Scots Pine needs some drastic back budding


Reaction score
Hi there! I have a nice little Scots Pine that I bought from a vendor on eBay about 6 or 7 years ago. I probably paid far too much for it, and I'd only been doing bonsai for about 3 or 4 years before that on self-set Silver Birches and Cotoneaster in my garden. I repotted the pine, and left it in my parents garden too scared to touch it in case I killed it. I'd forgotten about it until this morning when I sat down in the garden and cleared the moss from around the base and cut off the old, dead branches. The base is pretty straight, but I think I can get a bit of movement out of it with some creative potting and branch wiring. The bark is beginning to look very nice and gnarled and I think I could make something nice out of it.

The only problem is that the branches are very leggy, and the tree itself is more of a bush shape than the typical pine. I'll try and get a photograph up soon once I've found the link cable because it saves me describing the plant. I want some branches much further down the plant to start shrinking it down to a good height compared to the trunk thickness and start developing some nice branches and foliage pads. I've got a lot of books on pines, and I've been reading a lot about them, so I know all about redistribution of energy and such, but I'm still not sure and confident on how to get the plant to back bud, and I don't know whether the pine will even back bud as far back as I need it to.

Looking at it today, I thought that I'd wait until late Winter/early Spring, and remove all of the branches but for one or two in the general area that I intend to develop. I predict I could clear around 70-80% of the foliage from the tree easily. On the branches I keep I'd remove the new buds that are developing, and feed the plant with a high nitrogen fertiliser to hopefully encourage buds to form lower down on the branches. How does this plan look to the more experienced pine growers? Is there anything else I could do to increase my chances? I'm considering grafting too, but again I'm worried that the area that I'm trying to graft onto will be too old to successfully graft onto considering my inexperience with this type of growing.

Any held will be greatly appreciated, and I'll go now to take some photos of the plant to help.

Thanks in advance.
Photos would be nice :)

Pines can quickly get away from you if you aren't careful. Even two years without maintenance can cause lasting problems. No problem is unfixable - it just requires more work in terms of grafting and other methods in order to generate lower and interior growth.

Before you do anything drastic to try to "fix" the problem, you need to develop strong pine skills. Pines have a definite timing and season to them. Just trimming the branches won't do everything you want - you have to work within the season of growth of the pine to balance the strength of the tree. It is NOT like a deciduous tree where you can just trim everything and new growth will pop out all over.

There are a lot of threads here about working on pines. Check them out and ask any questions you might have.
OK, I dug out my camera cable, and got a few pics to upload.

So, the first one is the whole plant. You can see what I meant about it being 'bushy'. There's no distinct leader, it's just grown into a big cloud.
A close up of the trunk shows the bark, which I quite like. The trunk is thick, but there's not a lot of movement. There's a little taper, and I think I'll expose a lot more if I dug the roots out. I remember trying once when I first got it, but I can't remember why I stopped, but there are a few nice roots below the soil level which could make the start of a nice nebari. I like the second picture more as a front as there's a bit more movement, and I think some movement from newly formed branches around there would accentuate that nicely. Also, there are two fairly thick branches at the bottom that I can keep for sacrifice branches to thicken the base, maybe introduce a little more taper there if I can.
The next picture shows how much foliage I could remove. If I consider only the foliage connected to what I would want on the new leader (which I've held to one side with my hand), the rest could be removed. I was thinking that once the tree is in a dormant state then removing all these branches would give the remaining buds a huge boost of energy in the spring and summer.
Furthermore, if I remove these dormant buds in the spring before they start elongating and feed heavily with a nitrogen rich fertiliser, then all that energy and nutrients should force new shoots further back on the tree. Again, this is all theory. I've read this in a number of books, and in my head this makes sense, but without experience I can't say if this will work. I've read in a Colin Lewis book that Scots Pine's back bud well onto old wood, and I think I'll need buds on 5-10 year old wood to get the needles back as far as I'd like. There are some nice shots in his book of an old pine bursting with buds on wood that hasn't got any needles on it, which is what I hope to achieve here.

The problem is I've been reading about pine bonsai care, and have read books about it for years and years; the thing I lack is experience. I appreciate your comments about pines being different from deciduous plants, and I'm well aware of that. I've killed enough pine seedlings to know they're nothing like one another. I need something more tangible, and that is what this pine is all about for me, a bit of a practice piece while my other, hopefully better pines thicken up in the garden. I think Benjamin Franklin put it best: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” I've taught myself everything I need to know for's the next step!

Thanks in advance for your help.
Guff, the fundamental building blocks for pines to back bud is that they are first healthy and feed very well. As most generally under feed their trees I would suggest you follow this table for feeding guidelines. Being in the UK you could find most the things needed from Kaizan. You might also want to check out THIS for comprehensive information on back budding.
Mmm Batchelors Chip shop mushy peas, now I'm feeling homesick:(

You may be better off grafting on the pine though to get lower growth.
This pine looks as a P. densiflora (japanese red pine) to me, not as a scots pine. Would you mind uploading a close-up of the buds ?
This pine looks as a P. densiflora (japanese red pine) to me, not as a scots pine. Would you mind uploading a close-up of the buds ?

Specifically, a Tanyosho JRP; Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera'

Fred Truck...any photos of your Tanyosho to load as a comparison?

Hi! I've attached close-ups of the bud as requested. I do hope it's not an akamatsu on account of the fact that I've bought a load of books on Scots pines. I know they're both 2 needle pines but am I right in thinking that a red pine won't back bud so nicely as a Scots pine could?
Yes, to me it is really JRP. You need not to worry about backbudding, those I got backbud as well as scot pines if not better.

I guess that "tanyosho" is for "短葉松" which mean "short needled pine". If Brian is true, you're lucky.
It's not a Scots...needles are too diffuse and long.
It's a lovely green,roundish needles too.

Densiflora is not common in the Garden Centers i visit and never ungrafted.

They are usually 'low glow'.

For sure it's not one of the more usual Scot's cultivars,thinner twisted needles and more often than not are bluish.
Wow! Great! I don't feel so bad about paying as much as I did for it now considering that it's a Red Pine and not a Scots Pine! Excellent!

Thanks for your help! I guess I can just use the same knowledge with Scots Pines as with my akamatsu?

Also, I've dug out some lawn fertiliser, which is obviously very high in nitrogen. I'm guessing that this would be suitable to use on my pine?
I wouldn't use lawn fertilizer on your tree. It is meant to be used on lawns and is probably too "hot" to use on a containerized plant.
You're in for an adventure. It is a Tanyosho Pine or Table Top pine.

These will bud back, but in my experience, no further than last year's needles. In general, you can treat them like a black pine, but with restraint. If you candle prune, don't do it again for a couple of years. Needle plucking must be done with restraint.

These are grafted trees. Their branching patterns are not the same as a classic pine. This is where the adventure begins. Mine was styled by Ben Oki, and after we got done, I asked him--Now what?

He told me I was on my own as classic techniques don't work on the kind of branching these pines have. I managed pretty well for 5 years, and then it suddenly died. I think I was too aggressive with candle pruning and needle plucking.

Here's a link to a picture of mine:
Top Bottom