two or three buds to encourage more vigour to them. If a third bud is retained on a weak branch it can be removed at a later date when its job is done.
To encourage good branch structure and proper formation of foliage pads, whenever possible, buds that appear on the sides of a shoot should be retained rather than those than on top or below.

From left to right;
Image 1: Appearance of shoot tip before bud selection in Spring.
Image 2: After bud selection.
Image 3: After extension of the buds into new sub-branches in Summer. Note the appearance of a further set of buds developing at the new shoot-tips.

The Art Of Niwaki

June 7th, 2017 Fantastic Team Trips to Tranquillity Post Views: 11,749

Managing a garden is a form of art. Knowing what goes where is something that not everyone can do. However, often times growing a traditional garden is not as interesting once the project is finished. That is something the old-time Japanese gardeners knew very well.

However, coming up with ways to accentuate the look of the garden and make it feel closer to nature is something that takes time and skill.
One thing that not so experienced gardeners can do is practice niwaki. A form of tree growing where you, the gardener, change the way a garden tree looks.

The rules and philosophy behind Niwaki have been developed throughout thousands of years. The pruning techniques which are meant to coax out the trees and accentuate the spread of branches are super easy. That and just a bit of knowledge and niwaki can be done even by amateur gardeners.

What is Niwaki

Niwaki is one of the most recognisable tree art in the world, yet most people don’t know it by name.If you ask a Japanese person to translate “niwaki” to you he’ll most likely translate it as “garden tree”. And that is the meaning of niwaki. But if you take a look at a Japanese garden what you see is that in Japan it’s more than just a garden tree.

Japanese people are very fond of their gardens and throughout the years the garden in Japan has played a very profound role.

Every tree and bush is shaped to perfectly fit in the garden. Creating cloud trees and pruning of the tree the way that it creates a certain form is something that takes a small amount of knowledge with amazing results. You can create some amazing results with niwaki. It gives you the power to transform the look of your tree.

The interesting thing in Japan is that unlike us, they keep the number of plants they use quite small. Japanese gardening is limited to certain plants and applying niwaki techniques makes some pretty stunning shapes.
In niwaki, the whole idea is to keep the tree in accordance to its surroundings. The Japanese art of cloud pruning is heavily influenced by nature. Gardens drawing inspiration from mountains, waterfalls and rivers.

The way Japanese gardeners do this is by combining different techniques such as trimming, clipping and pruning. The idea is to signify the essence of the tree. Niwaki creates outstretched branches and rounded canopies, which in Australia we know as cloud pruning.

Shaping a Tree into Niwaki

In order to practice niwaki, you’ll need to spend the next seven years of your life as an apprentice. But only in Japan. If you happen to live in Australia, however, all you need to know is basic knowledge on pruning. Everything else comes down to trial and error and a lot of patience.

That is because even the best gardeners of us can do nothing when it comes to waiting. Growing trees is a long process and patience is mandatory. After all, you are building your own zen garden. There still is a way to shorten the period of time. You can either choose a type of plant that grows faster or already a bigger plant or tree. Yet, a bigger tree means that you’ll have to spend that extra bit on transportation.

Now that we’ve gone through the fact that niwaki requires patience it’s time to choose the right plant. Cloud pruning requires the tree to be deciduous, even better if it’s evergreen. We are kind of limited to a couple of choices really.

There are four trees suitable for niwaki. Here are the ones you can choose from:

  • Box
  • Yew
  • Pine
  • Japanese Privet

These four trees seem to be the most suiting for pruning and easier to shape than other types.

How to Cloud Prune

Cloud pruning, when done right, creates some very beautiful results. Tree branches look like clouds (hence the name). There are rules that you have to follow.

At first, when you go to choose the plant that you are going to use make sure it has some interesting branch formations. Often times the more strange the branches look, you get best results when you start cloud pruning it.

When you decide which tree to get and you’ve found the perfect place for it in your garden it’s time to prune.
You’ll have to figure out which branches you want to leave and which you would like to keep.

Using your tool of choice (pruning saw or secateurs) cut out the unwanted branches and clean the base of the tree. It’s perfect to be done when the tree is still young. That way the marks of the cut won’t stay and will disappear with time.

