Another Ponderosa Revisit-

Last week we did a promised revisit of a Ponderosa Pine that was styled a few years ago…this week let’s do an unpromised one.


Ponderosa Pine as it came into the yard, or rather about five months later, if I remember right.

In the fall of that year, we styled the tree. I’d like to reiterate the point from the last blog post about water-retentive soils and how that can create extenuated growth. This tree was growing in peat and bark in addition to lava, which can certainly work—the tree is alive and growing—but the uptick in water and fertilizer from such a soil created long, twisted needles. Compare this with the next photo.


23″ / 58 cm. Shorter, straighter needles in a volcanic mix. It’s not that you can’t achieve this with other soils, it’s just my observation that it’s harder to get these results. For the last three years this pine has undergone a selective needle removal on the top and on strong shoots, which has strengthened the lower branches and helped even up needle length throughout the tree. Smaller end buds result from the shorter needles, and you create shorter needles by withholding fertilizer in the spring when they’re growing, and not overwatering. This tree is full of buds that haven’t pushed needles yet, so it will be denser in a few years, and even shorter needles. Right now they’re 1 1/2″ long. Please don’t cut the needles on your Ponderosas in half, that looks ugly and there are better techniques to shorten needles.

Take a look at the post that covers the styling of this pine:

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  1. Guy Vitale says:

    Michael, you state not to cut needles in half because it’s ugly, I agree with this on a nearly finished tree, but for those still in the early development stage, couldn’t this help reduce the vigor of bud strength helping to create shorter internodes and needles? We certainly don’t want to concern ourselves with needle length at the development stage, but 10″ needles are rediculously long.

    • crataegus says:

      You could try that, it is sugar loss, which is the same thing as cutting needles off. I would suggest cutting whole needles off instead though. With some patience, just a couple of years, these techniques should bring the needle size down significantly. Also use a smaller pot, that helps a lot. I did respond at length to a question in the last post about the full technique I use for ponderosa, that might explain more.

  2. paul3636 says:

    Is Perlite considered a volcanic soil? As I get older I look for lighter soil mixes.

    • crataegus says:

      Perlite is an interesting particle. It’s the industrial answer to pumice, essentially exploded sand. It’s a lot lighter, holds a ton of water when wet and then dries to blow away in the wind…or water, if you water strongly. In all it’s a useful particle, you can get crazy root growth in it, although it will likely hold more water than you’d want for a pine, deciduous would like it a lot. Does crumble very easily when chop sticking however, so be gentle with it. Might want to top pots off with something a bit heavier, like alabama and lava, to hold it in place and grow some moss, otherwise it will wash away.

      • paul3636 says:

        I have mixed it with pumice (pretty much the same color) and red lava and top it off with red lava and soil perfecter from espoma.

  3. James says:

    It is amazing the transition that the tree has gone through. It does not even look like the same tree in the last photo. What did you do to change the color of the bark? Is it just from the photo or did it change as the tree developed. It has a gray appearance on my computer where the first two photos have more of a red coloration.

  4. rschlafer says:

    Are you using Pumice, Scoria and Akadama now? Is that your volcanic mix?

    • crataegus says:

      Yes, often use some scoria with conifers. I think the mineralogy is good for them, especially the iron. I don’t use any with deciduous.
      The basic Boon’s mix is a good one for conifers. I often substitute the scoria for more pumice, though.

  5. carol ebreo says:

    Please explain what is scoria?? I have never heard of it.

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