Many varieties are used to create the pine bonsai tree. (Pinus is a genus of 120 species or more.) They are considered classics in Japan and some families there have maintained them for generations.
If you are a beginner and are planning to create your own tree, this may not be your best first choice.
They are slow to respond and take quite a bit of advance knowledge to have success in styling. A better beginner selection may be the juniper, which is also an evergreen, but easier to make into a bonsai.
The black pine bonsai, Pinus thunbergii, is one of the most popular varieties. I have seen them grown successfully in many areas of the United States, including sub-tropical South Florida. Many other varieties are less adaptable in warm climates.
Whether you are creating your own or buying one with some development and age, consider the climate you live in, before you make a choice. Most pines need a period of dormancy.
A pine bonsai tree, like most trees can be created in many different styles.
The Japanese red pine, Pinus densiflora shown here, is from Japan and is now at home in the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.
There is also a "red pine" native to North American, Pinus resinosa. Although both are pines, growth pattern and appearance are nothing alike. (That's one of the problems with using common plant names.)
When I moved to Florida, I remember how surprised I was to see pines everywhere. The one shown here is a Pinus elliottii. It's a Florida native, commonly known as the slash pine.
While shopping for my nursery, I came across several thick trunked, topped pines that no landscaper would ever want. I decided to experiment. I purchased three and quickly discovered you can not treat them like black pines. I killed the first two. They do not tolerate root pruning very well ! They do not tolerate bare rooting at all!
Fortunately, I left the best for last. Roots were barely trimmed and soil on top was washed off rather than raked. I made no attempt to change the existing soil. I left the needles long and named it 'Funky Monkey.' (Other Floridians shorten the needles to make them look more like black pine bonsai.)
In general, most pines want sun and tolerate a variety of temperatures. Keep them moist but never allow to stay soaking wet. (Most instructions read: allow to somewhat dry out between waterings.)
Each type will definitely require more specific instructions.
Whorls, candles and branch forks are all words you will learn when caring for many pines. If you decide you want to work on a pine bonsai, all of these words will become important.
Remember, your pine will take at least two to three times as long to have a good result as a deciduous tree, and even longer compared to tropical plants. While you are working your pine, have other bonsai subjects in your garden to give you encouragement.
For best results, hopefully you will be able to find an experienced teacher. Bonsai artist Ryan Neil is shown here during a black pine bonsai tree workshop.
Statement from National Bonsai Foundation:
"On the morning of August 6, 1945, all the Yamaki family members were inside their home. The bomb exploded about three kilometers (less than two miles) from the family compound. The blast blew out all the glass windows in the home, and each member of the family was cut from the flying glass fragments. Miraculously, none of them suffered any permanent injury.
"The great old Japanese white pine and a large number of other bonsai were sitting on benches in the garden. Amazingly, none of these bonsai were harmed by the blast either, as the nursery was protected by a tall wall. The bonsai originally came from Miyajima Island which is just south of Hiroshima. Japanese white pine bonsai from Miyajima are considered very valuable because they are so rare."
Due to the generosity of the Yamaki family, today today the approximately 400 year old tree is is in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum Washington, D.C.
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