Another year (or two) in the life of an Arakawa JBP

First off…if you’re reading this, you’ve hung through a break seemingly longer than AMC takes between seasons of their original series. Thank you. This has been a busy year of change and bonsai has been on the periphery at best. I’ll make a post on that at some point too, as I effectively took the year off any non-urgent bonsai tasks and it has been interesting to see what that does to a collection. I have been busy growing a new business, eking out a few summer trips, getting our daughter settled into her first apartment at college in Tampa, playing tennis with our son, running, etc. On top of it all, our daughter got engaged this month too. We are excited for her and her fiancé.

So….Here is where this story left off in October, 2020:

In Spring 2021, I adjusted some branches with guy-wires to tighten up the design.

Areas to adjust
Upper left
Upper right
Center right
After guy wires were placed, February 2021
April 2021
May 2021
June 2021
July 2021…candle cutting time

This pine grows multiple buds from a single point, a strong one, and several weak ones. While candle-cutting, I am careful to also remove the weak shoots to ensure a second flush of new growth, rather than allowing the tree to sustain itself on the remaining weak shoots.

1 is the main new shoot, 2 is one of those weak new shoots.
A shot of the back of the tree showing Oxalis that must be removed…but also shows an interesting potential, and dynamic, new front…
Oxalis has a carrot-like root and issues runners. If all of the carrot-like root isn’t completely removed, this invasive plant will regrow and quickly take over a pot.
New candles removed from the upper part
All new candles removed
Pulling needles to balance the strength
After work is complete

And now the tree will be allowed to regrow a second flush of shoots. I will only allow it to develop 2 shoots per terminal and hopefully avoid having weak shoots also appear.

October 2021, new growth is well underway. More needle pulling, and a little shoot selection. When the new shoots are hardened off, they can be wired.

I am strongly considering removing the first right branch and pushing all the movement to the left.

Next up, in November, I unwired the tree in preparation for fall work.

I took the tree to Bjorn’s in November and discussed removing the first right branch and setting movement toward the left. So off to work we went.

First up, the branch removed:

No going back now!

Next up, we addressed the stovepipe-straight section of upper trunk. I drew a couple lines were I would saw a wedge into the trunk and allow us to bend the trunk to create a little movement toward the left:

Ok, that might have been a little deep. We’ll know in a few months if it was too deep, or just right!
Over the course of several rounds of pulling the apex down with a guy-wire, we were able to close the gap without snapping off the top or blowing out the side. The whole trunk was wrapped in a thick layer of cut putty, and we’ll hope for the best.
Red shows screws, yellow arrows show guy wire, and blue shows new trunk line.
After wiring
Fall work complete. The plan is to allow the first two left branches to extend significantly, and hope the top survives.

Fast-forward to mid-April, 2022 and the tree is growing. Not assured success just yet, but not a failure yet either. I decided to not repot and add stress. Next year, I can repot into the correct planting position.

Recently, Jeffrey Robson contacted me to share the Bonsai Society of Portland was posting a photo gallery of trees from Telperion Farms honoring Chris and Lisa Kirk’s contributions to the bonsai community. A photo of this tree will be included in this virtual show on May 14-15. The link for the show is here:

Fast forward another 5 months, and here is the tree in September 2022. No candle-cutting was done this summer, all wires are still on the tree. Later this fall, I’ll needle-pull to thin it out, remove tight wires and add new where they’re needed.

Some late spring cleaning

A little late is better than never. Ideally, needle pulling is a late fall to winter activity. On JBP that grow slower (corkers), or are weak (recently repotted, underpotted, constantly candle-cut for ramification and small needles), it is ok to wait longer to pull needles.

The reason why is that green needles contribute to photosynthesis and therefore, the longer they remain on the tree, the stronger that tree can get.

So here are a few examples of early May needle-pulling.

First up is this corkbark JBP, ‘Taihei’, which is a slow-growing tree that I do not decandle. I repotted it last year, and wired it, so I waited until now to pull needles. I will prune, wire and pull more needles this fall.

Top done
Primary branch before
Primary branch after

Next is also a corkbark JBP, ‘Hachi Gen’ on its own roots. It is under potted, and needed to be repotted last year, but i didn’t get to it until this year. I also don’t decandle this one,

The carnage! Probably half of the needles removed, leaving just about 5 pairs on each shoot.

After. Much more even, definitely needs to be detail wired in the fall.

Finally, this JBP has been kept in “show-shape” for four years now, and finally was shown in the USNBE last fall. I repotted it this spring, and just pulled a few old needles to tidy up the undersides of the pads. Our annual Alabama Bonsai Society show resumes next weekend and I thought the tree still looked good enough to show.

Moss added
Ready to go!

Quick update on Corkbark Japanese Black Pine, ‘Taihei’

Since we negotiated terms, this pine has grown better. I don’t decandle it in the summer, I don’t wire every branch, and I don’t repot it often. For it, the tree stays healthy and looks generally decent.

However, I do trim strong shoots, remove dead needles, and pull downward-hanging needles in the fall. Here are a few shots of the minimal work done, per our terms and conditions.

Before any work done on the tree in a year
Old dead needles pulled from the interior
A few downward-facing needles removed, along with a few strong shoots which were trimmed back to a more proximal bud.

And after the grueling 30 minutes of work:

Done for now.

In the spring, I may do a little more wiring in the upper right side of the tree…and I may not.

Obligatory snow shot, 1/3/22

This tree originally came from Dave DeWire, out in the Seattle area. Dave was a collector of corkbark JBP cultivars and freely shared his knowledge with me when I was obsessed with the different cultivars. Dave died in March 2021, and will be missed in the corkbark JBP corner of the bonsai world. RIP.

Photo credit: