Big Difference Between ‘Decandling’ and ‘Breaking’ Pine Shoots…
There’s a storm of confusion around these two techniques…and it’s one of those things we don’t want to get wrong. Pines take a couple years to get back on track, once off track, and so they make us look at our mistakes for a long time.
I’ll try to make this short and sweet. For starters, how do we distinguish decandling from breaking/pinching?
Breaking/Pinching means taking part of the shoot off, usually with fingers, as the shoot is extending in early to mid-spring. This is before the needles have come out.
Scots pine candles, before pinching.
With the fleshy part of the fingers, pinch the candle according to its strength, taking more off for stronger ones, less for weaker, none for weakest.
Right candle pinched approximately in half.
Left candle pinched.
Decandling means cutting off the entire pine candle off in late spring. Often the new needles have come out already.
Japanese Black pine candles, before decandling. (Apologies, this photo is more than a month early for decandling, so your candles might have needles on them when you decandle.)
With a sharp bud scissors, the candle is cut at the base.
Notice the small candles at the base. These must also be cut. We’re trying to ‘reset the spring’ by decandling, and so we must cut everything.
Cutting the small candles.
Both techniques are appropriate…one isn’t cooler than another, one won’t win you accolades and the other not…we simply apply them to different pines.
Candles of single flush pines—such as Japanese White, Lodgepole, Shore, Scots, Limber—MAY be broken or pinched.
Candles of multiple flush pines—Japanese Black and Red—MAY be decandled.
I say MAY, because only strongly growing pines in good sun should be decandled or pinched.
I won’t go into the many details of these techniques (and there are a lot of them), although some other blog posts here and on Bonsai Tonight cover many of them. I just wanted to clarify the main technique for each group of pines.
For a more wordy explanation of why one technique works for some pines and not for others, hopefully the following will clarify:
- The reason it’s important to keep these techniques straight is that single flush pines don’t have the energy to grow twice a year. If you decandle a Japanese White pine, or a Lodgepole pine, or any other in that weaker group, it will grow buds that summer that don’t open up. That means we just created a summer that didn’t produce any needles. Those buds will open the next year. And we’ve just weakened our pines dramatically. Instead, we pinch them, and leave some needles from that spring to grow that year.
- Alternately, if we decandle a strong, vigorous multiple flush pine like a Japanese Black pine, it will grow buds that summer that open up and grow shoots and needles. We cut everything off, at the right time of year (which differs according to where we live.) Generally decandling is late-May to mid-June. We reset the spring at the decandling time, and that gives an adequate number of weeks for the new shoots to grow out their needles, shorter this time.
(I did promise a second article on Bunjin, and that will be next, the timing of this pine work just seemed more pressing…thanks for the patience.)