Japanese Black Pine
Considered by many to represent the ultimate bonsai tree a Japanese black pine bonsai takes many years to achieve the mature looks that bonsai trainers strive for. It’s difficult to imagine a bonsai collection without one. Although Pines are not really a good choice for the beginner to tackle as they’re growth habits should be understood first.
A Japanese black pine is a two-needle, relatively slow growing evergreen that is naturally hardy in zones 5-8. Unless you’re in a very hot climate you can site you Japanese black pine in full sun all day long although placing it under a shade cloth can darken the needle color. This is only a consideration in the hot climates (over 100 degrees in the peak of summer) Provide a well drained soil and as much as possible keep the tree evenly moist but not wet. As a pine bonsai it has a degree of heat and drought tolerance and like all pines (and most trees) is apically dominant. That means that most of the trees growth is directed to upper branches, allowing the lower branches to weaken and that’s not reflective of the appearance of the ideal bonsai tree.
Pines thrive in a slightly acidic environment and if you can water with a ph level of 5.5- 6.5 that is ideal. When you do water, do it thoroughly- best accomplished by doing it a few times so you know the soil is saturated. Pruning can be done in the late fall although more drastic cuts – which are best avoided whenever possible can be done in the spring to allow the tree to heal faster.
Mugo Pine Bonsai
The qualities that endear this tree to the regular gardener and the same that contribute to its popularity as a Pine Bonsai. It’s a slow grower, with a naturally spreading and bushy habit, short needles and very hardy. In a natural state it’s hardy from zones 2 to 8a and it’s actually native to the mountains of Europe. In fact, it’s also known as the Swiss Mountain Pine.
It likes more moisture than a Japanese black pine (in well drained soil) and a little less sun. This is not a tree to repot or root prune without careful consideration as they just don’t like it – at all. It’s recommended that you repot this tree in the summer and not just when it’s coming into active growth.
Scots (or Scotch) Pine Bonsai - Pinus sylvestris
Super hardy (zones 2-8a) and a rapid upright grower. The Scots pine is native to western and northern Europe and has several dwarf cultivars that are excellent Bonsai tree candidates.
Generally speaking, all pine bonsai trees require lots of light, dislike wet soil and don’t much care for pruning, potting, or wiring. Limit your training to a maximum of one “event’ per year to allow this great bonsai plant time to recover. This is strictly an outdoor bonsai that requires some protection in the winter.
These notes are for general information only.
If you are growing or plan to grow any pine bonsai trees, consult a more detailed source for growing and training information - They're worth it!