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 –