Cracking Mediterranean Red Pines!

I’ve recently had an article in Bonsai Focus about working with Aleppo pines. Basically, these pines were always considered unusable for bonsai, because of their long needles and reluctance to bud back. However, after seeing a single, super-dense pad in a colleague’s garden here in Israel, I started thinking that maybe these pines were just getting a bad rap. After all – there’s no reason that what can be done on one pad, can’t be replicated for the entire tree.

Now that I have been working with these pines a full year, I can say that it’s no longer a matter of just working with Aleppo pines. There’s a larger issue of Mediterranean Red Pines being overlooked as a group. As Mediterranean Red Pines I consider the Aleppo pine (P. halepensis), the stone pine (P. pinea), and the Turkish/Calabrian/Cypriot pine (P. brutia). 

As spring draws near and we approach this year’s growing season, I’ve put together my observations and lessons from the past year. After talking the matter over with Juan Andrade, current sempai at Aichien in Nagoya, Japan, to cross-reference my findings with their experience working on Japanese Red Pines, we’ve put together an annual work plan, which I will test out in 2014. I really urge the bonsai community at large, and particularly those with a Mediterranean climate (I’m looking at you Italy, Spain, and Greece!) to start working more with these species. There’s no reason to admire the grace and beauty of Japanese Red Pines, but avoid working on our own native ones! Especially when the results so far have exceeded all expectations.

So here it is –

The main difference between MRPs and JRPs (at least in the Mediterranean climate where I’ve worked with them), is that while JRPs only have one major growth cycle a year, MRPs have three. That’s three times the fun, and three times the speed in which you can develop them. But it does complicate things a bit – when, for example, do you decandle? After which growth cycle? How do you spread the work out over the year so that you maximize development, without overworking the tree. The work schedule is still a work in progress, and still needs to be tested and tweaked, but basically, this is what we’re thinking –

The three growth cycles are – around Feb. (strong) around June (strong), and around September (weak). If we get a mild winter, they may actually have another even weaker cycle around December.

In order not to overwork the tree, phase the work as follows: Before the fall cycle (August through September) – cut back shoots, thin needles, restyle pads, don’t decandle. The weaker cycle that follows will ensure compact growth, and since we did not decandle, the tree is not over-stressed.February spring cycle – leave to grow out. Before the June summer cycle – decandle the spring growth, and thin needles.

Another option we’ll be testing this year is to decandle AFTER the June flush, cutting way back to remove both June and spring growth. This might be better for trees in development, as the branches will thicken faster. And since the tree will be much stronger with only one work session at the end of August, it will almost certainly respond with a ton of back-budding. But in this way, pad development would not be as quick as with two pruning cycles.

So more on this technique as it continues to develop. In the meantime, here’s what the results look like so far –

41 comments on “Cracking Mediterranean Red Pines!

  1. Ofer
    Can I branch prune my Aleppo pine this late in the year. I go another one and it is a branch nightmare. I don’t know how its getting sun into the interior of the tree. I live in south Texas and we only get down to around the freezing point a few days a year..help please I need to thin this tree out, but only if its safe to do so.

    Rick

    • Hey Rick,
      Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be any problem pruning branches. It’s when you start playing around with the buds and needles that timing becomes more of an issue.
      There are even advantages to pruning branches once the tree has slowed down for winter, as the tree won’t lose as much sap.

      However, as always with pines – if you’re pruning hard, it’s going to need a lot of energy from the roots, so don’t mess with those. If you already have, consider waiting with the pruning, or pruning very lightly.

      Good luck, and let me know how it worked out!

