Finding the Line with Stick Figures

I decided to use the last of the three pines I recently bought as an exercise in how I find the line in a piece of material with multiple choices to make. Pines are very easy to work with, they back bud well and branch development is pretty fast once you get it established. Once established it’s just bud selection and maintenance. This is a small pine from Ed Clark out in Lindsey California and the tree is very healthy and full of options. I will identify the options, weigh the options and make selections based on which option is the best for the tree. There are many ways to do this, and I provide my way here.


Part I

This is the pine. Lots of choices and a very unusual trunk arrangement. The trunk splits into three sections.

Here I lift it’s skirt up for a peek under the dress. We can see three distinct trunks.

We can call these trunks A, B and C.

A better view of trunk A. It is rather heavy but has a smooth transition. It could work as an extension of the trunk. What I am looking for here is “the one” trunk to carry on the character of the tree. I do not wish a multi trunk tree with the eye darting every which way, we need one good trunk line with the best the tree has to offer.

On trunk A there is a few flaws. first the trunk moves upward and is punctuated with a big bulge and scar in the middle of the line. There are no buds on the section and just about where the “X” is just about terminates the end of that trunk. Due to a possible cutback by the grower.

In close proximity to trunk A is trunk B and it too has the same defects as the first. Obviously some branch reduction had taken place last year as there is evidence of sap on the cuts and there is no real signs of callus yet so reductions made last year for sure.

Like trunk A, B has no growth in this zone either. Both these trunks sections were grow out from budding on the trunk, and each was allowed to grow for the season. Each whorl developed branches and then the grower came in and reduced some of the growth, but too late as the bulges had already formed.

The first cut was to reduce A trunk down to a short stub. The stub is retained due to proximity growth at the base of the stub with branching I wish to further develop.

These two small shoots will be branch number one in the future. I will keep both as back ups. One will be removed if the other grows well. The stub will be reduced later to blend in.

Here is a good look from a different angle of trunk B. It has good movement and has lots of choices for branch structure with multiple shoots coming off the trunk.

When I clear the area a little and take a good LONG look, I am just not excited about this option. I don’t like the knob in the middle of my extension, and there is nothing to cut back to here. Nothing green, no needles no nothing. One could use this trunk line and cut everything on that trunk back to base needles and provoke the tree to get into emergency mode and push buds, then again, that’s a crap shoot and could take years.

Here’s a detail of everything I don’t like about it. The circle represents the unfortunate branch removal scar, and the left arrow shows a good first branch in this view and the right arrow shows the branches I kept from trunk A removal and would become second branches in this scenario. The small blue line is the stub from trunk A.

Again pulling back the needles I have shown the three places with no buds , no needles and possibly nothing for years. This is not a good option, keep looking.

I cut the top portion out first. Just to check things out. Always make safety cuts and check your work as you go. Sometimes just the removal of a piece of the trunk can open up a whole new possibility. Now that it’s opened up, I hate it even more. Are you seeing what I am seeing though…..

If one was to keep this, these three branches would be your leader/apex options. Not full of promise.

I make the cut and leave a stub. I will come back later and clean that up when it dries out some.

So now we have removed trunk A and B and left a couple small branches at trunk A for the future. What the hell does C look like and is there a future?

So from my proposed front view, based on the trunk flare and largest girth view, this is what we have left.

If we trace the trunk line it moves out something like this. I need to get it back over the base of the tree. I like slanting trees but slanting trees are a cop out if you don’t know how to get the apex back over the roots. Sometimes you cant due to not being able to bend it, too large, but this is a small tree and not that large and pines are soft, and take bending very well, even larger branches. Just get larger wire, rebar, hose/pipe/wood clamps and get r done.

I put some large wire on the trunk and took both my largest bonsai pliers and started bending. It is much easier to bend pines with two pliers using one to hold the base of the wire and the other a little higher up to bend. Move each up a little and continue bending, hell you can make a u-turn if needed.

This is the new line of the tree. The rest of the photo’s just show the tree from different views around it to see what I did.

This is what we had when we started for a trunk.

And this is what we have now. It is very deceiving when you look at a stick figure because the dimensions of the trunk add so much more to the picture. The line is important and now we have one trunk, a good line, and the branches will fall into place. All the branches have been shortened based on needles and tomorrow I will clean up those branches and wire them and put them into place. Stay tuned Part II coming soon.

