Black Pine

Black Pines:
Needle & Candle Pruning

NOTE: This article is a consolidation of two presentations given to Buffalo Bonsai Members by fellow members Dan Zak and Mike Coppola. Any of the procedures described herein should ONLY be done on HEALTHY trees, since removal of needles and candles REDUCES SAP FLOW (nourishment) within the branches. In addition, it must be noted the procedures described are for Black Pines (two needle sets). White Pines (five needle sets) are handled DIFFERENTLY! Please refer to the side bar on White Pines at the end of this article for the most obvious differences. You should refer to specific articles on White Pine with more in depth coverage prior to working on White Pines.


In late Fall or early Winter, thin the needles of the branches based on the procedure described below. When removing needles, be sure not to destroy the sheaths holding the needles (they are located at the base of each two needle set). By pulling the needles straight out, you will not destroy the sheath. An alternate method would be to cut the needles just above the sheath with a scissors. The reason you do not want to destroy the sheath is so the buds at the base of the sheath are not destroyed. If you definitely do not want any future budding in a specific area, then it doesn’t matter if the sheaths get damaged.

Start by dividing the tree into three horizontal sec­tions. The top third is where the most vigorous growth takes place on two needle pines. The bottom third area is where the least vigorous growth is found. 3 jones

Reduce the needles in each section of the tree to the number of “two needle sets” specified in the following chart. Note there are two columns. The one on the left indicates the number of needle sets that should be left on each branch within that third of the tree when you thin out in late Fall/early Winter. The next column shows the number of needle sets to reduce to in early Spring.


When removing needle sets, the remaining sets should alternate just like branches are desired to alternate on a bonsai. See sketch to right. Hopefully, buds (and ultimately, new branches) will develop at the bases of some of these needle sets. needles

On cork bark Black Pines, increase the number of needle sets that are left on. In addition, only do the procedure (covered in the next section) of candle pruning and reduction every 2nd year – giving the tree a chance to rest & recuperate between procedures.

When buds start growing in the Spring, begin fertilizing the tree lightly. Then 10 - 14 days later increase the feritlizer amount used. For example, if you use fertilizer cakes, start out by placing them 4" apart. Then increase the number of cakes so that they are 2" apart. After the buds are about 1/2" in length, remove fertilizer cakes.

DO NOT HOLD BACK WATER to try to reduce needle size. Needle reduction is accomplished by the combination of needle and candle pruning - not the reduction of water intake. Black pines like water, but good drainage is essential.

You are now ready to begin the next phase:
Candle Pruning.

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Please click on the link below for Part 2.

Black Pine Pruning - Part 2: Candle Pruning