Black Pine Decandling

On the Bonsai Tonight blog, I keep hearing that Japanese Black Pines shouldn’t be decandled until the trunk is the desired size. Does this mean that besides wiring, the branches shouldn’t be touched? What doesn’t make sense to me is how branching can be refined after the trunk is thick enough. Internodes would be too long and side branching would form in wrong areas, wouldn’t it? Are you supposed to cut branches back to the oldest remaining needles and have them bud back?

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My aim when developing young pines is to maintain some small branches where they’ll be needed when the trunk reaches the desired thickness. You can see some examples of this here:

Of several hundred pines I’ve grown from seed to at least 7 years old, I don’t know that I’ve had to decandle more than a couple in the first 5 years to keep the lower branches in check.

Once the upper branches start to really gain vigor, the lower branches naturally stay short and weak. If they get too weak I can cut back or decandle the sacrifice branches. If they get too strong, I can cut them back or decandle them, though I’ve rarely found occasion to slow down the lower branches before the trees reach 5-7 years old.

Once the trunk reaches the desired size, I start developing the younger branches, usually between 5-10 years old. At this point I’ll start decandling while incrementally reducing the sacrifice branches.

When all of the lower branches have become large, I’ll graft.

All of that said, you can always decandle along the way if you need to generate more branches. It’s not a bad technique, per se, but it does slow the tree down, and with planning it may not be necessary. I’ve been experimenting with decandling a bit more with young trees and find that while it can help keep young branches in check, it typically sets back development by a year or two.

So you are saying that with sacrifice branches, the lower branches that will be used in the final design will stay short enough, correct? I am in the process of creating a sacrifice branch on my black pine, but is there a way to get it to grow faster and more vigorously?

@Syon_Reddy Yes, that’s right - the lower branches tend to stay short. In general, the upper branches will naturally gain vigor. Sunshine, good soil, fertilizer and appropriate water will yield lots of vigorous growth.