  2. I have a Aleppo pine and its in bad need of branch selection. My question is when can i do this. I live in southern texas and we have a very long growing season. Grrat article, i enjoyed it very much

    Rick

    • Hey Rick, Thanks for the feedback!
      I’m not familiar with the specific tree, it’s history, condition, etc. But if it’s in good shape, healthy, and hasn’t been stressed or over-worked in the past year, and assuming it hasn’t been candle-cut in June – I’d recommend pushing a bit with the fertilizer over the next three weeks or so, and then pruning the unnecessary branches along with cutting off all of this year’s growth, right back to last year. If the tree is healthy, you should see a ton of new buds along the branches.
      Again – DON’T do this if the tree is not in great health, has been stressed, repotted, or is extremely high-value. Also, if you want to keep a wider safety margin, wait a bit with the wiring until the tree is showing signs of strength again.
      Good luck!

    • Tree is doing excellent. One thing I didn’t see is when you wire. I would assume its ending of winter coming into spring when sap starts flowing again.
      Thanks Rick

      • Great to hear that!
        I usually have one wiring session at end of summer (September) when I’m doing end-of-growing-year maintenance, and maybe an earlier wiring session when candle-cutting/after-spring pruning (June).

        • Thanks for the info. Do you treat stone pines the same as Aleppo pine.you are really helping me a lot with these pines, and I appericiate it a lot.I tried to friend you on Facebook but there wasn’t a option to do so. I like the work your doing with these pines.
          Rick

          • Yes, we’re working stone and Aleppo the same over here.
            I’m on Facebook under this name – the profile pick has me with an ironing board in it.

            And always happy to help!

  3. Hi, I would really like to find out how you are getting on with Aleppo pines as I am currently working on one and would like to hear you reports on new training schedules

    Regards

    George

    • Hi George,

      Basically, everything written here still holds. I’m going much easier on them nowadays – once I know how far they can be pushed, there’s no need to push them there 🙂
      In general, I’m working them as you would Japanese red pines – feeding heavily through late spring to prepare for decandling. Decandling around June (in my climate – after the first flush but before the second one). Letting them grow freely through summer, and then thinning and styling around late summer/early autumn. Feeding again in autumn to support next spring’s growth.

      Honestly – at least in my climate they’re a joy to work with. Bud back like crazy, and can go from nothing to fully-formed pads in two years.

      • Hi, thanks for the reply. I am in the UK but keep the Aleppo pine in a green house and get 3 growth cycles a year. At the moment they have 1-2 inch candle extensions for this year so far. How is needle reduction going?

    • Hello Ofer!
      Thank you very much for sharing your experience!
      I have been preparing an article on Pinus halepensis for our Hellenic Bonsai Club. May I ask your kind permission for a reference to your above article along with a link to your webpage.
      I hope this will be a contribution to promoting use of indigenous halepensis Pines as bonsai material.
      Thank you in advance.
      Kind Regards from sunny Athens,
      Alexandra

      • Hi Alexandra!
        Absolutely! Feel free to use any of the information in the article or comments.
        If you email me at grunwald.ofer@gmail.com, I’d be more than happy to send you current pictures of the tree (which is covered with completely uniform, and VERY short needles), along with updated information on how I’m working these trees (halepensis, and pinea).

    • Hi Neli!
      I’ve got a number of new Aleppo pine projects underway, and I will do another post on them a bit later on when they progress a bit more.
      My main piece of advice would be – assuming that they also have an autumn growth cycle in your climate – when working on the tree the first year, leave cutting the candles until late summer (August-September in my region). Even if you do a general styling in the spring or in May/June, leave candle-cutting until after summer. Feed heavily, and then, when you cut the candles in August-September (again, in my region), you will see a TON of back-budding all over the tree.
      This makes it very easy to make tremendous progress during the first year of styling. After that, you can start working on them like you would Japanese red pines, cutting candles in May/June. In this schedule you will see very rapid ramification, the tree will be very healthy and strong, and will usually be in very good balance strength-wise.

      Let me know if there is any additional information you would need, and I can even do a specific post on those questions.
      Thanks!

  4. Hi Ofer,

    Fantastic article, i’m getting into Aleppo Pines myself, have done so only for the past few months, and for now, i’ve only got,1 – 5 year old seedlings. I’m based in Malta and Aleppo pines have been run down to extinction in the past 100 years, firewood and all, but in the last 30 years or so, the population has been taken care of and has been growing. Collecting from the wild is strictly forbidden though. Thanks for the info and keep it up.

