What to do with White Pines in the Fall

Japanese White pine is a relatively simple plant to maintain. When we apply invasive pine techniques to White pine we usually end up weakening them. For starters, cutting green old needles off White pine is not a great idea. The tree rarely has the energy to respond positively to this, and it’s better to let the needles start to yellow naturally, and pull them off in middle of summer through fall when they come off easily. Right about now, in fact.

Lots of trees are pretty complicated and fall work on them is quite involved. Black pine is one of them, or any of the several pines that you might cut the candle on in mid-spring and have regrowth to manage in the fall. White pine is in another group, which only grows once a year and so there is less to do in the fall. The other pines that you will probably maintain the same way are lodgepole, limber, mugo, etc.—any of the mountain pines, actually, may be maintained in the manner shown below.

Japanese White pine in early October, with last year’s needles yellowing.

The same pine after gently removing the yellowing needles, which come off with just a light touch. After this work you can rewire your tree if needed, cut back branches if needed, trim long or errant shoots if needed…


  1. tmmason10 says:

    I’ve been tasked with this duty at work and actually find it quite rewarding. Sometimes I find it hard to tell where to stop, as you can see in your last picture, sometimes all the needles are yellowing. Does this just mean that the branch is weak?

    • crataegus says:

      It is a peaceful thing to do, yes. I just pull all the yellowing needles off, and then often a few more will want to fall after that too. I like the tree to make that decision.
      Weakness will be seen if the NEW needles on a shoot are of a yellowish cast in relation to the other shoots. That shoot may die in a year.

  2. Gary T says:

    Thank you. You have removed a great deal of mystery and confusion, of what to do with my small JWP, for me.

    Much appreciated.

  3. Hey Michael,

    I’ve had some trouble finding starter white pines. I live on the east coast, have any recommendations?


  4. Daniel Dolan says:


    From my reading I understand that Scots Pines in the southern portion of their range are high altitude mountain pines. As Bonsai I have been instructed that in addition to the removal of 3 year needles that have yellowed we need to do the following: 1] thin this years needles around the terminal buds to “x” number of pairs of needles to allow light /air to the new buds ……”x” dependent on the strength of a particular branch, 2] cutting off the 2 year needles, leaving the fascicle along the primary , secondary and tertiary branches, and 3] De-bud, if there are significant clusters of vigorous buds…..reducing their number to 2 directing the new shoots left and right.

    If I were Japanese and actually had a Scots Pine…….is this what I would do?

    Thank you.

    Daniel Dolan

    • crataegus says:

      Good questions. In general, yes, although in saying that…all is relative. In the beginning of creating a bonsai, leaving all those second year needles (even third year if it wants to keep them) on is a good idea. simply wire the branch down to diminish the energy out there at the strong ends somewhat, but retaining those needles will create greater vigor in the tree and much better budding. Once you have the budding, yes, some minor reduction of needles is ok for balancing. Important to distinguish between early development and late balancing. Don’t worry too much about balancing in the beginning because you need that tip energy to create momentum in the tree.

  5. Dan W. says:

    Thanks Michael,

    On development… Do you have a preferred time of year to wire white pines?

  6. I may have read this post too late. I took the yellowing needles of one of my white pines yesterday but I also clipped some of last years green needles to let in air and light. Was this the right thing to do.

    • crataegus says:

      I don’t recommend much if any cutting of needles on Japanese white pines. You can take a few needles off the stronger shoots but in general simply wiring the branch properly will take care of many energy imbalances along with pruning off very strong shoots. It can take a while for a young tree, but they balance themselves pretty well over time. It is a low-maintenence tree in general.

