Loblolly1I started working on this loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, last year. If you look closely you can see where I cut the original trunk to a new leader to increase taper and make the tree more compact.

In this photo the two lowest branches have been wired (for the first time). One of the great features of pines is the flexibility of their branches, which means you can wire and shape them even when they get relatively thick. Now, every good feature of a tree seems to always come with a not-so-good feature, and in this case the long-lived flexibility of pine means you have to re-wire the branches over time until they stay permanently where you want them.





Now I’ve put a little movement into the first two branches. Branch movement should reflect trunk movement, for the most part.

Pines are a bit tricky to wire because of the needles. It takes a great deal of care to not trap an excessive number of needles beneath your wire. You always lose some this way, however. The good news is, unless you damage the base of the fascicles new buds will always pop up and replace what you lose.










Next, that big long straight leader is cut (to a spot where I have two shoots). In a nutshell, this is the process for building a bonsai as it grows. It’s all about cutting the tree back, whether that means trunk or branches. This builds taper and compactness.








Finally, I’ve wired and shaped the number one back branch and new leader. Notice that I took the apical shoot on the left-hand side to wire up. This continues the gentle movement of the trunk.

So, what are the next steps with this specimen? In this growing season, that shoot I wired up is going to literally explode in size as the tree does its best to get taller. I’ll let this happen to only a limited extent; otherwise, the taper I’ve established is going to be ruined. so the growth of the apex must be carefully managed.

While this is going on, I’ll cut back the lower branches in order to encourage budding nearer the trunk. Not all the way in, mind you, that would harm the structural appearance, but to the right extent. Here’s a good rule of thumb: since the trunk of a typical informal upright bonsai is bare for the first third of its distance from the soil surface, each branch should be bare for roughly a third of its distance from the trunk. This allows you to see into the structure, which is a key factor in making the bonsai look right. As with deciduous trees, evergreens should be structured with this principle in mind.

This tree is available at our Pine Bonsai page.

Do you have any experiences with pines you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.