Black Pine 015


This is the story of digging a black pine from a grow field. Steve DaSilva has always been a “go to” place for me to look for material. In years past I used to find lots of shohin material but now the fields have become all grown up and most of the material is much larger now. Steve has a good part of a field dedicated to growing bonsai material. It is accessible by appt. but in Jan. traditionally, Steve has opened it up to a bonsai destination to start the year off right. Today we  had a repotting demo and many people brought soil to sift on the ole Glenn VanWinkle soil sifter to beat all soil sifters.

Glenns Grandkids doing the hard work of sifting Cali Dama, circa 2016.

This is the field and there are probably ten species at least in this field. Black pines, Red pines, olives, pomegranate, quince, tridents, green maples, shimpaku and nana juniper, crab apple, boxwood, and some I don’t even remember.

This is a beautiful clump green maple that I thought about digging. I remember when Steve put this in the ground, and this was a demo done at his house probably 6 years ago by threading whips thru a piece of plexi.

Thats Steve with the shovel. And true to Cal Trans, we all stand around a cheer Steve on while he digs.

This is a good picture of the Master, Chingadero Saulsamoto

Inspecting that clump for a disk of plastic.

It’s a very nice clump. This was a thought, but I opted for something more of a challenge.

Another nice trident dug out.

So I spotted this pine. I had made my decision and all that was left to do was dig it out. I circled the pine with my shovel and the bottom loam here is very sandy. Probably why everything grows so well here.

When I get it home I take it out of the temp pot I took for travel.

Having dug five or six pines from fields, between Muranaka, Ed Clark and Steve I have dug I think 6 and brought them along to much better trees. While many will tell you pines are a little dicey on the roots, I have always had good success, doing one major insult and getting it out of the way. This is not a repot. This is a major trauma to the plant, ripping it from the earth and repotting into a container for the first time. Not easy on the plant, but not a death sentence either. I cut back a good portion of these thick roots and made sure they were cut cleanly. Doing it now and getting this kind of work done so it does not need to be done again in a couple years. Everything that grows now will be small roots.

With the roots trimmed up and ready to go I prepare a plastic grow container. It’s a cut down ten. I have left the entire core of the tree with the field soil. It is rather sandy and while it is finer type soil, it has good drainage.

I ran three sets of thick wires thru the water holes and twisted them up to bend out of the way.

Then I ran a strip of screen cloth around the perimeter of the bottom of the pot to keep the soil in.

I use more plastic screen mesh to protect the trunk and great bark. I tie the tree in using the three points and create a pyramid of wire support for the tree. The tree is 24 inches tall and the trunk is 3 inches across at the soil. Tapers to 2 inches about midway up.

I thinned a few branches out, to allow for sunlight. The canopy was super dense and sunlight will never penetrate that thing. I will needle pluck it soon because that will be important for the coming spring. Many of the needles that I will cut back to, look to be third year needles and will probably turn brown and fall off this spring, so I only get one shot to reduce the length of some of these branches and retain something green to cut back to.

The tree was sprayed with fungicide, as some of the needles look to have needle cast. Now all I can do is water and wait for sun….Come on SUN!! More to come. Steve also has a blood orange tree and these are a treat!

Phase Two

I continue on with preparing the pine for the year. There are many that would scoff at this treatment. It’s just a tree. It does not tell me it’s in pain, It does not tell me , “Al you forgot to put akadama in the soil mix”. It does not tell me that I cannot do what I wish with this tree. It is just a tree. I feel no problems with the work I have done, done this many times and have had no problems. When I do, then I may have to rethink my strategies, but for me now at this point in my life, I need to move this tree along.

The major problem with this tree is a pruning issue. In a field of trees grown for sale, or even for your self, they have to be managed. Managed by the grower. The grower may have a full time job and keeping 50 black pines in shape is a hard thing to do. So, a couple times a year they may get knocked back. During this time it is not prudent to sit on the ground and crawl around in a circle looking at the tree from different perspectives. Also the canopy of needles prevent one from seeing all of the trunk and a branch structure. So long things are cut back and an overall bush is maintained. The tree is sold and now the artist must contend with whatever issues the tree has to offer. In this case this tree had a awesome bottom two thirds. The top is terrible. Up top we have a huge whorl of branches that come from the very apex of the tree. Six rather large shoots emanate from the same area in a star pattern looking down.

So the congested apex is circled in red. This will have to be dealt with. The wedge in red is where I plan to carve away trunk to help make a convincing transition between larger trunk and smaller apex shoot. The apex shoot is a full 1 inch across and not small, but it looks small sitting on top of 1 3/4 inch wood.

Here is another view of the apex after removing another large branch that wasn’t needed. Much of the removal is over smaller shoots nearby. I can train a smaller shoot to do exactly what I want to do over keeping a larger branch in an adjacent place but out of place in the whole scheme of forced perspective…”larger to smaller”.

This is another view about 360 from the above picture. It shows an old preuning scar from a large branch that was causing the whorl. This was good, but too late as the damage had been done with the bulk of wood there with a small shoot sitting on top. It was chosen to carry on the apex, but then the top grew strong again and began another whorl two inches above that last.

In this pic, the apex is in white, and the red area shows again, where I will carve to attain some taper there. I would rather have forced taper in three inches than no taper in three inches. I think the former outweighs that latter.

The next couple of shots are where I have taken out wood that was too large for where it was on the tree or branches that were not needed in the design. The pic below is a good shot of removing large and keeping small to develop. It looks wonky for a few years, but makes a better tree those five years later.

Again this is just a large stub left for the smaller shoots attached to it. I will develop those smaller shoots.

Now the tree is looking pretty scary. I am sure to be thrown out of the “Black Pine Development Hall of Fame”. Nobody does this to a pine dug from a field in the first three days. So far the tree hasn’t said a thing? This view shows the carving done. I have reduced as much as I could in an effort to give a better transition to that apex shoot.

The “work”.

Tomorrow I tackle this area if I have time. Before I can work on this I have a “three tree, pot switcharoo” to do.

In phase three I tackle the apex and some rough wire for shape.

Phase three, wire and apex

Wire is applied to the tree, all in aluminum. I just don’t buy copper any more because I predominantly work on deciduous trees. I may never wire a pine again and the investment in copper wire just doesn’t seem prudent. As I worked my way up the tree, I found that all the branch selections I had made were great. I had just what I needed to make a good start to a first styling of the tree. Of course seeking branches and making choices along the way will be what happens next. About 75 percent of the needles were cut to facilitate wiring. Being a field grown tree and the denseness of the foliage just did not permit wire work. Many of the needles were 4 inches long. About 25 percent were kept as is and I am sure that needle length will be kept under control as the tree grows.

As I encountered long shoots at the top each was evaluated for keeping or removal. I had six branches coming from the same point. I was able to only keep two laterals and one as a apex. This should keep from a whorl building in that area. I will keep an eye on it and check it’s progress thru the summer.

Posted January 18, 2020 by California Bonsai Art

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