Scots Pine Needle Reduction & Others

I was asked to write a very small article about watering and feeding Pine trees. It was for an internet Facebook Group. I thought it might come in handy here too. Not for the intermediate or experienced; it is aimed at beginners to help them understand a little about watering Pines and feeding them.

Pines. Watering & Feeding For Health & Needle Reduction.

I’ve always enjoyed the pleasure from Pines. Ever since I started my Bonsai journey thirty five years ago, I found I was always drawn to Pines. There are many myths surrounding Pines, I cannot possibly go into them all here now, but wanted for the benefit of those new to Bonsai to mention two succinct areas I see enthusiasts get wrong time after time. So as a seasoned pro I would suggest there is probably nothing here for you.

The first is watering. I’ve seen so many dead Pines over the years; people would say they were told to keep them dry. In the growing seasons a Pine will need watering every day, and in many instances more than once a day. In the hot weather it is not unusual for me to water Pines in free draining soil three times a day. The temperature that can be read on the inside of a pot is huge. Those roots need cooling; they do not have the benefit of protection from rocks general stone and the soil. Keep it watered. BUT; out of the growing season they do not like sitting in water. Scots will stand a lot more water abuse that Black Pines or White grown on BP stock. This is why having a free draining soil is so important. Repotting takes care of that issue. Having so said in the Western World I personally think we repot far to frequently. Pines I will repot when I really have to. Clearly frequency is not one cap fits all. Elms will fill a pot in a year and Maples won’t be far behind. Pines however are fickle about repotting. I will cover detailed repotting of Pines at a later date. Brown needles all over the tree in the growing season means just one thing.

The other area to take note of on this occasion is the ‘dreaded’ needle reduction. You have nothing to fear. It is not hard. Correct candle pruning and pinching is a good start. (Loads of internet info on that area). Plenty of sunlight, yep full sun, get that Pine in the sun, with no shade. You may need to water more frequently in very hot Summers. Consider an automated drip feed if you work for a living. So here goes the next big mistake many make. Not feeding that Pine!! If you want a healthy Pine with short healthy needles feed it. I use Rape cakes and or Bio gold, liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed with minerals. What frequency then to get those nice tidy needles? Every week, sometimes twice or three times weekly. Shock horror I hear you mumble. Think about it for a moment. You will pop chicken waste pellets, Bio gold, or Rape cakes and or Naruko in the soil surface and you water. What do you think is happening when you water? Yep, feed is released through every single watering! So frankly those that use this method of feeding and say they only feed once a month is absolute twaddle. With permanent organic feed on the soil surface I supplement with FE or SW a couple of times minimum a week. JUST BE MINDFUL though when using seaweed, it can darken the needles if you over do it. Ease back on dilution.

I have created this very short notation to help those just starting off, and in particular if you happen to like Pines. Like a backside of course, everyone has one, just like an opinion; I’m saying this is what worked for me and many others that I helped over a three and a half decade period of time. As always, if you want to ask a question just fire away. You will see I have included a Scots Pine that I worked for many years. I have included two images. One prior to needle reduction techniques and the second some three years later.

Scotty prior to reduction

Scotty after reduction

Scots Pine Needle Size (Watering Difficulties)

No not mine but I have seen two almost dead pines during the last month and wanted to clear up a myth regarding watering of pines.

My own small Scots Pine is building up a nice framework of branching this previous three years.  Come the Autumn I will thin the tree out by around 40-50% to enable me to shape further. Minor pruning can be carried out now, but do ensure you seal cuts. For now the appropriate feeding and watering regime with a position of full sun all day, has given me quality sized needles.

Yes, the tree is rotated, but does indeed sit in sun all day long. Watering is generally twice daily at the moment, as the gorgeous weather we are having .. and owed some; is ensuring most of my trees dry out quite quickly. And it really was this watering I wanted to mention.

I’ve seen two pines during the last fortnight, one a Scots, and the other a Mugo. The latter is still hanging in there, but the Scots seems to be on the last legs. My first question was about watering, and in both cases it had been left to nature to provide water! There seems to be a significant myth about, that suggests Pines are watered very infrequently to ensure small needles and insignificant growth. This is complete ‘Hogwash’ and I’ll gladly argue the point with anyone. Yes, during winter if the pine /s are under cover then watering from mid to late October (Northern Hemisphere) should be kept to an absolute minimum until the first signs of growth the following year are seen; and that in both ends of the season it is weather dependant, so it is not a ‘complete rule of thumb so be careful. Kept outside you could and should be looking to limit rain water, as roots will rot if they sit in water. Just because you have free-draining soil it does not mean water will dissipate quickly; the roots themselves will create a dense rootball with Mycelium and soggy soil you have a wonderful base for potential root rot.

Usually about mid Spring through Summer the Pine will do what it has been waiting to do, and that is grow. By withholding water to keep needles short – is hugely detrimental to the pine, and will quickly see it flounder and probably die in part or full during warm weather. Watering two weekly this time of year is NOT enough. I’m watering my large pine daily and the smaller one at least twice daily. The heat build up inside that pot is hot indeed, and it is not unusual to find that just inside the pot it is at least 40c; clearly it needs cooling so you may prefer to put the pine in dappled shade during very warm bright sunny days. I do try to stand the watering cans full up in a dappled area to gently warm the water through; NOT HOT, just take that cold off. I personally have thought if I find it a shock someone pouring cold water over me right now, then the plants also may find it a shock. Not easy I know when you have many many trees.

So please please please … DO water your pines right now, they WON’T stand being  dry as a chip for anything like as long as you think they will.

My small Scots with a happy look in a John Pitt pot. 70cm in height. Dwarf variety of Scots Pine.

Scotty 15:07:13

Dwarf Scots Pine

Since re-potting a couple of weeks ago, which is much earlier than I would normally re-pot said variety; response has been fast with candles continuing to elongate perfectly.

Whilst the roots were not overly bad when it came to re-pot I made certain to leave some of the plump cream tipped  roots to ensure ongoing health. Whilst I did indeed take the overall root ball down much further than usual, the leaving of a few good feeder roots will generally ensure the health of Pines.

They can be so finicky at times when re-potted, hence I do like to mist this species a couple of times daily and keep out of wind but in some sunshine. Whilst a percentage of the old soil was introduced, to ensure some Mycorrhizal Fungi was returned, I also included new fungi during the re-pot. When undertaking this procedure it is important to ensure the added fungi is placed as close (touching) the existing root-ball as possible.

The soil mix is hugely free-draining and as such, I must be very careful with watering. Normally I like to let the soil dry slightly between waterings when freshly re-potted. With a 70% grit mix alas I cannot do this.

When freshly re-potted trees are first watered it is vital to ensure that the roots forming do everything to search out nutrients and moisture. Too much at this stage can make them become quite lazy. Once an approximate six-week period has passed, this initial watering reservation becomes virtually irrelevant.

The initial soil addition around the root-ball is nutrient free and completely inorganic; this ensures the roots will do all they can to locate ‘goodies’ that are elsewhere in the pot. The second level of soil does contain a small quantity of organic sustenance/nutrients. In time the roots will locate it and continue to grow happily.

Image taken yesterday. Pot is by John Pitt; not perfect but an improvement on the previous one. I am hoping to find a more primitive pot for the next re-potting session.

Once the tree is settled into the new home, I will be undertaking refining work during late summer when resin flow will be greatly reduced.