Bunjin Ponderosa Update

A couple years ago I did a post on a Ponderosa Pine bunjin, and I promised an update down the road. Here’s the ‘What became of that tree?’ post…


This is where we started with the Ponderosa Pine in 2013, after some trunk cleanup and lime sulfuring. The long, twisted needles are the result of over-watering (Oil-Dri, which this tree is potted in, exacerbates this problem.) Longer needles can also result from over-fertilizing and lack of sun. Compare this with the final photo.


After styling, from our selected front.


And a couple years later, in a pot, 32″ / 81 cm. The tree looks larger with shorter needles, doesn’t it? There are buds developing as well, and with the upcoming ramification the needle length will reduce further still.

Check out the first post of this tree’s styling:


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  1. Beautiful tree!

  2. Felix Laughlin says:

    Michael, love this ponderosa. It’s one of my favorite species. Can you please explain yoiur method for shortening the needles? Thanks and best regards. Felix

    • crataegus says:

      A couple folks have asked about this now, so here’s my Ponderosa approach in brief. Bear in mind that these are refinement techniques, not what you would use prior to structural/styling work. And only use these techniques on a strong tree with a solid root system.

      -Use a smaller pot. If you use a big pot, the tree will grow a long needle no matter what you do. You want a fast wet/dry turnaround when you water, that way you can control your watering timing better, i.e., less frequently to keep the tree drier.
      -Soil choice. I use 2/3 pumice, of about 1/4″+ size, the rest akadama. Pumice is a dry particle. If you use more water-holding particles or too small particle size, long needles will result.
      -Full sun, no shade or partial shade. 10+ hours a day.
      -Don’t fertilize while the needles are growing in the spring, begin fertilizing after they have stopped.
      -Don’t overwater in the spring when the needles are growing. This means skipping a day now and then. Don’t let it get bone dry, but close, and don’t water on a schedule either. When you do water, saturate it totally by watering several times in succession. Later in the year watering is more relaxed.
      -Cut old needles on the stronger shoots in late summer / early fall. The tree backbuds well either with needle buds or adventitious buds. Once you have buds arising, needle size will further reduce because of ramification.
      -The goal is to reduce the dominance of the big end bud by creating shorter needles. If you cut off the big end bud the tree’s roots essentially stop growing. It will create new buds, but it’s a very bold technique that causes a loss of momentum. Take a few years and get there slowly.

      Cutting needles off in the strong areas and reducing the energy of the big end bud will create backbudding and that will create ramification…and all those things together, along with the other techniques described above, will give you shorter needles. I have two pines in my yard with 1.5″ needles, budding well and healthy after being in a pot a few years. It’s just a different route. But like any system, all these techniques need to be working together. So if you try this with a tree in a water and fertilizer retentive soil, it likely won’t work. If you don’t have enough sun, it likely won’t work well. If you repot differently than me…well, you can see why I’m reluctant to say everyone will have the same results I do, but that’s the purpose of the Seasonal classes, to learn one system. But give these ideas a go, I hope they make some sense.

  3. Stu Garrett says:

    I love this tree. Really nice job in developing it.

  4. rschlafer says:

    Very Nice!

  5. so, that is only 2 years to reduce the needles ??? knowing the way you operate, i will go ahead and assume they have not been cut… correct ? 😉

    so, would you mind sharing your technique for reduction in ponderosa ?

    my only real source of reference material (that i have trusted) has been larry jackels book (and my good friends steve carini and brian susler)

    appreciated !!!

  6. andrew kaye says:

    that was mind blowing..well done

  7. Morten Albek says:

    Looks great. Good development.

  8. Steve says:

    Mr Michael, Impressive work! Thanks for the clear explanation on needle management, Will there be a time in the development when the soil particle size will be reduced? If there is what would be the indicating factors?

    • crataegus says:

      If you use some proportion of akadama, at least 1/3, then eventually the chunks disintegrate, making finer particles, and that creates finer root growth, and that creates finer top growth. It’s one of the reasons the Japanese use akadama.

  9. Very interesting. I am wondering if you use the same soil composition with one-flush pines (Pinyons, limber, etc). Thanks

  10. Hi Michael, it is end of September and I am ready to do something with my Ponderosa (medium development, over 4 years in pot)…the problem is that I am beyond confused. Most people give you a different approach: remove the end buds, leave them alone, remove most needles, just leave it alone. Larry Jackel’s book gives an approach, Ryan Neal’s approach is radically different. When in conflict, I prefer your advice (yes, I also have your fantastic book, which is very creased from so many consultations).

    My questions…should I (1) take off the buds at this time, and (2) remove/cut most of the needles? Should I only apply this to the strongest branches and leave weaker ones alone? The rest of your procedure (soil composition, fertilization, sun exposure, pot size, etc.) is very clear.

    Thank you!

    • crataegus says:

      Glad you’re enjoying Bonsai Heresy! Yes there are several approaches to ponderosa for sure. My instinct is much the same as Ryan’s. That doesn’t make Larry wrong though.

      The interesting thing I note about collected ponderosa is you can get a lot of budding in the first few years after collection that then after that is hard to improve on without spending 20 years at it. I think patience does reward. But forcing the plant to grow buds but cutting the end bud off…that seems very forceful on a plant that doesn’t have many buds or needles, often. If you cut the end buds off (and often that’s all you have, end buds, not inner buds) then you also stop root growth. So I prefer a slower approach.

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