Austrian Black Pine & Ponderosa

CrisisM0de

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Hello again!

I am making plans for spring as I impatiently wait out the winter in West Michigan. It's been a fairly mild winter and it looks like temps will start to go back up end of February (according to Accuweather)... hopefully, they are accurate. I assume - if the weather is correct - that the end of February is going to be the time to do the following work?

I planted 10 austrian black pines and 10 ponderosa pines at my parents in the fall. I slipped them into the ground because I wasn't sure about disturbing them too much in October. The trees are 1-2 years old. They are all in those white disposable root bags and have had no work done to their roots. I did wire almost all of them before popping them into the ground. My understanding is that I am going to need to remove these bags and cut the tap roots? Is it as simple as pulling the bags off and snipping the bottom of the root ball off? I think I understand the process, but not what its going to look like and I cannot seem to find images anywhere that show me the steps, or the tap root, or how much I should cut off. I don't think they can stay in the ground because they aren't going to get enough sun where they are and my father probably wants that section of his yard back. Also, the roots should be dealt with while they are young?

I also am wondering about bud selection. Is it true that removing side buds around the terminal bud is important even on these young trees?

As a sort of side note, is it unusual to find pine trees planted as forest groups? I have seen the JRP group from Bonsai Tonight, but that is about all that comes up with an image search. Is it not ideal for pines, or just not a traditional style for pines? I'm curious because I love forest plantings, but I also foresee space issues already this year... and I just started last summer 😵
 

Brad in GR

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Be patient with our weather. As you know, we can have warm stints in March, but there is always a snow storm waiting for early April here in GR!!

I have found spring to be a good time to do root work on conifers, and for traumatic pruning. But not BOTH... and I have also found summer (July) excellent for pruning if you are hoping for backbudding on single flush pines.

With your young material - I’d be cautious and patient. Keep in mind that though you slip potted these trees, it was still a disturbance to the roots.
If it were me, and I had young pines 1-2 years old (I do) - I’d probably let them be in the ground until July - do some basic structural pruning then, and perhaps consider reporting/messing with the roots in spring 2022.

Key here I think is only selecting one activity for this spring either way. Or consider my prune-in-july idea perhaps.

I hope others with more experience with conifers will weigh in. Such a mild winter - can’t wait for spring in the mitten!

EDIT: just saw you don’t think they’ll get enough sun in that spot... I’d measure/estimate how many hours - if they get more than 4-5 direct sun, they’ll be fine until next year. If not, perhaps lifting them and doing root work would be wise in spring (but no pruning!)
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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I also am wondering about bud selection. Is it true that removing side buds around the terminal bud is important even on these young trees?
Only if they are three or more.
Depending on how big you want your trees to become.
Both Ponderosa as well as Nigra have fairly large needles, so to fit to a nice scale you'll probably end up with large sized bonsai.

This means you can get away with triplet branches for longer as opposed to smaller trees, where cooky bends and sharp angles have to be down low.

As for the tap roots, it's best to cut those off or girdle them so they die naturally. But.. Planting them back into the ground could invoke them to produce another tap root. It's how pines work: if one root escapes, it'll get more energy and will turn into a tap root.
That's why there are tricks like seedling cuttings, planting them in shallow trays, growing them in organics for the first years. The basics are the same: no root gets more strength/power than the other, so they all develop more or less balanced.
Organics do this by killing every root that grows too deep by suffocation/drowning. Shallow trays tend limit the space for tap roots to thrive, again resulting in a more balanced system. Seedling cuttings produce a radial root system by default, also producing a balanced root system.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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There are a number of threads on BNut dealing with raising pine seedlings. Most are about Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii. Both Ponderosa pine and Pinus nigra, Austrian black pine are single flush pines. Follow suggestions for scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, or mugo, Pinus mugo, or Ponderosa. There are many here that grow Ponderosa.

