Choosing Branches for Flow–

Flow. In bonsai we need it, and we need it early. We have to decide ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ at the very beginning when crafting our trees, or we could land in a real aesthetic pickle. Flow is the direction the asymmetry of the tree moves, and is essential when it comes to linking the future bonsai to other elements, not just in display, but the interrelationships on your benches or posts, too.

This White Pine had some very long lower branches, and so the first part of this adventure was removing them so that the smaller, more promising upper branches could be used in the new design.


Our White Pine with some very long branches that needed addressing. The two big problems were the lowest branch in the front, which sticks out pretty wretchedly far into our snoot, and also comes directly out of the front of the trunk, so there was no question of simply moving it to the side. The other is the long straight one on the left. If we imagine these gone, it leaves us with a rather pleasing flow…


Beginning to remove branches-


Nearly finished pruning, just gently moving branches to see how they look in their future positions. Over bending at this point is not a great idea, however.


The pine after branch pruning and thinning the denser areas. The two branches on the right are much smaller than the ones we cut off, and eventually the one in the front will (hopefully) be a solid key branch. The lower one is longer and is actually a back branch. So it will take a few years to develop a convincing, full, primary branch.


After wiring and setting. This variety of Japanese White Pine ramifies very fast, so in about a year we’ll see significant volume development. I’ve set the shoots to be more open to allow for this predicted growth. Flow is to the right. Apex slightly to the left for some drama. Nice pot supplied by Maestro Matt Reel. Pine originally from Japan. Plywood from Home Depot. Paint from Miller Paint. Misty, ‘no shadows’ photography weather courtesy our endearingly moist Oregon climate…

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  1. backcountrydan says:

    Very nice! What variety is this?

    Apparently I’m a bit dense… For clarification, on which side would you place the accent in a display? My fist reaction to the tree would be to the left… But with flow to the right I’m thinking I would be wrong: “Flow is to the right. Apex slightly to the left for some drama.” I can see the movement going either way honestly. This is not a critique. I’m just asking for the sake of learning. 🙂

    edit: I actually backed away from the computer screen, and I think it’s much easier to get the overall feel for movement to the right.

    • crataegus says:

      Ha! Backing away from the computer is a good idea all around.

      The primary branch generally indicates flow. With a different styling the tree could easily have gone to the left. For this styling, the accent plant would be placed on the right. Unless you’ve got a leaning tree, the apex does not determine flow, the primary branch does.

  2. Peter Keane says:

    nice white pine. what variety is it?

    Date: Tue, 28 Jan 2014 15:50:24 +0000 To:

  3. bonsai eejit says:

    Reblogged this on Bonsai Eejit.

  4. To me it looks like a miyajima jwp, am I right?

  5. Ed Normile says:

    Nice White Pine ! I got here from a link on Bonsai Nut in another thread on a White Pine there. How long have you had this and idea on the actual age, it looks ancient.


  6. tom tynan says:

    How coincedental that tonight I pulled an old copy of Bonsai Today [Issue #91] May/June 2004, from the bookshelf for reading. There is an article by Michael H. on a collected Pinyon Pine and he really goes thru the early design stages well…front..flow…key branch…balance branch and apex direction. Although we see more and more collected trees – we often don’t get a complete understanding of what were the choices made by the artist as he developed the tree. If you can get a copy of the article it will be well worth the effort.

  7. john says:

    Great work Michael. Looking forward to see this tree develop over time.

  8. Alex says:

    Hey Mike,

    When you say this variety of White Pine ramifies very fast, am I correct in assuming that this is grafted onto Japanese Black Pine?

  9. Graeme Preston says:

    Disclaimer: I don’t have any pines on my bench. With that being said, a question about styling pines: from the pictures it looks like the same vein runs through both of the jin you created when you removed the two branches. Would you ever consider creating a shari that connects the two, either to further accentuate the movement of the trunk, or as a “horticultural clue” to enhance the natural feel of the tree? Horticultural qestion: will that vein eventually die back naturally anyway, now that those two branches have been removed? Thanks.

    • crataegus says:

      Nice question— such a shari line is always a possibility between two branches that are cut off. This pair is not on the same vein, however, although I can see it looks that way in the photo. So if I joined them I’d risk killing off part of a rootsystem. And to answer the other question, no, there should not be die back between these two, but might have been between two that were in the same path, yes. Good thinking-

  10. Daniel Dolan says:


    Though I was looking forward to another ….”Don’t Do This!” article, pine styling is just as good. My only question is: when did you perform this work?

    Best regards,


    • crataegus says:

      In January. Dormant season is a good time to do styling on pines. I protect the pine now from strong frosts, winds, and cold. After it begins growing again in the spring I don’t treat it any different than any other tree, though.

  11. Hi Michael
    I have been lucky enough to land a spot in your workshop in Victoria this fall not even knowing what we will be working with. Do you even know yet. Also will Matt be your helper if not I am available , ha. Really looking forward to meeting you.
    Qualicum Brian

  1. […] Choosing Branches for Flow- is Michael Hagedorn’s title for his latest post which features this extraordinary Japanese […]

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