Peter Tea’s November Write-Up

Peter Tea Bonsai

November 2014

Japanese Black/Red Pines
Now that November is here, many of us can work on our Japanese Black or Red Pines. The reason why we held off till November is because the needles have now just started to harden off. This is especially the case if the tree was, “De-candled,” in the Summer.
For those that didn’t de-candle their Black/Red Pines, you may have noticed that the needles hardened off during September or October.

From November to the end of February, we can cut, wire and remove needles on Japanese Black/Red Pines.


Cutting is the most important and best way to balance any tree. It’s especially important on Japanese Black/Red Pines. By cutting back, eliminating branches or untouching areas can cause a shift in strength from limb to limb.

The key to developing bonsai is to balance the tree from top to bottom. Through observation, we all know that the tree doesn’t grow evenly by itself. The tree is always trying to get bigger and strong areas get stronger whereas weaker areas tend to die off.
This is a natural process in the tree as it’s searching for more sunlight. As the tree gets larger and older, this process slows down and the tree naturally balances itself out. Since we are trying to keep our trees small but still have that old mature feel, we have to take steps in directing how the tree grows.


As we cut the tree, we have to have a good understanding of how the tree grows and how it will respond to losses in branches. Depending on the loss, the tree may become very weak or cause other areas to grow more vigorously. Be aware of what you want
the tree to do at this point in time and cut accordingly.

Not everything needs to be cut off at once. The tree may need to be cut back in stages to prevent an unwanted sudden reaction in the tree.


Normally I use copper wire when styling Japanese Black/Red Pines. Since annealed copper hardens as you bend it, it gives us that extra holding power to move branches to the position we want them to be. Also, as the tree continues to grow the following year, the stiff wire will help hold the branches in place. If the wire is not strong enough or anodized aluminum is used, the following years growth can potentially over power the wire and move.

I know that wiring with copper is not the easiest or most exciting task for many of us. Just remember that it is something we need to do well so that we can create the tree that we want. Keep at it and the wiring will become easier and easier. If we don’t have control of our wiring, the wire will control how the tree looks, not us.

Pulling Needles:

Pulling Needles on Pines is something we hear about all the time. But what does it mean and why do we do it?

First off, we need to figure out if we even need to pull any needles. The concept of pulling needles is based on trees that are in somewhat of a developed stage. If we’re growing the tree or thickening branches, we don’t need to pull any needles. The
needles are producing food for the tree so why remove it and slow the tree down?

Say for example that the tree is further along in development and we’re trying to grow more branches. Remember that each needle pair has one bud. If we pull the needles off, we will loose those needles buds and can only rely on adventitious buds. Why limit
our budding ability?

At some point, when the tree is more defined, pulling needles will be a necessity. At this point, we have many branches on the tree and the tree is growing more evenly. During the month of November, we can go through the tree and remove the previous years needles. In certain cases, we will also go ahead and remove some of the new needles that were produced this year as well. We use this technique to allow more light into the tree and create small shifts in the balance of the tree. Removing needles generally means we’re weakening the area. If you’re tree is at this stage of development, then pulling needles should be done to the tree at this time.

Deciduous Trees

November is the last time that we should work on our deciduous trees. During this month, the leaves will start to turn color and fall. When your tree is about 50 percent turned, you can go through the tree and cut off the remaining leaves. Since the temps are low, the tree will continue to move into dormancy and will not produce any new leaves till the following Spring. After removing the leaves, we can do some light cut back or branch removal to direct how the tree will grow the following Spring. I do not recommend heavy branch removal at this time of year.

It is important that we cut the tree as it’s transitioning into dormancy as opposed to cutting them during dormancy. When the tree is dormant, cuts will cause the tree to bleed out sap which will then cause the tree to weaken. Other than periodic watering,
we don’t do very much with deciduous trees during the Winter. When cutting, if you find that the tree is already bleeding out sap, stop cutting and hold off till early Spring of next year.
Deciduous Trees That Don’t Go Deciduous:

Depending on your area, some of your deciduous trees don’t really go dormant. This does happen because for the most part, our Winters are not very cold. Many of use will see this happening on our Chinese Elms. So what should we do? If you want, you can go through the tree and remove the leaves though this is very time consuming. Normally I leave the leaves in place and by next year when the new leaves come out, the leaves that stayed on during the Winter will start to turn and fall off. At that time, we can go through the tree and carefully clean out the old leaves.

Trees To Work On

During this month we can work on just about every tree except for tropicals.


November is a little late for grafting so hold off till February of next year.

Check out the Website: PeterTeaBonsai.Com

If you’re interested in more information about Deciduous trees or Japanese Black Pines, please visit my website and click on the Post Index Tab. There you will find lots of information. See you all at the workshop!

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