JBP - Apex pruning and sacrifice branches

Hello all,
This question/inquiry is mostly targeted at Jonas but if others have useful information to contribute, please share.

I’ve read most of the Bonsai Tonight articles about growing JBP from seed and about some of the stuff Jonas does with young seedlings. I’ve also read other resources including Bonsai Today #12, which has an article on developing JBP from seed. In that article they suggest pruning the apex on the 2 year old seedlings if they are strong. Their method also seems to rely on repeated pruning of the apex. Based on the what I can recall it seems like Jonas’ approach differs. He seems to be wiring the seedlings earlier to add shape and I don’t recall seeing much about early apex pruning (for instance here: https://bonsaitonight.com/2014/07/18/developing-black-pine-setting-the-first-curves/). Visually it looks like the plants in Bonsai Today #12 are more squat and have a lot of lower branches (some as sacrifices I presume). Now maybe this is because he is trying to achieve a different end result (in terms of style or size) but I was hoping you (he and everyone) could fill me in on how pruning the apex and sacrifice branches fit into your JBP development plan? If I missed an article of his that answers my question please do point me that way.


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i believe Jonas does the the wiring on young pines to achieve movement first…Boon, our teacher, tells us to grow the trunk first then work on branches…but it all depends on what you are trying to accomplished first,…do you want a small tree? a medium tree or Large tree??? that’s my 2 cents added lol

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Some really good questions here. First - I’d skip most recommendations in BT #12 and instead follow the basic program in BT #20. My understanding is that the cone-shaped trunks created with the techniques in issue 12 never - or at least not yet - achieve the nice bark we’re looking for in pines. The sacrifice branches create taper fast but leave behind scars over which good bark has yet to form.

As for pruning the apex to generate back branching, this technique is good if you need shorter internodes. (This winter I plan to cut a few trees like this as I haven’t done so in a while.) If you don’t need shorter internodes, i.e., if the distance from the surface roots to the first branch isn’t a problem, then I don’t know of a big benefit to cutting back.

As Justin notes, figuring out how big the final tree will be is the best guide for figuring out what to cut or not cut. Smaller trees, for instance, may benefit from cutting back the apex whereas larger trees may not.

Great point on using the desired size of the tree to help guide your actions early on. As far as developing the trunk first and worry about branches, I definitely get the idea. But it would seem that for pines, or any species that has a more restricted ability to back bud that you have no choice but to keep branches in mind early on. That’s where I’m stuck.

I will check out Bonsai Today #20. It makes me laugh that I am searching out 20+ year old print magazines for advice in the age of the internet. Finding out how to grow pine from seed has been hard and Bonsai Tonight is about the best resource I’ve found. Oh well. I have Bonsai Today #32 which also has an article about JBP from seed but that seems to rely significantly on sacrifice branches as well. Do you have any thoughts on that article?

You seem to dislike sacrifice branches for JBP because of the scars. Do you use them at all for JBP? If not, how do you develop taper and thickness? How often do you cut off the apex and let another brach take over to help with taper and movement?

I meant to say “worry about branches later”, not worry about branches. Sorry if that caused any confusion.

The article from BT #20 is reprinted in the Bonsai Today Masters’ Series Pines book on p 140 - that may be the easiest place to find it. The article in issue 32 has good info but some of the trees look to be developed by the use of many branches to form the cone-shaped trunk.

I’m a big fan of using sacrifice branches to develop pines - just not the technique proposed in issue 12. I use sacrifice branches to create movement and taper - often both at the same time. The main thing with sacrifice branches is that it’s best if you can leave the scars in the back of the tree so they don’t affect the front of the trunk where good bark is most important.

How often I replace the apex with new branches is mostly a matter of evaluating what a given tree needs at a given time - I don’t follow a fixed recipe during years 4-10 of development. I have a lot more to write on the topic and will see what I can do to clarify the approach a bit.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to a good outline of the process from Eric Schrader:

Thanks for clarifying and thanks the information. I’ll check out those resources before I ask any more questions.

I got the Bonsai Today Masters’ Series Pines book today. I read the article and it definitely clarifies things for me. I’ve also read the article by Eric Schrader. Compared to Bonsai Today #12 it seems like this method relies much more on the leader growth for developing trunk thickness rather than using the sacrifice branches. One thing that was unclear to me in the BT#20 article was when the change of leader was supposed to take place. They say in year 5 to prune the leader back to it’s first set of lateral branches. It looks like changing leaders must occur after that. Maybe you can clarify for me? I know you can’t blindly follow the timeline because every tree will grow differently and judgements will have to be made, but I want to generally understand the process.

I had a few questions about a tree shown in your “Developing Pine - setting the first curves” post and what your plan was. This is the tree: 20140713-19-pines-S

You’ve wired the branch on the left along with the trunk. What is the plan for the first branch on the right? Will it be a sacrifice or will you make it a new leader at some point? How long can you leave that branch without developing reverse taper or a bulge in the trunk?

Thanks for the help

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You’ve found what for me is the biggest gap in the BT#20 article - how to actually train the tree several years in.

The basic process is to remove the initial sacrifice branch and select a new sacrifice branch higher up to begin thickening the next section of the trunk. By repeating the process, one can build a trunk section by section.

We can figure out what to do with additional branches based on the plan for the tree. Options for the first branch on the right in the photo above include:

  1. Remove it anytime and go with the original leader as the initial sacrifice branch.
  2. Use the branch as the first branch of the tree. This would make sense if I wanted to make a very small tree.
  3. Let it grow for a few years and remove it when the area has thickened. How long I can leave it without developing reverse or unsightly taper will depend on how big the trunk will ultimately become and what exactly that intersection looks like over time.
  4. I can also develop the first branch on the right as the main trunk if I don’t like the line I selected (the one on the left) or if something happens to it (injury or infestation)

I tend to make all branch selection decisions on a case by case basis. Each winter I review all of my pines in development, wiring straight sections that I want to use and removing sections that are boring or not useful for creating taper.

I know the discussion of what to do with the branches above are somewhat abstract. This winter I plan to post examples of how this thinking plays out as I review individual trees. I may also try via video as it’s often easier to simply grab a branch and explain intentions or options for it.

Thanks for taking the time to respond. Another area I’m trying to fill in the gaps on is what to do with the lower branches while you are growing out the trunk. I’ll keep exploring and learning. I look forward to seeing your future posts on the topic.

As for the lower branches, that’s an easier one. I simply keep them around and encourage them to grow slowly. If they start growing too vigorously I’ll cutback and/or decandle them. If they get too weak, I’ll decandle and/or cutback the upper branches, including the sacrifice branches.

The idea is that if I can maintain useful branches and keep them small there are always options for building the future structure with little effort. Will have pics of this in an upcoming post or two.