    • Thanks! They really are a great, but under-appreciated species.
      Great to hear that they are making a comeback in Malta. I’ve seen some people start growing them from seeds from bonsai, and the results so far are looking very promising!

  5. http://carthago2009.blogspot.com.es/2010/02/trabajando-un-carrasco.html
    http://tomeumartorell.blogspot.com.es/2011/02/pino-halepensis.html

    http://tomeumartorell.blogspot.com.es/2011/06/meikiri-en-pino-halepensis.html
    http://pyrosbonsai.blogspot.com.es/2012/11/formacion-de-un-halepensis.html

    Hi, here you have a good examples of spanish aleppo pine. My english is not very well, sorry

    Thanks for your post, it is very interesting for me. Can we see the evolution? We should discover halepensis to the world, 😉

    • Great posts on those blogs!
      Yes, halepensis definitely should get more appreciation. It’s a great species.

      I don’t have many more pics of the evolution of this particular tree. It was a very badly done tanuki, and I’ve taken it apart to develop the tree properly.
      You can see a picture of the last styling here – link

  6. Hi Ofer
    What a Change! I remember this pine. A few years ago Haim Sheer asked me to repot it. I changed the pot leaving the superfluous over grown branches, as this type of pine needs about a year to recover from the repotting before attempting to style it.
    I like the new look of it!
    Shmulik
    Israel Bonsai Club

    • Hi Rassen,
      Thanks for the reply! I’ve heard there’s a good native population of Aleppos in Tunisia.
      I’d love to hear about your results with them so far.

  7. היי עופר
    תודה על המאמר
    1לא נעול מאה אחוז האם הבנתי אותו לגמרי
    יש לי אורן רב פריצות מלא נרות צמיחה
    מתי הזמן לקטום אותן
    2 אני מתכנן בשבוע הקרוב העתקה של אלון מצוי שאני מכין להעתקה לבונזאי כבר כמה חודשים
    בא לך להצטרף?

  8. Thank You for this post. I have been trying to promote, Halipensis in Africa…This is one of the pines that grow well here. There is a gentleman in Italy That has very beautiful Alepo pines.

    • Thanks Neli! They’re really great to work with – both halepensis, and pinea. There are a few guys in Italy and Spain that have had good results with these trees, but they are seriously underappreciated as bonsai material. I think that if the people in Greece and Turkey will get into them, they’ll be able to find some seriously sweet trunks in their areas.

  9. Great article. Thanks. I am very much in favor of getting local species more into the run – for example I miss bitter Almonds very much in Israeli Bonsai – can’t they do, what cherries and plums are doing in Japan and elsewhere? And what about the native Rhamnus as great ‘berry bonsais’? And what the Phoenician/Red Juniper/Arar?
    Thanks for your great work for Israeli Bonsai.

    • Thanks for the feedback Uli. We’ve got really good almond and hawthorn materials, and fantastically good olives and pistachia. Unfortunately, we no longer have any phoenicia junipers growing in the wild, even though they were very common here in the past.

    • Hi,

      just wanted to share regarding the native israeli Rhamnus (Rhamnus lycioides ), that it is the tree I like most to work with !!! and having great results with them 🙂

      Ofer – a GREAT article ! i have a great pine, i’ve been keeping since 2008, but didn’t really know how to care for…will be great to hear your opinion on him in the next session. keep up the good work

      • Hi Alon!
        Thanks for the feedback. Am really looking forward to seeing that pine 🙂
        I’d also love to see what you’re doing with the rhamnus. I keep having problems with die-back anytime I wire the branches.

        • Regarding the pine…me too…the tree have a very short needels and a very dense one…I will upload a picture 4 u in the comuna forum…
          regarding the rhamnus…I mostly use the clip and grow way…which suits me very much because they have 2-3 growing seasons each year…
          and in rare cases i use guy wire…so this is why I didn’t even know there is a problem of die back when wiring them.

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