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6 Steps to Bonsai a Pine Tree (Complete Guide)

Pine trees make beautiful bonsais and are a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts worldwide. 

However, keep in mind that this species requires specific pruning, wiring, and care.

To bonsai a pine tree, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of the type of pine you have. 

You also need to know how to wire your pine tree and prune its branches and needles in a way that keeps your pine healthy and thriving.

Overall, to bonsai a pine tree, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Pick an appropriate pre-bonsai or nursery stock pine
  2. Gather the right tools
  3. Prune your pine tree
  4. Wire your pine tree
  5. Pot your pine tree
  6. Maintain and care for your pine bonsai

To learn everything about how to bonsai a pine tree, follow the guide in this article to ensure success in your bonsai endeavors.

6 Steps to Bonsai a Pine Tree

While pine trees are a popular option for bonsai enthusiasts, they’re not the easiest bonsai to care for and grow. 

One of the biggest reasons pines are challenging to raise is that they are sensitive to climate. 

So, if you’re a beginner, you may have more success with a tree that requires less finesse.

However, people find that pines are easy to shape, making them a popular choice amongst some growers. 

If you want to try your hand at creating a pine bonsai, follow the six steps below. 

Step One: Pick a Pine to Bonsai

When choosing a pre-bonsai or nursery stock pine tree, you first need to understand what pine species you want.

Popular pine varieties for bonsai include Japanese black pine, mountain pine, Scots pine, and Japanese white pine.

Then, once you’ve decided which species you prefer, it’s time to find a tree that is a good candidate for bonsai. 

To do this, follow these rules:

  • Find a tree with a thick but flexible trunk that you can easily shape with wire
  • Pick a tree with a visually pleasing “front,” which you will further shape with the pruning and wiring process
  • If possible, remove the pine tree from its temporary plastic pot and examine the roots to make sure they look healthy

You should also think about the tree’s age. 

A pine ready for bonsai will be between five and eight years old. 

Pines of this age will typically cost about $50. 

Step Two: Gather Your Tools

To create a pine bonsai and maintain it, you’ll need a good pair of concave cutters, a wire cutter, thick wire, and a pot with at least one drainage hole to put your plant inside.   

And remember that your pot should be about two-thirds the size of the height of your bonsai tree.

For soil, choose one mixed specifically for pine bonsais and includes a pH-neutral combination of fine gravel, compost, pumice, akadama, and lava rock.

Step Three: Prune Your Pine Tree

Pruning is perhaps the single most important skill you’ll learn when it comes to the art of bonsai. 

Pruning is what keeps your pine bonsai miniature while still looking like a full-sized pine tree in shape and scale.

Generally, you should plan to prune your pine tree in spring, when the plant is out of dormancy and ready to heal from any pruning you may do.

Overall, you should prune branches that are: 

  • Thick and near the top of the tree 
  • Have unusual twists and turns that could ruin your aesthetic 
  • The same length (it’s best to keep just one of each length)

You can also prune any branches you feel help make your pine bonsai look better.

And, while pruning, keep in mind that you’ll mostly want to prune limbs that are about a third of the way up the plant’s trunk to give it a tree-like aesthetic.

You should also remove dead needles and branches.

Step Four: Wire the Branches of Your Pine Bonsai

Wiring your pine bonsai tree means giving its trunks and branches a shape that will eventually become permanent as your bonsai grows and matures.

And to do this, you can either choose a pre-set bonsai shape to follow or create your own design, whichever you prefer. 

To begin, you need to take your wire and stick it into the soil and roots near the trunk to anchor it as well as you can. 

Then, begin wrapping the wire at a 45-degree angle around the trunk, starting at the bottom until you reach the top.

Repeat this process on each of the branches you’d like to reshape, wrapping once around the trunk to keep the wire stable, then starting at the limb’s innermost point and working your way out to the end of the branch.  

You should also carefully free any pine needles that get stuck underneath the wire.

Additionally, if there are any places along the pine trunk where you feel there are too many branches, prune those away.

Also, don’t be afraid to remove any growth that is hanging from the branches or dangling below a 90-degree angle.

Furthermore, you should now decide how tall you want your pine bonsai to be.

Then, prune away any branches above that height to create a new apex.

Lastly, bend the trunk and branches carefully until they take on the shape you want. 

However, never force the trunk or branches, or you may break them. 

Step Five: Re-pot Your Pine Bonsai

A few days after pruning and wiring, you will need to re-pot your tree. 

You need to choose a pot with at least one drainage hole at the bottom, although two are preferred.

With two drainage holes, you can thread a wire through to anchor the tree, but you don’t necessarily need to secure a pine in this way. 

Thus, don’t worry too much about anchoring. 

But, you do need to cover the drainage holes with mesh to keep your bonsai roots inside the pot as they grow because if you don’t, your tree could get damaged. 

At this point, you can also prune away some of the pine tree’s root system to make sure the ends of the roots are healthy and ready for potting. 

But beware as too much pruning can lead to an unhealthy bonsai.

Generally, you should only cut about ¼ of an inch (0.5 cm) of each root. 

Next, add some potting soil to your container. 

Then, insert your pine bonsai, with whichever portion of the tree you pruned as the “front” facing forward in your pot. 

And as stated above, some growers use wire to attach and secure the bonsai plant to the container.

If you want to do this, start by threading a wire through the two drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, with the loop end of the wire facing inwards. 

Afterward, attach another wire to the wire that’s threaded to the drainage holes, and push the wire up through the tree’s root system until it reaches the topsoil. 

Use wire cutters to clip away excess wire at the top of the bonsai.

Finally, top the roots with additional soil and fill in any remaining air pockets if necessary.

Step Six: Care for Your Pine Bonsai

Water your tree immediately after re-potting, then place it in a shady spot (or indoors if you’ve chosen a tropical variety) for approximately four weeks. 

Now, you should care for your pine bonsai plant according to its species and climate needs.

Generally, you’ll need to keep a pine’s soil moist but not soggy, as waterlogging them can kill them and create root rot.

Additionally, if it’s not humid where you live, mist your pine tree often.

And keep in mind that most pine trees require full sun. 

The less sun your pine bonsai receives, the longer its needles will grow, which is not as aesthetically pleasing to some growers.

Plus, remember that pine trees prefer climates most similar to where they originate, such as those in China, Europe, North America, Russia, and South-East Asia.  

Furthermore, as your bonsai plant begins to mature, the wires are at risk of digging into the branches and creating permanent scars.

To avoid this, remove the wires after approximately three to four months.

How Big Should My Pine Bonsai Get?

Once you’ve pruned, wired, and potted your pine bonsai, you’ll be in control of how big it gets.

Some owners allow their pine trees to grow upwards of 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, and you can let them grow to this height, too, if you prefer. 

But, just don’t let your bonsai outgrow its container. 

The height of the container should be about two-thirds the height of the tree to keep the tree and its root system miniature.

Yet, if you don’t want your tree to grow so large, you’ll need to continue to prune the roots and keep the tree in a small container. 

Finally, keep in mind that since pine trees are slow-growing, you’ll only need to re-pot them every five years or so.

Final Thoughts

Bonsaiing a pine tree is no different than creating a bonsai tree out of any other species, but its care requirements are more specific and high maintenance.

For this reason, novices should probably not bonsai a pine tree. 

Instead, they ought to choose a tree species more appropriate for beginners.

Yet, despite their stringent care needs, pine bonsais make majestic additions to any garden, given the right climate and attention. 

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