Ponderosa Pine Bonsai

Ponderosa Pine Progressions

The Story of Two Ponderosa Pines

I am going to take you through two different stories of two different Ponderosa Pine bonsai. Both are Yamadori and both were collected by Andy Smith. Where the stories differ is in their treatment. The technique used.

Everyone likes a happy ending to every story so I will start with the saddest of the two.

In 2014 I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Smith for the first time. It was at his house in Deadwood, SD. I picked up a nice Ponderosa Pine bonsai from him to use in a workshop the following spring. This was the first year that I dabbled with pines and the third one I picked up that year. 

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
August 2014

These next two photos are from May 2015 before the workshop and in June 2015 after the workshop. We did a big bend on the upright branch to make it more of a semi-cascade style.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
May 2015
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2015

I was reading everything, Ponderosa Pine. Trying to learn as much as possible. I learned about the infamous “Fall Technique” for Ponderosa Pines. The “Fall Technique” is where you cut the big buds and pull needles in the fall and the result is supposed to be more back budding and shorter needles.

Now I don’t know if I had read something wrong or I just didn’t understand. Most likely I just didn’t understand the technique and my patience was just not there. The following images were the result of my understanding of the “Fall Technique”.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
August 2015
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
August 2015

I know right? Made sense when I read the technique, but now that I have a little more grasp on horticulture I see how wrong this technique is. Don’t do that to your Ponderosa Pines.

You read to do one thing at a time. Let’s see, I styled the tree in the spring and then reduced all of its energy in the fall of 2015. Wait that was two things. I bet 2016 will be a better year because according to my reading of the Fall Technique I am going to have more back buds and shorter needles. This tree will look amazing I am sure of it.

Do one thing a year. Fall of 2015 to the spring of 2016, sounds like a good time to repot this tree. This next image is some time after a repot.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2016

Everything looks good, the needles are short in June, it’s in a new pot and in August of 2016 the bonsai is still alive.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
August 2016

The needles are still short. To be honest the tree really did not grow in 2016. The buds that were there opened and the needles grew that were going to grow, but that is it. The tree never got any back budding and is lucky to be alive.

This tree survived the winter of 2016.

I had another Ponderosa that died in 2017. I followed the same technique and it also shared the same timeline as this one.

This particular Ponderosa Pine was not strong by any means in 2017 either. Still looked nice though. Needles were still small but the budding was just not happening. Here is how the tree looked in June and July of 2017.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2017
July 2017
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai

In the fall of 2017, I pulled the extending trunk line in closer and here is the tree in April of 2018.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
April 2018

The tree is growing fine this year and think it has finally turned the corner and has built up its strength to finally grow. I feel that I set this tree back 3-5 years by using the “Fall Technique” and my lack of patience.
If you look at the next Ponderosa you will see what doing the right thing can do versus doing the wrong thing.

Story 2

In 2016 I was browsing Andy Smith’s website Golden Arrow. I found a tree that I saw a lot of potential in and I was lucky enough to be able to acquire it. I received the tree in April of 2017.

These two images are of how the tree looked on his website in September 2016 and how it looked at my house in May 2017.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
April 2017

I had heard about how Ryan Neil handles his Ponderosa Pines from one of his students earlier in 2017 and was looking forward to changing how I handled Ponderosa. I was planning on taking this tree to a workshop with Bjorn Bjorholm in June 2017. I had a few ideas of my own, but others were suggesting something else. Either way, I am not very good at picturing a tree in the future and when Bjorn had suggested what others were suggesting, I went with it. Glad I did too. He also reiterated fertilizing heavily to gain more strength and to produce more budding.

These next images are of the tree at the workshop and at my house soon after and freshly watered.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2017
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2017

I fertilized heavily and let the tree grow the rest of 2017. The needles grew long increasing the trees ability to gain strength.

The progression of this tree through 2017 was in direct contrast to the first Ponderosa.

The next two images are of the tree in July and September of 2017.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
July 2017
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
September 2017

The needle length was long and I could already see that the following spring was going to be a show of that strength. Little did I know though.

These next two images are of the tree in April and May of this year (2018).

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
April 2018
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
May 2018

Here is the tree in June 2018 and July 2018.

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
June 2018
Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
July 2018

Here is a small gallery of images taken in May of 2018. These show just how explosive the growth was. I was not expecting this amount of growth based on my previous experience with Ponderosa Pines. I am very excited to see how this tree progresses this year and next. This tree is already leaps and bounds ahead of my other Ponderosa Pines.

As this tree continues to add new growth the needles will get smaller. This tree is already a well-ramified bonsai from the fertilizing last year. I will continue to fertilize from early spring to late fall this year and most likely next year. I plan on taking a look at a repot in 2020 or a restyling in 2019. If I think its to early I will hold off and continue with the plan.

Here is the tree as it sits now (August 2018).

Ponderosa Pine Bonsai
August 2018

This is an image I took on August 22nd, 2018 showing last year needles Vs. this year needles. The shorter needles are this year needles.

Pine needle length reduction 2017-2018
Pine needle length reduction 2017-2018

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