After you’ve trimmed to the desired length and shape leave the tips at the end of the branches. That way the tree will grow in a cloud shape. While growing you can use ties and stones to redirect the growth of the branches. It mostly takes patience rather than skill.

Here are a few styles of niwaki and the different tree shapes:


Pruning a tree to make its branches resemble steps requires time. It’s best done with taller trees that have enough formed branches on them.

Note the branches that you’d want to leave on the tree and cut out the rest. This type of pruning can also be practiced with young trees that still develop their branches, as that way there won’t be branch marks.

Splitting a tree into two halves can be done in two ways. Either the tree has to split by itself (usually old, big trees split under their own weight) or the more desired method, form a young branch into growing upwards.

This can be done on young trees. Your goal should be forming a second branch that is strong and thick enough to grow smaller branches that would later be pruned in resemblance to the other branch.

Making bendy trunks of the tree is at the same time beautiful and slow. This effect can only be made with young trees that still have soft trunks.

It can be made with ropes, by slowly tightening and curving the trunk in the desired direction. It can take months before the desired effect is reached.

Ball pruning is done by keeping the branches of the tree short. This type of pruning can be a bit hard as the branches are close to each other, allowing for little room to work.

You will need a tree with a full crown in order to achieve the effect. Young and medium aged trees can be shaped in balls, as long as the branch isn’t too thick.

Perfect pruning technique for trees with wide branches. Shaping a tree in lots requires constant maintenance as any newly formed branches must be removed.

It’s hard to shape a grown tree in lots, but the branches of young trees can be manipulated and formed with the help of ropes and pulleys.

Shell pruning is a mix between step and ball pruning. You’d want to prune a tall tree, keep its branches medium to short length. Any newly formed branches should be removed.

On top of that, you’d have to prune the shape of the crown of each branch in order to achieve the desired look.


Maintaining niwaki is quite easy. Depending on that if your tree grows faster or slower you’ll have to prune it once or twice a year. In Japan pruning is done only once or twice. Small branches aren’t cut and are left until the day to prune comes. All of the work is done in a day.

If you have chosen a shrub, make sure you do the pruning after watering it.

While beautiful niwaki can be hard to practice. Our tree surgery experts in Melbourne can come in handy. Ready to book?

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DIY Illustrated Oriental

10 Types of Japanese Cherry Trees You’ll Fall in Love With!

Date published: 28 January 2020

How would you describe Japanese cherry blossoms – ‘sakura blossoms’? A pretty pink flower? A sign of spring? A symbol of Japan? While all of these statements are true, they don’t quite paint the whole picture.
It may be surprising to learn that ‘sakura’ does not refer to a single type of flower, but rather, several cherry blossom tree types! Read on as we share more about these fascinating sakura flowers.

What color are Japanese cherry tree flowers?

While all cherry blossoms share some common traits, there are some striking differences found within the Japanese cherry tree flower (sakura) family. Take a closer look and you’ll find variation in color, shape, size, and more. While most Japanese sakura blossoms are a shade of pale pink, they can be white, dark pink, or even yellow!
In fact, Japan is home to over 200 varieties of Japanese cherry trees, including wild and cultivated types. Here are some of the most common varieties of sakura blossoms in Japan – see if you can spot them in the wild.

Types of Japanese cherry blossom trees

This is the most commonly cultivated variety of sakura. They can be seen throughout Japan, first blooming in late March in Kyushu and Shikoku, continuing with blooms that can be seen in late April in Tokyo, and as late as May in northern areas such as Aomori.
A single-flowering variety, each blossom consists of just five petals. The color is such a pale pink, that the flowers nearly appear to be white. Blossoms are clustered in bunches, which open before the tree’s leaves.
When do Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms start blooming in mid-April in Tokyo.

2. Yamazakura

Yamazakura takes the top spot among the most commonly viewed wild sakura flowers. These sakura, also known as Hill Cherry, can often be spotted among Japan’s mountains. Like the Yoshino, these sakura blossoms also appear in light pink petals of five.
When do Yamazakura cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
One distinguishing feature of the Yamazakura is that its blossoms typically open at the same time as the tree’s leaves, between March and April in the Kanto area.

3. Shidarezakura (Japanese weeping cherry tree)

The English name for this variety is the Japanese Weeping Cherry tree, and it is easy to see why. The blossoms on the tree’s characteristic drooping branches are the official flower of Kyoto Prefecture.
These sakura blossoms bloom fairly early in the season, about a week before the Somei Yoshino. The most famous Shidarezakura is the Miharu Takizakura (Miharu Waterfall Cherry Tree) in Fukushima. This Japanese cherry tree, which has grown for over 1,000 years, is one of the five great cherry trees of Japan!
When do weeping cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
In Tokyo, weeping cherry blossoms tend to start blooming in early April.

4. Edohigan

Edohigan are among the earliest blooming sakura. The name derives from its blossoming coinciding with Western Japan’s spring equinox, called higan. The small flower’s petals are pale pink, and can be distinguished by a round, swollen calyx.
Japan’s oldest known tree, the 2,000 year old Yamataka Jindai Sakura is an Edohigan: you can see it blossom in Yamanashi sometime between early to mid-April.

5. Kanzan

Kanzan flowers fall under the classification of Yaezakura, or “double blossom” sakura, which includes any sakura flower with more than five petals per blossom.
Kanzan are especially spectacular, showing as many as 50 petals per blossom. These hearty, late-blooming flowers are easily recognizable by their deep pink color and voluminous bunches.
When do Kanzan cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
Kanzan cherry blossoms tend to open in mid April in Tokyo.

6. Ichiyou

The meaning of ‘Ichiyo’ is ‘one leaf.’ When this 20-40 petal blossom is fully open, a single pistil (which is thought to look a bit like a leaf) protrudes from the center, hence its name. An abundance of inner white petals, encased in a pale pink outer layer, give this sakura flower a subtle color. Bright green leaves surround the sakura blossoms.
When do Ichiyou cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
The blossoms are so prominent in Asakusa, that a festival dedicated to them is held each April.

7. Kanhizakura

Japanese cherry tree blossoms aren’t limited to mainland Japan; the warm southern island of Okinawa has some special sakura of its own. Kanhizakura may not look like the typical sakura blossom, but the striking sakura is celebrated in not only Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, but in Vietnam, China, and Taiwan, as well. The fuchsia flower is also known as the Taiwan cherry, bellflower cherry, or the Formosan cherry.
When do Kanhizakura cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
These are some of the earliest blooming sakura, with some opening as early as January.

8. Kikuzakura

The name of this flower translates to “chrysanthemum cherry blossom” due to its resemblance to Japan’s beloved Kiku (chrysanthemum) flower. Kikuzakura can be recognized by their pom-pom appearance, surrounded by large leaves. Each sakura blossom has anywhere from 80 to 130 soft pink petals.
When do Kikuzakura cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
This variety blooms relatively late in the season; blossoms can be seen in the Tokyo area sometimes up to early May.

9. Ukon

While the color of sakura typically falls somewhere along the spectrum of whites and pinks, Ukon sakura, with its yellow-hued blossoms, is the exception to the rule. In Japanese, ‘ukon’ is the word for turmeric, the spice that gives Indian curry its yellow color (and is also widely used in Japan as a hangover prevention remedy).
Due to a strong resemblance, these curry-colored flowers also became known by the same name. This is another yaezakura (double-blossom) variety, with petals usually numbering between 15 to 20 per flower.
When do Ukon cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
It blooms roughly the same time as the Ichiyou, usually mid-April in Tokyo.

10. Fugenzou

The name of this unusual sakura flower has an even more unusual origin: In Japanese, the literal translation of fugenzou is ‘Samantabhadra elephant.’ This is a reference to the Bodhisattva often depicted mounted on an elephant in Buddhist artwork.
The people of the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573) believed the pistils of Fugenzou sakura to resemble the image. This Japanese cherry tree blossom can be characterized by its incredible number of petals (sometimes as many as 40 per blossom), as well as its jagged leaves. The color is mainly pink, with a tinge of red.
When do Fugenzou cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo?
Fugenzou is another late-blooming sakura, typically reaching its peak in mid to late April in Tokyo.

Related Sakura Flower Articles

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*This information is from the time of this article’s publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

Cloud Pruned Topiary

Enhance your Outdoor Space with a Living Work of Art

Every piece of cloud pruned topiary is a work of art. Growers will carefully select suitable young plants, and then spend many years training, pruning and perfecting them into finished pieces of sculpture. It takes many years to take a young tree and turn it into a finished piece of high quality topiary. Some of the oldest cloud pruned trees we have for sale can be well over 50 years old.

