Prune Your Pines Now—In Early Fall-

If we’re very busy with fall things like getting kids back to school and thwarting cold weather with insulation, we may have limited time to wire our pines. And yet simply pruning pines in the early fall will greatly enhance the vigor of interior shoots and will likely create new buds.

  • The stronger one prunes, the more buds will form
  • New buds created in the fall will be set up to grow in the spring
  • Spring is not a good time to prune a pine, for the tree will lose time creating new buds and may simply skip that and elongate the buds that are already there

Fall pine pruning brings new buds. New buds brings more ramification. More ramification means shorter needles. In short: Fall Pruning = Bonsai Happiness.

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Japanese Red Pine before fall pruning.

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Red Pine after fall pruning. Long and strong shoots were removed, leaving the moderate energy shoots and the small ones.

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And the pine is immediately put back out into the sun. Without full sun for pines, back budding is simply a pipe dream.

A bit of background on this particular pine: It has a Ponderosa Pine trunk and was grafted with Japanese Red Pine about 7 years ago. The lime green needles are typical of the light and airy foliage of Red Pine. The choice of Red Pine was determined by the wriggly trunk line that this Ponderosa exhibited. It strongly reminded me of the Red Pines I had seen in Japan, and it was during a time I was grafting many pines out of curiosity to see what we can do with smaller Ponderosas.

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A new bud forming on a Red Pine after pruning

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New bud on a Ponderosa

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3-year old buds on a Shore Pine—buds that followed a fall pruning 3 years ago.

To return to the point of this post:

  • Fall pruning creates buds—but for best results don’t prune too late in the fall or budding is unlikely to occur (in a temperate climate). September through early October is a good time to prune.
  • By November the tree won’t have much of a chance to respond to pruning and put out buds before dormancy sets in.

And three final points:

  • No need to prune every year, this is something for the rangy tree that has gotten leggy and long in the tooth (like our example Red Pine above), to create better branch taper, or to shorten the odd branch here and there.
  • We started by saying ‘The stronger one prunes, the more buds will form’—and yet over-pruning will weaken a pine. Leave a reasonable amount of foliage.
  • Pruning back is done at the same time and in concert with another important technique, needle reduction on stronger shoots. If enough fall needle reduction is performed, similar bud production may be seen. But that is a story for another day.

2 Comments

  1. Michael – Does this process hold true for pretty much ALL pines ?
    Or at least all Pines we are likely to encounter here in the U.S. ?
    (I am writing from Wisconsin and am also wondering if that ship may have already sailed for us here…?)
    Thanks
    Kevin

  2. Ryan Finkbiner says:

    Great post (as I love pines the most!) – so one’s own environment would a determining factor on timing, no? I ask because I suspect Portland would have until some time in October to do this but perhaps not the front range in Colorado…asking for friends (my pines). I am already seeing my pines shed their old needles, and quickly. It’s been particularly hot and dry this summer. Despite adequate watering, my pines seem eager to shed old needles. I will definitely do some pruning this weekend since our summer weather has persisted.

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