Five Needle Pine (Pinus parviflora)

One of my first challenges this week was working on a Japanese five needle pine (Pinus parviflora).

Japanese Five needle pine or “Goyo Matsu” is one of seven pines native to Japan. It can be grown in all bonsai styles except broom style and has a number of characteristics sought after in bonsai including rough bark, compact growth habit and short straight needles. These pines are sun loving and require full sun exposure ( 6 hrs or more) for best growth. Like most pines, Japanese five needle pines like well draining soil with a ph around 6.5. The addition of mycorrhiza to the soil is beneficial to the trees health. Mycorrhiza is a beneficial fungi that has a symbiotic relationship with a number of plant species but is most common in pines. It’s really an interesting relationship and worthy of an in depth explanation in a future post.

The tree I was given was in need of some restyling due to the loss of the first branch, a major component of any tree.

The first order of business was to “jin” the remaining piece of the dead branch. First the bark is removed and then the wood can be carved.





I used a grinder in the initial phase of this simply to remove the bulk of the excess wood. Then hand carving tools were used to finish the job.








My goal was to create an interesting jin with depth and movement that was subtle enough not to steal attention from the design.  Some of the wood had already started decay, and was soft. This would need to be removed first before I started carving on the solid wood. This decay helped direct the approach I took in creating the jin. Once the carving was finished I used a wire brush to clean the area, and some fine sand paper to soften up any sharp edges to give it a more aged appearance. Smooth edges are an indication of age, as if weather and time have worn down the wood. Sharp edges make the wood seem fresh, as if it had recently broken.






Some artist will use a torch to remove fine wood pieces and achieve this aged look as well. After torching, a wire brush removes any chard wood and helps to smooth out the edges. I like this technique but that approach is not used here.

Once the jin was done the next step was to move the new first branch (on the left)  down and fill the void left by the old one.

At first glance it is easy to see that this branch is far too thick and strong to bend using conventional wiring techniques. The preferred method of bending a branch this size is by attaching a piece of rebar (reinforcing bar) to the branch which will enable us to bend it safely and effectively.


The rebar is placed under the branch and attached with wire in several places. Both the rebar and wire have rubber on them to protect the bark on the tree from damage. The more contact points with the branch and the rebar the better. This will help distribute the stress of the bend over a greater distance.There are four points of contact on this branch.

We are using a piece of wire attached under the pot as an anchor point.  There is also a piece of guide wire attached to the rebar that will run to the anchor point. For this job we will place a turnbuckle in between the guide and anchor wire. This will enable us to have better control as we pull the branch down. There is a second guide wire being used on the newly formed jin to help support to branch as we pull it into place.


The next step is to grab the rebar by the end and slowly start bending it into place. As we pull down on the branch we tighten the turnbuckle and guide wire as we go. It helps to have a second pair of hands during this part. Take your time and allow the branch to “rest” periodically if you need to.  Giving the branch time to rest ( about ½ hr) will allowing the tension in it to release, so you can move it further into place safely. If you try and pull a large branch into its desired place with one movement you are more likely to do damage to the branch and even snap it. Using the turnbuckle will also allow you continue to bend the branch into place over an extended period of time if you need to. Simply give it a few turns every month or so and you can safely move large branches over time.

In this instance we were able to fully close the turnbuckle, keep the second guide wire tight on the jin and get the branch into place in one session. When we started the branch was 17 inches from the surface of the soil. When we finished it was 9 inches from the soil, cutting our distance nearly in half.

We then turned our attention to the second branch and used the same techniques to bend that one. This branch was not nearly as thick so we simply used one guide wire and no turnbuckle. It moved into place nicely and we were able to dramatically lower that branch as well.

(Left) Back view

(Right) Guide wire on rebar to anchor wire attached under the pot



All that was left was to wire some of the secondary branches into place to fill in the voids left by moving the first two primary branches.

This work was just the first step I bringing this tree back into shape, and all we will do at this time. The wire and rebar will stay in place for a least a year. At that time it will be removed and some much needed refinement work can be done. There is no need to stress the tree any further at this time trying to wire every branch. Remember bonsai is an art of patience and causing the tree any more undue stress at this point would only set you back further in its development. In a year  the tree will be fully recovered, the branches set and it will be ready for the next step. I had a blast working on this tree and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

If you would like to follow along with future post click the “follow” tab on the screen. Thanks for reading.

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4 Responses to Five Needle Pine (Pinus parviflora)

  1. Paula Yanick says:


    Thanks for the very concise and extremely description of your work. I know the Japanese are very patient people but it is a constant reminder that when you observe a bonsai, you could be looking at years of work.

    Enjoy your time in Japan!

  2. Vicky says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing… I had no clue you would make such a dramatic alteration like that in such a short duration of time… I was under the impression that bonsai branches were moved slowly over time as opposed to the “set it and forget it” method. Keep writing and maybe I’ll try it myself one day! Cheers! -V

    • Ah yes the old “set it and forget it” method. Wasn’t that a slogan for one of those super fast ovens on QVC? I will certainly mention the Set it and forget it method to Mr. Suzuki next time we are in the workshop together ;), thanks for following along Vickster. How’s Texas treating you?

      • ron bright says:

        Chris…pretty cool stuff…..of some relevance to what I do when doing some reconstructive surgery on the skin…not the rebar, of course…..thx for sharing and stay safe…rmb

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