Our Most Popular Cloud Pruned Tree Species are:

Ilex crenata: Commonly known as Japanese Holly, species such as Ilex crenata ‘Convexa’ and Ilex crenata ‘Kinme’ are ideal choices for smaller cloud-pruned trees that are between 120cm and 250cm tall. Their slower growth habit makes them easy to maintain and they can be kept compact. They will mature over time to form stunning dense, evergreen clouds. Many of our Ilex crenata ‘Kinme’ plants are imported from Japan.

Taxus: Like Ilex crenata, Yew makes for fantastic cloud formations which will last a lifetime and longer. The most popular species supplied as cloud forms are Taxus cuspidata (Japanese Yew) and Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’. Taxus prefers well drained soil, and will not do well when the roots sit in wet soil for prolonged periods.

Pinus: Pines are a popular choice for you need more impact. We offer large cloud-pruned Pines from 1.5 metres up to 4 metres tall. The most popular species are Pinus nigra, commonly known as the Austrian Pine or Black Pine and Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine).

Fagus: Although the Japanese have long been cloud pruning a wide range of trees both deciduous and evergreen, the demand for deciduous cloud pruned topiary trees is a relatively modern trend in the UK. We can offer field-grown specimens in Green Beech and Copper Beech.

Aside from the species above, we can also supply other species such as Larix (Larch), Juniperus (Juniper) and Cedrus (Cedar).

A Range of Large Cloud Pruned Specimens Available for Supply Year Round

Most of our cloud pruned trees are supplied in containers, which allows for delivery at any time of year. Only the biggest specimens are field-grown. This means that they can only be supplied with root-balls in the dormant months.

Planting, Care & Maintenance

While pruning cloud pruned topiary needs some care, it is reasonably easy to manage these plants. For a start, much advice can be found online through experts like Jake Hobson. Clients who are not necessarily green fingered quickly pick up the techniques needed and creative pruning soon becomes the norm. If you are after something special then you have found the right company to help you realise your dream.

These plants are delicate and need special care when transporting, delivering, unloading and planting. While larger specimens are more robust their branches can still be damaged if not handled correctly. To avoid this take advantage of our complete supply and UK planting service.

When I first moved into my house a few years ago there was only one thing that annoyed me about the place. It was an ugly lump of gray conifer in the front yard. It was a thick mess of twigs and foliage, about 1m tall and 1.5m wide. Beneath the outer layers it was mostly brown dead foliage and spiders. The shape was reminiscent of a giant cow pat – though it did smell better.
I lived with this eyesore in my front yard for a year or two, but then I was lucky enough to be able to visit Kyoto in Japan. Kyoto is inspirational. Kyoto’s beauty is astonishing, and among the most striking aspects of Kyoto for me were the gardens. It was here I first saw what could be done by artistically pruning trees. They tell me that tree pruning in that part of the world is an art form mastered by very few people, and they are usually from a long family line of tree pruners and the art is passed down the generations. They certainly have my admiration and respect.
On my return from Kyoto my eye fell on the hideous blob of conifer in my front yard, and even though I hadn’t the faintest idea of how to go about it, I decided I would have a go at turning it into a thing of beauty. My reasoning was that if it didn’t survive my attentions then that would still be a better outcome that doing nothing.
My next step was to do some online research. I learned the term “cloud pruning”, and that’s about all.
The next thing I did was get out my secatuers (spell check where are you?) and a saw, and started cutting. I cut anything that looked dead. Then I cut off anything that looked plain ugly. Then I tried to shape it like a tree, so I could see the trunk and some branches. I had to clean up the branches so they were pretty much bare except the ends.
As I removed the weight of all the dead material and excess junk, the tree seemed to come alive. The branched relieved of all that weight started to lift up and present themselves in a much more proud manner. I continued trimming off anything that didn’t look quite right until I got to the point that I no longer wished the thing dead. Then I stopped.
Clearly I’m no master, but I quite like the result. It certainly is more tree-like than it was, and I’m glad I had a crack at it.
If you have any questions please post them and I’ll do my best to answer them, but be warned they are probably better directed to someone who knows what they are talking about.

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