Our June presenter was Bill Castellon, a professional landscaper, aesthetic pruner, and shohin fanatic with extensive experience growing and pruning pines of all sizes and varieties. The topic of the evening was decandling black pines and Bill brought a vigorous young black pine for demonstration, which was raffled off at the end of the night.
Bill went straight to a discussion of decandling timing strategies and never gave the down-and-dirty on what decandling is and why it’s important. A quick explanation for those newer bonsai enthusiasts reading this: Decandling a pine means cutting the new growth shoots of a vigorous pine, referred to as its candles, so that when the needles developing inside of them open up later, they are noticeably shorter. It is done because simply cutting the needles after they are fully developed will result in unsightly brown tips on the needles. The proper timing of this procedure is a topic of much debate, with as many opinions as there are microclimates in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the one agreed-upon constant is that the later you make the cut, so long as you don’t wait too long and miss the developmental window, the shorter the needles you will get. Decandling is also done to encourage division, being the pine equivalent of tip-pinching on deciduous trees.
Like many of our other favorite presenters, Bill does not like to state absolutes like, “You must decandle in June.” Rather, he likes to set general guidelines and emphasizes that you must consider the individual tree and its specific environment. As an illustrative example, he points out that shohin artists in Japan wait until as late as July 15th to decandle, to get exceptionally small needles. They can do that there because their climate supports it, but here in the Bay Area, Bill suggests we don’t push our pine candling past July 4th at the absolute latest. If you decandle your pines too late, you’ll get malformed or otherwise unhealthy needles, or even an entirely failed growth tip that eventually withers and dies. When in doubt, or if you absolutely must go by a specific date, Bill says that June 15th is a safe time to decandle pines in our area.Continue reading