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My twenty-year-novice status is no more evident than in the Japanese black pine I am about to share with you. I grew this from seed about 15 years ago, and since I am just now figuring out what I am doing, this is far less of a tree than it might have been in more capable hands. 

I have never been brave enough or informed enough to do what should be done with black pine. Do you see how insanely long the needles are in this picture from earlier this year? They can and should be far shorter!

This is the first time I have ever done proper shoot removal. In the past, I have only pinched new candles to limit how long they extended, but the needles on those candles would grow to full size. What I should be doing is removing the entire shoot of new growth in the summer forcing the tree to push out a second, smaller round of growth. I have on good authority that the best time to do this in my area (Virginia, USA) is the first week of July. There are a number of variations on this process, but this being the first time for me and this tree, I removed them completely, and all at once. The photo above was just before removal, and below, after. This photo, then, shows last year’s (very long) needles this year’s shoots lined up across the bench in front. 

This is all well and good, and the tree did its part and pushed new buds, but I think I missed a step sometime between July and now (October) when I was supposed to make sure there were only two new buds on each growth tip. There were a few places where as many as four new shoots grew like in the image below. 

This new growth is still quite strong, as you can see, even when four shoots were growing from the same point.

I honestly don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but today  I decided to reduce these to two where needed.  I also plucked last year’s needles so the only growth that remains is the growth that has occurred since July. I did make an exception on a few weaker spots where I left old needles to strengthen the growth at that point in the spring. Here’s what she looked like before and after the work. 

It doesn’t look like much, but I don’t consider this tree to even be styled yet. I’m just really happy to be practicing this process so I can begin to understand how to refine a black pine!