The Japanese red pines at Shofuso are typically pruned in the fall. Even though there are only three red pines at the site, this can be a time consuming task. The red pine in the tea garden can be especially difficult because access to the foliage is not straight forward. The highest branches can only be reached from inside the tree. So, a straight ladder is used to get up the trunk and into the canopy. The middle branches are reached from the outside using tripod ladders of varying heights. You have to consider that there are two streams, two bridges, and no flat ground except for one of the stream beds. Someone told me that you can tell the experience of a pruner by the way he/she sets up their ladder. That makes so much sense to me while setting up to work on this tree. It sounds simple, “Just setup a ladder.” The ladder most importantly needs to be level and safe, you should be able to reach an efficient amount of foliage, you don’t want to break or injure critical branches, and you can’t have branches hindering your movements or whacking you in the face while you’re up there. Ok, time to get started.
Working from top to bottom the branches are thinned, last year’s needles are removed along with any pine cones, and the bark is polished. When I say that the bark is polished, I mean that it is rubbed with gloved hands and in some cases a coarse bristle brush. I went a little extreme and used a chisel for the very thick bark at the base of the trunk. I know that sounds harsh, but I liken it to brushing your teeth. You don’t (or shouldn’t) scrub your teeth as hard as you can. Instead, you simply guide the brush with light pressure, letting it do the work. I use that same principle when using the chisel on the thick, coarse bark layers. It’s been years since this tree has been fully polished and I wanted to be thorough. The bark polishing is done for a couple of reasons. First, it reveals the beautiful red color which is a trademark characteristic of this tree. Second, it helps to prevent damage from pests by taking away their winter retreat. Insects will crawl under the layers of exfoliating bark to lay their eggs that hatch in the spring. To be honest, this isn’t what causes the most problems as far as aesthetics go. Woodpeckers will then pierce holes in the bark to get at the hatched larvae, leaving the tree riddled with bb holes. The picture of this shown below is a fairly mild case of what has happened in the garden in the past. As the bark exfoliates over the years, some of these scars will disappear.
Most of the pictures that I’m sharing are of the bark transformation. There is very little structural pruning to do on tea garden pine each year. So, the drama of the foliage change is minimal compared to the bark. On the other hand, the small red pine on the berm got her first structural pruning this year. It will be fun to show her progress as she matures into a beautiful specimen. The red bark should be able give her away as you look for her throughout our winter season. The house will be open Saturday and Sunday during the first weekend of December. Come out and join us on those days to enjoy the beautiful evergreens of the garden from the veranda.