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Old 22-01-2004, 07:56 PM
Brent Walston
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Default [IBC] Training Black Pine was growth retardant

At 09:56 AM 1/22/04 -0500, Isom, Jeff (EM, PTL) wrote:
I am sure glad that someone finally asked that - I've been wondering about
it for some time. It seems that unless you somehow luck out and find some
pretty old material, you are stuck waiting for years for it to grow if all
you have are slow growing plants. I would love, for example, to get a
couple of JBPs. However, I can't afford anything really old and I'm not yet
patient enough to wait for 20 years for the thing to get thicker than a
pencil. I would love to be pointed in the direction of a fast-growing pine
that would give me a similar appearance in a shorter space of time (say 10
year ;-)). I would also think that if it grows faster, larger starter stock
would be available at a lesser cost. Plus, if I botch it up I haven't
ruined a really old tree!

From: Nina Shishkoff ]
Hey, it's my turn to be stupid for three minutes: bonsai masters, is it
really slow growth that we want in bonsai? In my experience (15 years of
being a newbie!), the fast growing trees are the ones you can really train.
Slow growing ones (like my mountain hemlock), I had to simply try not to
ruin too much. So I'm thinking that a growth retardant isn't very useful in
bonsai. Whatcha think?

I have some experience with growth retardants. I did some trial testing of
SuMagic before it was released. I would have to go back and check the
literature, but I don't think it would work on conifers. It worked quite
well on Fuchsia and the dreaded Serissa. By worked well, I mean it
certainly did retard internode length and reduced leaf size. It's
effectiveness for bonsai is still questionable in my mind. Contrary to the
effect of some of the other growth retardants, SuMagic made Fuchsia and
Serissa flower like mad.

If there is a place for growth retardants in bonsai, it would be in the
final stages where small leaf size and tight internodes are desired. It can
certainly achieve that. The problem is that the response is difficult to
control and varies greatly with species and even cultivars, so you have to
know the the response beforehand to determine the dosage. This means that
you would have to have some victims to practice on. The other problem is
that the response is short lived and without continued use, the plant will
revert to its prior leaf size and internode length. This would be mightily
unsightly in a bonsai. I created some really Frankensteinish little
Serissa. They looked like dwarfs that found the steroid bottle.

Apart from the problems, and the potential for good effects, I would never
use the stuff for bonsai. To me it just takes all the fun out of achieving
satisfying results through pruning and other, more organic, approaches.
Now, this comes from someone who has an economic interest in developing
prebonsai as quickly as possible. Which leads me to the next subject: how
do you achieve both satisfying fine growth and large caliper and taper at
the same time for difficult species like conifers?

First of all, it ain't easy. Second, it isn't intuitive either. I can't
tell you how many pages I have written about pine growth and responses to
pruning, etc. in response to inquiring minds. If you want fast growth (and
results), it's hard to beat black pine, Pinus thunbergii. I have seen
monster trees in landscapes around here, four foot internodes (that's less
than one years growth) nearly two inches thick. So, they have the
potential, but how do you rectify that ability to grow with the need for 2
inch needles and 1 inch internodes?

In short, the easiest, most direct, and clearest approach is the use of
sacrifice branches and all its attendant requirements. I can't tell you how
many pines I have seen in person, in galleries, in shows, in email, that
are basically sticks in pots. And unless, they are planted out and allowed
to grow, in ten years they will be...sticks in pots.

Black pines in training should not be allowed to see anything approaching a
bonsai pot for at least five to ten years for shohin (1 1/2 to 2 inch trunk
caliper, 10 inches tall), up to 20 to 30 years and 20 gallon pots (or
inground) for larger plants up to 6 inch caliper, 3 feet tall. I have
covered a lot of this ground in the articles on Pines at my website, but
briefly I will review the use of sacrifice branches to achieve fast results.