Part II

This is this morning after I removed the lower needles on each branch and wired everything. Preliminary branch placement has started. The basic shape can be seen. It is not final as there are places which have to be bent even more before I am happy.

This is the pile removed from the tree over all. More than 75 percent of the canopy has been removed for this trees first style session. There are those that will say, “ahh Al you did too much or, you can’t so that all at one time”. Shit…this thing will explode in the coming weeks. If I didn’t know how this tree will respond, do you think I would do this to it after spending this much money? I paid $400.00 for the three. I feel that was a steal. For some that is a lot of money, for others it’s a drop in the bucket. For me, it was a lot of money!

This tree was loaded with what I call on a pine, a typical shoot. To reduce this for our needs we start out like this.

First I remove the candle. Right now it is not needed. We will make more later.

If after removing the candle, the branch is of the correct length, begin removing needles from around the base. I leave about four pairs of needles at the tip of the branch. I use heavy pine needle tweezers for removing needles. The ends of the tweezers have teeth that will grip the needles and not slip off while pulling. They work exceptionally well. They cost about $75.00 for a good pair.

Here you can see the teeth!

The end of the tweezers is pointing to a green spot on the stem. this is where the needles were. Buds will pop here too.

The center of the branch needs to have the center cut clean across. No slants.

On these shohin trees I cut the needles. I cut them because to wire one without cutting needles is almost impossible. these needles were about 3 inches long and needles everywhere is frustrating when you spend more than half the time chasing needles out of the path of the wire. As I work the tree, successive candle pruning and styling will reduce the needles in size and it won’t be necessary to cut them any longer.

If the top of your tree looks like this, one can see how impossible it is to wire out something that is such a mess. Most of the time this is what we have for a canopy and it requires wire now while everything is small. It’s not something that can be put off , it has to be done now.

For this first branch lets say I wish to reduce it to the scissor point. Cut at that point and reduce the needles on the stem to four pairs at the tip.

Here is one branch on this cluster prepared and ready for wire. The needles have been cleaned and the tip has its needles for buds. The needles kept have been cut down and now wire can be applied easily.

Now we have the whole cluster all cleaned and needles cut back. Now one can come in and wire this out and bend branches into place very easily.

You might be asking…why did I leave this cluster of needles there on that stem? I wish for a branch to grow there. By keeping that cluster, the bud inside will elongate and begin forming a branch. At a suitable point I will cut that and look for two buds to emerge. This will make a fork and this is how we make a new branch and begin the ramification. It’s all necessary baby steps but one has to be vigilant. Making branches and ramification on a pine is not like making branches and ramification on a trident maple. One can’t just cut it off and start over. You get one chance at this. Screw up and the branch may be wasted.

So this is the result after getting in with two pliers and bending the apex trunk into the shape I wanted. If you scroll back and look at the apex leader before, it was pretty much straight up, now it has a nice curve. This is functional wire, not pretty wire. There is a time and a place for that and now is not the time. There are no guy wires, no turnbuckles, no branches wired to the trunk, so memory should set fairly quickly for these wired areas. I will take off all this in the Fall and start over, hopefully with much less wire, and better looking.

Here we go….done..see what a difference that small bend in the leader made. Now it’s not a straight section. Straight sections suck and so do straight trunks….they’re boring!!

This is our stick figure now. Very much different than when we started.

Branch A is a back branch, and the area marked B has three small buds of growth that will become more back branches. Right now there is a hole about just below the red oval. It will fill in with no problem.

A side by side comparison of how we find the line of a trunk and build the beginnings of branches on virgin material.

This exercise is finished with one exception. This particular tree was styled in two days. Could have been one if I wished, I just didn’t want to work at night time under lights. This tree is not the culmination of my vision step by step as I removed crap from the tree. I saw a tree in this tree while I was in the green house at Ed Clarks in Lindsey. I knew before I wrote this lengthy article that the tree was going to be built with trunk C. I knew it was going to be wired and brought back over itself and finish out on top of the roots in the manner it did. I knew this because I visualized the whole process standing there holding the tree and turning it in my hand. I knew what I was going to do before I even told Ed “these are my three, here’s the money” Don’t be a Mo Mo and just buy shit willy nilly. Don’t buy shit cause it’s a “good deal”! It never is. Formulate a plan and know what your going to do before you ever lay the money down. Don’t be that guy that buys material and goes to a bonsai discussion forum, or Face Book and asks “what can I do with it”? It’s your tree, what are YOU going to do with it!!

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