In spring, if these were mine, I would transplant them to 1 gallon nursery pots. This will allow you to move them around, so they can get full sun most of the summer. You can heal in the trees while in the nursery pots by burying them to just below the rim of the pot in autumn, to get through next winter. P. nigra and P. ponderosa are both very winter hardy in GR. No real protection needed beyond burying the pot into a garden bed for the winter.

Both ponderosa and P. nigra need to be larger trees for bonsai, because both have coarse branch habit and long needles. Plan on your bonsai being at least a meter tall when finished.

I personally dislike P. nigra as bonsai, but that is me. You are in Michigan, you should get yourself some of the native Pinus banksiana, the jack pine. They make excellent bonsai and are perfectly adapted for Michigan's climate.

If you have them in pots, cutting the tap root is not a big deal. When you repot cut back any downward growing roots, remove roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the lowest portion of the root ball. THat should take care of your "tap root". Actually there are a lot of "bad gardening myths" about tap roots. For pines and most other trees there is no physiological difference between a tap root and a regular root. In fact what bad gardeners call a tap root is nothing more than the first regular root to emerge from a seed. And just like pruning a regular root, pruning a tap root will result in a branching regular root. A root that plunges deep into the ground or in a pot is called a tap root, but it is just a root that because it got some size is given a name by gardeners, but it is still "just a root". Trees don't need "tap roots", they do need roots, and roots have 3 functions, get water, get nutrients, and anchor the tree to the ground. All roots serve all 3 functions, all the time.

So don't worry about cutting tap roots, should prune roots and shape the root arrangement (work on nebari) every time you repot.

Until the seedlings are 3 to 5 years old, I would not worry about pruning. even clusters of branches do not need to be thinned right away. When they are near 5 years old, you can begin working on shape.
 

CrisisM0de

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@Leo in N E Illinois Thank you for demystifying roots for me! I am much less stressed out about that now! Maybe I couldn't find specifics because I was misunderstanding what I was really looking for. I will have to see where I might pick up some Jack Pine to work on. Out of curiosity, what is it that you don't like about p. nigra? I did buy 20 training pots, they are plastic and have that traditional looking bonsai style, not very deep though. I was curious about forest planting because I now realize the space that 20 pots is going to take up on my patio.

Only if they are three or more.
Depending on how big you want your trees to become.
Both Ponderosa as well as Nigra have fairly large needles, so to fit to a nice scale you'll probably end up with large sized bonsai.

@Wires_Guy_wires I will keep this in mind going forward. Sounds like they will have to be fairly large anyway!

@Brad in GR Thanks Brad. I know our weather is nuts sometimes, I am still waiting to wake up to a foot. It's started to sleet now as I type this :rolleyes: I am too nervous to even attempt anything like 'traumatic pruning' anyway. I'll have to check with my father about the amount of sun where I put them. He told me 'none' about four times after I put them there, but sometimes he is a real funny guy and I don't know if he is messing with me or not. If he is telling me the truth, then I'll move them and be gentle with the roots. I'll definitely stick to the one insult per season rule.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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If you put more than one tree in a pot, be aware that the roots will grow together. It may be difficult to separate the trees in the future without some damage to both roots systems. On the other hand, you can put a couple trees tight together, and train them as a single composition. One tree is a specimen, two trees is a "parent-child" planting, 3 trees is a clump, and more than 3 trees can be called a forest. When there are less than 10 trees in a pot, there is a tendency to avoid even numbers of trees, and in particular the number 4 is avoided. This is in part to a cultural bias of the Japanese and Chinese, where 4 is a number with certain connotations that as a westerner I don't understand. Visually 4 trees can lack a focal point, where an odd number of trees you can easily set one tree up to be the focal point.

As to why I don't like P. nigra - it is really just my personal tastes. Not worth going into here. I'm just "this guy" and I'm allowed to have personal tastes, I dislike P. nigra, and Schefflera and boxwoods bore me to tears. I love persimmons, azalea, cork bark JBP and Chaenomeles. Its okay to have likes and dislikes.
 

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