Unusual Pine to Decandle: Loblolly

The search for new, interesting native plants for bonsai continues unabated. After finding a bonsai-worthy plant, a secondary puzzler is what known techniques might we apply to the new species.

Loblolly or Southern Yellow Pine, Pinus taeda, is a three-needle pine from the southeastern United States. Covering vast areas, it’s believed to be the second most common North American tree. The thick bark recalls Black Pine and Ponderosa. And while its got 7″ long needles, we have a well understood technique for handling such crimes against bonsai: Decandling.

Raw unstyled Loblolly Pine

Gary Wood collected this Loblolly in Alabama, restyled and decandled since by Andrew Robson. Andrew has decandled it for the past three years, with excellent and predictable response. The technique he applied is exactly the same as Japanese Black Pine, removing the entire spring shoot and reducing the needles surrounding the cut site. He finds it so strong that he times the decandling like shohin Black Pine, needing a shorter growing season to reflush.

Shoot density increasing—and needle size decreasing—from three years of decandling
Andrew Robson with his Loblolly Pine
Loblolly today, May 2021

Ever heard that we should only decandle our 2-needle pines? Like many myths, it oversimplifies a fact. Yes, we do decandle Japanese Black Pine, which is 2-needled. We DON’T decandle the 2-needled Lodgepole Pine or Mugo Pine, though, among others. And the Loblolly, expanding this puzzler to more needles, is a 3-needled pine that may be successfully decandled.

Try this post for the difference between decandling and pinching pines.


  1. Dan LeBlanc says:


  2. Peter . says:

    nice discovery! thanks for posting this! ________________________________

  3. santafebonsai says:


    I’ve had this loblolly for a few growing seasons after acquiring from a local club member who collected this in 1972. The tree has been styled like a deciduous unfortunately since the beginning until I decandled it for the first time last June. It responded exactly like I was hoping. In one season I have reduced the needle length in half and created 3x the useable buds, even on old bark.

    Until I saw Andrew’s LL I thought I had a corner on the market with the only specimen LL, lol.

    Thanks for confirming my techniques.

    As acquired.

    After heavy fertilizing and before first decandling.


    I’m hoping after another season of multiflush techniques this will start looking like a pine should look.

    My experience is the LL reacts to JBP techniques better than JBP!

    Mark Copeland SantaFeBonsai

  4. Frank says:

    The most unusual thing about this tree is it’s nebari. It has none worthy of speaking of.

  5. Ryan / Ry2Tree2 says:

    Beautiful results! Hats off to you and Andrew on this one

  6. Ben Olson says:

    I have a bunch of seedline cuttings and one larger loblolly I collected a 3 years ago that had been growing in a gutter for about 10 years if I had to guess. Only issue I’ve had is with southern pine beetle (SPB) (Dendroctonus frontalis). I’ve tried systemic insecticides with no improvement. They lay there eggs in the new candles and the larvae hatch and kill the new growth. I guess I’m a way it decandles the tree for me, but I hate dealing with them. Any suggestions?

    • crataegus says:

      Beetles can be tricky; I’ve only controlled them with systemics. But that was borers. So for your insect I don’t know, sorry about that. Any suggestions from other readers?

      • Tim says:

        I know its the worst time of year for this but could some dormant oil work? And then be careful afterwards with aftercare?
        Doesn’t look like something you want to do yearly but I was thinking about the way dormant oils work, the suffocating effect…
        Just thinking out loud.

      • crataegus says:

        I wouldn’t use that now, so I’d trust your hesitation. It can make a pine yellow for a year. But thanks for the comment, I know the desire to use oils of season, just been burned too many times.

  7. Rob Kempinski says:

    Congratulations to Andrew. I love seeing US native pines as bonsai. The Southern Yellow Pine, Pinus taeda doesn’t grow in my part of Florida but my in-laws had a full size one on their Virginia farm and I styled the first three branches as a bonsai and they looked good.
    I am growing different native Southern pine, Slash Pine, Pinus elloitii, which has even longer needles but I don’t worry about needle reduction. I use the needle clusters to make what I call “The Fireworks Style.”

    • crataegus says:

      A fine tradition, fireworks! Never tried Slash Pine, glad you are-

    • Sean Boyle says:

      I just saw your slash pine on display at Epcot, it is absolutely incredible and your fireworks style is gorgeous and unique. I too love southern native pines (especially broom hunting) and your work was hugely inspiring. Wish we saw native pines as nicely pruned niwaki, especially since natives are so hot in gardening now

  8. Gary Mills says:

    Hey Michael,
    Great article. Where would you classify shortleaf pine since it is both two and three needle pine? Decandle or not?

    • crataegus says:

      Shortleaf…there’s one I’ve no experience with. Given that Ponderosa is also two and three needled, the number of needles is sadly irrelevant. I wish it were! Just judge the energy of the tree, maybe try decandling a young Shortleaf to experiment. Sorry I’m no help here!

  9. Doug Taylor says:

    I’ve had success de-candling Pitch pine another three needle pine.
    I found that for best results the pitch pine needs to be growing strong and well fertilized before de-candling. Don’t do it on a weak tree, I guess that’s true for all pine de-candling.

  10. I Live on what is called the Eastern Shore of Maryland outside of St Michaels, MD. it’s on the east
    side of the Chesapeake Bay. Here the Loblolly is a beautiful and majestic tree.It will grow straight and tall if confined in a woods or with a beautiful open crown if in a more open, less congested environment. i have often contemplated what they would look like as bonsai. Not knowing what to do with them i have never dug a tree even though they are as thick as grass blades in many areas. I can’t tell you how excited I was to read this. I’m 74 but there still may be enough time!

  11. Kurt says:

    I know LL grow in Florida and southern states. What is the winter hardiness? I have been looking at these pines for years and wondering.
    Great job and thank you

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