Before you get to use sacrifice branches effectively, you first have to
spend about five years preparing seedlings to be one and two gallon
prebonsai. That's another couple of pages, but is covered at the website
pretty thoroughly. Once you have a 12 to 16 inch tall pine seedling that is
covered top to bottom with both nodal AND internodal branches (no 6 inch
internodes!) you can start using sacrifices.

Sacrifice branches do TWO things. They thicken and strengthen the trunk up
to their point of attachment. That's the obvious result. The other, not so
obvious result, is that they WEAKEN branches and growth above them. Therein
lies the secret to achieving tremendous growth and refined branching _at
the same time_ in black pines. Once you have achieved the trunk line you
desire (oh how easily he said that), you can use sacrifice branches
strategically to increase _caliper_ AND _taper_ AND still be able to
develop well ramified branching.

You start in the top of the tree, but not the apex, so you have to define
the apex first. Grow a sacrifice under the apex. This has been the hardest
lesson for my apprentice to learn: when to stop. You HAVE to remove this
sacrifice when this section of the tree has approached the final caliper
for THIS position in the tree. Otherwise, you a too fat top and the only
thing you can do is grow a bigger 'tree'.

Next, after this is achieved, you move DOWN a position and thicken the next
section LOWER. This is how you get taper. Stop when this section is near
finished caliper and cut out the sacrifice. Proceed to the next section.
Now you should be getting close to the bottom. The final sacrifice (if you
are lucky) will in or near the nebari. You can let this one grow as long as
you like, except that you have to remember that the scar has to be healed
over at some point, so you want that to happen at least a few years before
you die in most cases.

Now, I didn't say so above, because I didn't want to confuse you, but you
can grow lower and upper sacrifices at the same time. But, you must not
violate the cardinal principles of removing sacrifices when they have done
their job of increasing caliper for that section or when they begin to
create problems of their own. You must not allow sacrifices to create
reverse taper (a bulge). You must not allow sacrifces to overly weaken the
final branches surrounding or above it. You must allow sufficient time for
visable scars to heal.

Sacrifices should NOT be pruned. Remove all the needles and side branches
in the area of the 'tree' so it is not shaded and the sacrifice is easily
identified (in the beginning it is easy to forget). These can grow it as
long as you like to do the job, six, ten, twelve, sixteen feet, it doesn't
matter, as long as you don't violate the principles above. You will often
find that it is necessary to stake large sacrifice branches to keep them
from pulling the plant over.

Very early in the training, usually beginning after the one to two gallon
size (and the trunk line is established), you HAVE to begin identifying
possible final branches of the 'tree', as well as identifying sacrifice
branches. These final branch possibilities are treated just like finished
pine bonsai branches (almost). You prune out the candles in summer at the
appropriate time, then reduce the resultant secondary branching to a forked
branch in winter (the side branch for that position, and the branch
extension). You really don't have to get into the 'trick' stuff like needle
plucking, but you do want to keep the old dead needles combed out so that
the interior stays open and healthy. You can also simply shear needles
shorter to introduce more air and light, who cares, nobody is going to see
this tree but you.

Do NOT remove ANY potential final branches until they become a problem (too
fat, utterly useless, in the way of a better branch, etc), and be sure that
they CANNOT be used as a potential sacrifice before you remove them. It's
amazing how you can change your mind over the years as you and your 'tree'

Alternate heavy (shaping) pruning years with light (maintenance only)
pruning years to keep your plant growing strongly. Don't let it become
rootbound and feed it like mad.

It's the busy season for me now, but I hope to get some pictures up in the
gallery of various large black pines in training using the above
techniques. These pines are about about 15 to 20 years old and have trunk
calipers of about 2 to 6 inches. They would be a lot farther along by this
point, but they were initially 'rescued' pines and required about five
years of corrective work before they reached the point where I could apply
the above principles. The rescue techniques would make another interesting
article for another time. All is not lost for larger nursery pines, but it
ain't easy either. I was also busy trying to understand pines during this
20year period.

Growth retardants? Nah, this is way too much fun the way it is.

Brent in Northern California
Evergreen Gardenworks USDA Zone 8 Sunset Zone 14

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