  7. QuestionMr. Hyland: Most foresters I know dread tree pathology questions because there is so much variation in conditions and agents, yet the problems persist in tree death and it attracts lots of attention. I’ll try to be specific to narrow down possiblities. The questions: I work here in the woods in Western Washington. Here, right now cutting alder on Whidbey Island, I have seen that lots and lots of the native western white pine is dead or dying. Some uninformed opinion goes that this pine is stuff brought over from east of the Cascade Mountains and is simply not genetically suited to locally wetter conditions. I see thought that really back in the woods in areas far from any place where people would transplant alien pine, what appears to be naturally regenerated native pine is dying or dead, with maybe one-half the pines still thriving. I heard this problem is caused by a pine blister rust not by a bark beetle. As the trees decline I have noticed a formation of orange bleeding cankers up the bark. Is this a virus, bacteria, fungus or some little insect? Is there an intermediate host involved and is this apparent disease an exotic infection or is it native but now encouraged by the western drought. On another problem, especially now east of the Cascade Mountains, how does the drought there promote bark beetles to successfully attack pines, spruce, fir, etc. I have heard amongst loggers that the drought simply dries the trees’ pitch production up somewhat so that the beetles are not as oftenly mechanically stopped by the pitch. Also I have read that with slightly warmer average temperatures the beetle larvea are surviving the winters better. [Areas around Homer, Alaska are a good example of this]. Is this theory about beetles, drought and warmer winters true? Thank you for the use of your valuable time.

  8. Thomas Urban says:

    Hi Michael,

    I was curious, when is the best time to make large cuts or when is it the best time to remove large portions of branches? I found a White pine, grafted onto black and it’s very commercial-like. I think it would be best to tip it over and create a cascade out of it, but I am not sure if it can handle such a drastic reduction in foliage mass. The roots look very healthy and are more or less coming out the bottom of the container.

    Thank you!

  9. Mike Amello says:

    I live in the Calabash area of southeastern North Carolina. I have pines, not sure what type are native to this low country swampy area, but on my property line are beautiful pine trees. In an attempt to help them along I applied a small bag of holly Tone and some Miracle Grow Pines Tree fertilizing spikes at the drip line of the larger pines.. After a few weeks now I am noticing that smaller pine saplings are now yellowing and browning. Did I possibly burn them and now that they are brown, will they come back with the heavy rains expected over the next few days? Do you think it is the fertilizer to blame here and if so what can I do to reverse this scenario if anything?

    • crataegus says:

      Sorry about this late reply, your message went to spam for some reason.
      I can’t advise on the possible problems with fertilizing pines in the ground issue, too far out of my expertise.

  10. Thomas Urban says:

    Hello Michael,

    I need your advice please. I have bought a white pine, styled it 10 days ago, I removed a long straight section to make the silhouette closer to the trunk. It has been in it’s container for quite a while I think due to the compact root ball surrounding the pot. I removed many 3rd-2nd year needles by pulling them off and also cutting some off. I recently returned from a trip and it seems to me that the needles are becoming pale. In desperation I removed the root ball from the pot (a 5-6cm pot at that and I know you mentioned that pines need space from the soggy bottom to be healthy) and placed the intact rootball into a larger container with mostly Pumice, zeolite, lava and a bit of bark and I didn’t water it.
    Any idea if that was the next best move? I would hate to loose this one and I am not sure if white pines like water or they don’t like much water because I have read both from different professionals/enthusiasts. Perhaps the tree isn’t getting enough sun? Or perhaps I created many small injuries to the twigs while removing needles?

    Anything would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

    Thomas Urban

  11. dangerousbry says:

    Really enjoyed reading your information above. I have two JWPs now. This first was a shohin, which is extremely active young tree. The second i purchased February last year. Having kept all Needles on for the 2 growing seasons to allow for greater health. A couple of the lower branches are weakening. I had known this when i purchased the tree. It is currently in a very shallow pot. Which is very quick to dry out if not careful with watering. Second growing season has seen good reward in healthy amount of candles.

    Would you recommend a Deeper pot for JWP trees? (Pot is around 1.5″ deep, and the base of the trunk is around 3.5″ diameter)

  1. […] Micheal Hagedorn has written a nice post on his blog about Pinus parviflora fall work, it reminds me a lot of what they tought me in Shanghai, you can find his post here. […]

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