Pinus densiflora Styling

Some of the clients at Kouka-en have species and styles they gravitate towards.  We have one customer who tends to buy the largest pine bonsai we have in stock a few times a year to account for something……  Another client loves bizarre exposed root bonsai.  In early June, a client whose collection is filled with bunjin style red pine and shimpaku was clearing some space on his benches and sold this tree to Kouka-en.   Now that almost every notable blog on the planet has covered shoot removal, I thought it would be nice to highlight what is also possible during this time of the year.  Peter Tea’s post on the matter was especially well laid out HERE.  The matter was also partially covered in the Bonsai Art of Japan Series Episode # 7.

Just after pulling needles and cutting candles, black and red pines are very sparse looking; a wonderful time to wire.  Because I needed to style this tree between shoot removal and the next flush of new growth, shoot cutting was carried out in the all-at-once method of cutting weaker shoots all the way to the base and leaving a small stub (a few millimeters) when removing the more vigorous shoots.  This allowed for wiring to start immediately.  Again, Peter’s post as well as a few dozen others cover the processes that work reliably.  Amazing how far we have come from starving pines of water and fertilizer to get shorter needles and inter-nodes; thanks to Daiju-en and others for little tweaks in the currently accepted techniques.  Last year’s needles were also thinned at this time.  I must say, this is the most full and healthy red pine I’ve seen so far.

Shoot removal was nice and simple with no major surprises (dead interior branches, heinously bad wiring, etc).  A few branches had been removed recently that I would have liked to use, but oh well.

Talk about a happy tree!

After shoot removal and a few thin branches unnecessary to any design were removed, the tree’s potential was much easier to evaluate properly.  Due to the time of year, angle changes or other actions requiring repotting were not possible.  If I had my druthers, I would lean the tree more to the left.  The new front Fujikawa-san and I both liked was about 30-45 degrees to the right of this one.  The ideal viewing angle we liked had one issue though; the lowest branch……..

The Problem

This branch was likely kept to increase the feeling of depth when the the was younger, but now it is too thick and takes all the power out of the bend in the trunk it emerges from.  So, how to proceed?  Leaving this area and styling would require heavy-gauge wire and no matter what bends I added, something would still stick out as “heavy”; not desirable in a bunjinji tree.

Here is a photo progression of the how the branch was removed and tissue reduced to turn an issue into an asset:


The final photo is the “before”.  Although the zoom is a bit different, you get the idea.  Leaving parts of the secondary branching would have made the jin too busy.  Wood was removed to accentuate the bends while also making the jin look more thin.  Complete removal of the whole branch was also an option, but in time I felt it would add character to the tree when the wood aged.

The new front (about 30 degrees to the right of the original).

Wiring was quick and painless with so few needles and shoots to watch out for.  The goal here was to compact the tree, space secondary branching to fill out the desired form, and accentuate the good points of the tree by balancing the overall visual weight.

Another issue with this tree was the lowest right side branch is too long.  If dropped, a full and rounded canopy would again cause this tree to look like it did before styling commenced in the future.  We are going for a new direction and feel here.

This long, uninteresting branch with branching only at the end (viewed from below). Leaving it would require dropping it low and crossing the first major bend in the trunk.

With this branch removed, styling was straight-forward.

Wiring the apex of many trees can be a challenge. I was fortunate not to have a leggy apex with this one requiring the “deceitful coiled snake technique”…..

Having so many branches to choose from is a good problem to have.  It is often overlooked that styling a crappy tree and producing something of worth is much harder than taking a well maintained tree and getting a good resulting finished product.


 A few more small branches were cut.  Any needles I broke were quickly and quietly cut with some really sharp scissors before the final “thumbs up” from Fujikawa-san.

The Final Product before new buds initiated.


The tree looks pretty good as it has a nice trunk line, reasonably old bark, and is definitely healthy.  There are some faults that warrant note and as usual, these are shown so you the reader can avoid similar issues while working with your trees.



Issue 1:  When viewed from the left, the whole tree is leaning forward too much; an issue to resolve during the next re-potting.






Issue 2:  The lowest left branch had no fork but is solo.  Developing branching in sets of two allows for options during future cutting back.  Not sure why this was cut but it happened last year by my guesstimation.

Issue 3:  It’s not mine : )

After taking 100-some-odd photos of this tree, seems like a waste not to share a few more.  The final tree after a few months of growth is coming up soon I promise….

After shoot removal on the back half.


After major branch removal and wiring.

Amazing just how much can be cut off in order to set a tree on the right path.  It is important to note that this is the initial styling and this tree will not be “ready” for a while.  Another round of shoot thinning later this year and potentially 2-3 more years of fine tuning are required.

A few months have passed and the tree has responded very well to the work.


Thanks for reading.  I apologize for all the spam in the comments section.  This has been resolved.  Any comments or constructive criticism are welcome.