Pine Work - Where to start

I have been watching the videos on Pines. I have collected a few Yamadoris with Anton N., I am finding it a little overwhelming knowing where to start as they have put forth a lot of growth and long needles, from being collected in the mountains and being pampered at home. I have been removing the needles on the bottoms, in the crotches, between the branches, being careful with buds. How do I know when and which branch to remove? Am I opening up the trunk line, keeping interesting branches but not having them crowd each other, removing bar branches… I think that is what I am trying to do, but doing it is another thing. I seem to sit and stare at my trees a lot! Do I do the clean up of needles and than stand back and stare some more? Ryan talks about “tension” - how do I know what side to shorten, what side to elongate. Oh so much to learn…

Pics would help. You said that they’re collected which I take to mean that they’re still in their recovery boxes. Have you figured out where the nebari is? Can’t really style it without knowing that. Honestly, the only thing I would do is address any obvious structural flaws. E.g. address any swelling whorls or bar branches that are actively showing signs of structural flaws. Until you find the nebari, front, and line base to tip you really don’t know what branches to cut.

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I will be interested to see some replies as I too have seen new growth pushes of long needles (2x length of existing needles) after bringing a pine home and watering it more than it got where collected.

Oh man, I missed a crucial point. Do not pluck the needles. I repeat; do not pluck the needles…unless they’re yellow of course. The tree needs those and it will know when it’s done with them. With collected trees the best thing you can do for them is maintain a proper balance of water and oxygen. That’s it. If you feel the itch to work on something go get other trees. Maybe some nursery stock that can better handle things.

Super cool! Did not know Anton was still collecting.
What a privilege to collect trees in that area :evergreen_tree: :love_you_gesture:t2:

I think one question is, does the extra water that invariably comes from moving from the wilds to our gardens cause unruly growth?

Should extra “effort” be made to try and not provide too much water and/or fertilization to keep the growth of larger needles in check, or is it inevitable or even desired to get the rest of the growth we desire (like budding or elongation of branches?

Yes. At this stage needle size is not a concern. In fact, you want as vigorous of growth as possible to help build roots. Needle size is a refinement issue that will come overtime. Gotta be patient. If that’s not possible do what I do and just buy a bunch of trees. They’ll distract you from setting yourself back more time than you would have to have waited if you just didn’t do anything.


Thanks. Lack of test subjects is not an issue. I could barely stuff another tree into the mix. I see the refinement of a yamadori much different than nursery stock, having been in quasi-refinement for the duration of its life. My goal for year one was simply to acclimate it to the new environment, sustain its nutritional and watering needs and continue the refinement of what nature created for me. I was quite surprised that the heavier growth style took place and want to figure out what to do to correct that.

Here is the example showing older compact needles and newer 2-3” needles.

Natural refinement vs bonsai refinement aren’t the same thing. Not in my eyes at least. Natural needles are small due to a lack of resources. Bonsai needles are small due to a distribution of fertilizer regulated energy across numerous ramified branches in a containerized environment.

Here is tree #35 (I keep records of them), and what I did initially:
August 2016 - Collected, planted into sea soil until 2018 then went into a plant pot in sea soil
April 2019 - Repotted into training pot in Akadama Mix 1-1-1 (Akadama, Lava, Pumice)
August 26, 2019 – wired a little and pruned, needle plucked
Sept 24, 2019 – removed branch crossing over top, removed spindly branch, tree leans heavy to side, 3 branches on top. Wired a little, needle plucked, pruned

When I say wired a little, I am afraid to do much as this bark is so course and flaky (and I am terrible at it - I know practice!). I also do not have much Akadama, was lucky enough to buy a little, but it is not available where I live and very expensive, have to go to Vancouver to buy it, so 100% Akadama is not possible for me. This tree is 23" Tall, 43" across. I think Picture #1 is the front.


I don’t think you would want 100% Akadama. In fact, 0% seems better than 100%. For your application, a bit of Akadama may be just right.

I am growing my pinus contorta in the field soil, which is a mixture of different sizes of 100% scoria (highly vesicular lava) and it is doing very well. In fact, the material was not screened in any way…just collected additional material from the digging of the tree from the roadway. So it grades from 1” down to silt-sized material. I think the native root zone biota was able to be kept, and drainage is good…so I would not consider a need to add pumice or Akadama in the foreseeable future.

By the way…that is an awesome tree! I agree that #1 is the front, if you can find a way to move the large branch sticking straight into the view…otherwise, #3 is the one I would go with.

Tree #38 History
August 2016 - Collected, planted into sea soil on the ground until 2018
2018 - Removed from ground put into wood training box
April 14, 2019 - Needle plucked – removed needles from bottom and ready for wire
Sept 24, 2019 – had 3 trunks – 2 are long branch coming from the base, removed spindlier of the two, repositioned remaining one with wire, pruned, needle plucked

The long branch on the right lays on the soil and comes directly from the base, the one I removed was behind it. Last photo is the back. the base goes down into the soil about an inch or so then there are small roots coming from there. Still has a lot of field soil. I will repot in Spring. this tree is 25" tall and 29" across.


Yes, #3 hides that perfect 90 degree bend on the top, that was done by snow load. Not sure if I could bend that out a little. I am trying to pull the large bottom branch down and closer to the trunk.

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Yes, he continues to “bonsai hunt” and takes me with him now and then. I collect the little stuff, he goes for the big trees; but lately he has decided that maybe they are getting to heavy for us old people to lift and smaller makes sense - LOL


What is Sea Soil? I think the limb laying against the ground is an element that should be featured, not corrected. But I am pretty basic in my “design abilities“! I like interesting trees more than classic forms.

Sea Soil is decomposting bark and fish remains (it works really well to keep the trees strong after collection)

Oh man, so these were collected awhile ago. Sorry, I took your question to mean that you just got them. If they were my trees I’d be looking for pots and soil components to get myself setup for next season. I’d also sort out the nebari, find the front, and best angle. Then come spring pot them up.

A couple of mistakes: Pulling needles on tree in development and removing spindlier 3rd trunk as well as other trees “crossing over top” branch. These could have been great natural parts to give trees their “story” and make more interesting. Not all is lost yet but time to watch, study, develop vision or dream about some insight about what outlandish thing could be done with tree.
Several personal Yamadori Ponderosas sat for some time before any work but removing dead needles, H2O and fertilizer, maybe repot. Then day comes of too much foliage and must choose what shades something else, can it be moved by wire or will still be in bad place? Development of too many buds/sprouts gives choices there to be made. One large Ponderosa maybe 200 years old 2 weeks ago removed dead needles, some excess sprouts, wired 3 small branches to get better light exposure and one larger one up top to move away from interesting trunk. That’s all. Only 4 wires added. little work. Respect the age and life of the tree and handle like a child you love if wanting the best for its future :wink:.
All this being said #38 tree likely better if 2 trunks moved farther apart. Low branch is actually second trunk and could even be outside side of pot. Also consider planting angle of any trees in future could change presentation greatly but also depends on rootage.

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Thanks, guess I need to be thinking “outside the box” more. I can do less work on them for sure. Some of the members of my club keep saying, “let the tree speak to you”, I’ve been waiting, but so far not hearing much, I will be patient! They are funky as they are, guess we all want to progress faster than our trees sometimes.

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