How to Grow Pine Bonsai

Learn how to apply the art of Bonsai to pine tree species

Bonsai pine tree (Pinus) in an orange pot against a white background.


© Philippe LEJEANVRE / Getty Images

 

Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art form of growing ornamental miniature or artificially dwarfed trees in containers using cultivation techniques to mimic the shape and scale of full-sized trees.

Pine trees are among the most common types of trees used for bonsai worldwide, although they are usually enjoyed by bonsai enthusiasts as they are not a great beginner option. Since pines grow in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, pine bonsai can be shaped into nearly every known bonsai style successfully. Several different species of pine can be successfully used for bonsai cultivation.

Botanical Name Pinus Bonsai
Common Name Bonsai pine
Plant Type Evergreen, coniferous tree
Mature Size 60-80 inches (or desired)
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Well-draining, bonsai soil
Soil pH 5.5 - 6.5
Bloom Time Does not flower
Flower Color Does not flower
Native Area North America, China, South-East Asia, Russia, Europe
A pine bonsai tree planted in a grey pot sitting on a picnic table in front of a white wall.
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Pine Bonsai Care

Pine bonsais are often considered to be a more advanced type of bonsai that are not ideal for beginners. They are one of the most difficult types of bonsai to understand, style, and prune since factors such as individual climate can greatly affect the requirements of the tree. 

An important part of growing and shaping a healthy pine bonsai tree is proper wiring. Wiring is the practice of wrapping a wire around the branches of the bonsai tree in order to bend and reposition the branches to achieve the desired shape.

Wiring also promotes energy distribution throughout the tree. Avoid doing too much wiring at one time with pine bonsais so as to not damage the tree. Wiring is best done in the winter months from early autumn to early spring.

Light

For best growth, pine bonsai trees require full sun for several hours each day. The more light the tree receives, the shorter and more compact the needles will be. Leggy, elongated needles on a pine bonsai are indicative of the tree needing more sunlight.

Soil

As with most bonsai species, pine bonsai require well-draining potting mediums. Commercially available bonsai soils/mixes are usually best. These contain a mixture of akadama (clay granulate mined in Japan), pumice, organic potting compost, and fine gravel/grit. Pine bonsais appreciate a soil pH between 5.5-6.5.

Water

Pine bonsai trees prefer to be kept consistently moist, but they cannot tolerate being waterlogged. As a general rule of thumb, water whenever the top inch or two of soil is dry.

Temperature and Humidity

Pine bonsai are not suitable for growing indoors and should be grown outside year-round. Pines are hardy, frost-tolerant trees, although, when planted in containers, they should be placed in a sheltered location so they are protected from the worst of the winter weather. 

As with most bonsai, pine bonsai appreciate moisture and can benefit from regular misting if your climate is not naturally humid.

Fertilizer

Healthy pine bonsai trees require regular fertilization to achieve the best growth and appearance. Fertilize a pine bonsai from early spring to late autumn with an organic bonsai fertilizer for best results. Avoid fertilizers that are nitrogen-rich.

Varieties of Pine for Bonsai

The Pinus genus is extensive with over 100 different species. The following are some of the most popular for bonsai cultivation:

Pruning

Proper pruning is essential to the aesthetic and health of a bonsai tree. It is necessary to begin shaping pine bonsai from an early age to establish a strong branch structure.

In general, pine tree species are apically dominant in terms of their growth habit - meaning that they grow vigorously at the top and outer reaches of the tree. A poorly pruned pine bonsai will become top-heavy at the expense of the lower branches, and it will also establish fuller growth around the outer edges of the branches - which is unsuitable for the aesthetic of bonsai. 

In the spring and summer, elongated candles should be shortened and excess old needles should be plucked from any areas with dense growth. Reserve any heavy pruning of the main branches for the fall months to avoid excess sap loss in the spring and summer. 

Potting and Repotting

Regular repotting is not a requirement for pine bonsai. Depending on the age of the tree, pine bonsai usually only require repotting every 2-5 years. This will be to refresh the soil and root prune to prevent the tree from becoming root-bound. Repotting pine bonsai is best done in the early spring, just after the buds begin to swell.

When choosing a new pot for your bonsai tree, there are several things to take into consideration. According to the rules of bonsai, a pot's height and width should not be more than ⅔ that of the tree, both for function (root restriction) and for aesthetic and design. Color is another important factor in choosing a bonsai pot, and the general rule is that the color of the pot should appear somewhere in the tree. The overall goal is to create harmony between the tree and its pot.

Whether you decide to follow the traditional rules of bonsai or not, bonsai trees can technically be grown in many different containers. Keep in mind that the pot should offer adequate drainage, and the size and depth of the pot relative to the tree are important in controlling its size.

Common Pests/Diseases

Unfortunately, pine bonsai species are susceptible to a number of common pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for aphids, spider mites, scale, and caterpillars, along with common diseases such as root rot (usually due to overwatering or lack of proper drainage), as well as fungal diseases.