Bonsai Progression - Japanese Black Pine From Seed
In the English speaking bonsai world, one magazine sits a alone as the creme-de la-creme of all bonsai magazines. "Bonsai Today". And of all the 101 issues and 1000s of bonsai articles published from 1989-2001, one article stands a top. The infamous Bonsai #20, from 1992, page 39, titled simply "Japanese Black Pine From Seed".
In 1992, while Kris Kross was dressing backwards and Miley Cyrus' dad had an "Achy Breaky Heart", I was freshman in high school, awkwardly finding myself while having absolutely no clue about bonsai or growing anything from seed. But that year, Kusido Matsuo, a grower from Japan, put forth the most mind blowing English speaking bonsai article in the history of modern American bonsai.
Obviously, bonsai growers have been growing trees of all kinds for centuries, Japanese black pine chief among them. They are, after all, the king of the bonsai species. Often placed atop shohin displays for their strength, the Japanese black pine (or jpb for short) are akin to a lion; majestic and powerful. So what made Mr. Matsuo's 1992 article so revolutionary? It wasn't that he grew them from seed, that had been done before. It was the speed at which he achieved his results. In 6 or 7 years, he produced shohin black pines with big trunks and small needles. Essentially producing finished trees in 1/3 of the time. And starting on page 39, of Bonsai Today issue #20, he gave away all his secrets. If you haven't read it, you should, because it's glorious.
Whether it's the 4 min mile or the sound barrier, anytime there’s a paradigm shift, plenty of naysayers arrive to shout down the record breakers. Mr. Matsuo’s "black pine from seed" secrets were no different. To this day, his teachings are not to be believed. So much so, that in 2018, a question was posed at the BonsaNut forum. “Can anyone today achieve what Mr. Matsumoto said he could in 1992?” And there it was born, the "2018 Six Year Japanese Black Pine Contest". The contest was quickly the most popular ever started in the 20 year history of the site, and so began my journey to growing black pine from seed.
2018 - Winter
I began by purchasing seeds from an American dealer. Soaked in hydrogen peroxide to ”clean” the seeds. And cold stratified them for about 90 days before planting.
I wanted to see how the seeds would germinate in perlite vs pumice, hence the different substrate.
One of the most interesting concepts shared in the "Bonsai Today" article was stem cutting. Basically, after the seeds had sprouted, Mr. Matsuo cut the stems and replanted them in sand. The idea being that you kept the internode between the roots and the first stem very small. This would allow you to grow really small and powerful trees. I tried it myself.
Spring 2018 - Stem Cutting
Here are a few of the stronger trees after the first growing season. You can see some small buds being formed atop the candles. A good sign for future development.
As you can see, the trees are continuing to grow into 2019. These are now 2 year seedlings. I would wire them shortly after.
During the lockdown of Covid, I decided to take the trees and place them in baskets. The baskets are used to "air prune" the roots. Hopefully this will allow for strong growth and a strong root system.
Two of the strongest pines, having now completed there 3rd growing season. These have good movement are growing strong.
Summer - 2021
I recently counted over 30 black pine seedlings. I knew I could never take care of all those trees. I wanted to reduce my collection, so I gave away all but a few to the Nashville Bonsai Club. Four of the best remain.
This has been a great contest. Members of the BonsaiNut site continue to share updates and my trees are way behind most. But it remains a hugely successful contest. So much so, that I asked the Head Nut (& owner of BonsaiNut) Greg Peterson, a bonsai enthusiast with over 25 years of experience, why he felt the contest was so popular.
"I think the JBP from seed contest is the most popular for a few reasons. First - it is the first contest where we actually created a separate forum to track progress. Second - it is a subject that covers a lot of technical challenges; from propagation, seedling cutting, root development, ramification and caliper development - all with a classic tree species that is not forgiving of mistakes. Third - there is a great case example from the Bonsai Today article that shows one of the top Japanese growers and the success he was able to achieve growing a JBP from seed in 6 years. The challenge - can anyone on the site do as well? The reason why that article resonated with so many is because it introduced many new concepts (seedling cutting, the use of colanders, aggressive feeding, aggressive sacrifice growth) that yielded results much more quickly than traditional methods. It had previously been thought that to grow Japanese black pine bonsai from seed was a fool's errand requiring decades of commitment; the article demonstrated you could cut that timeline in half."
I couldn't have said it better myself! Go check out BonsaiNut today!
So, what do you think of my progress so far? Have you grown black pines from seed? Leave me a comment below and don't forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for all sorts of bonsai related updates! Until next time, Peace Love Bonsai.