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The Art of Pine Pruning at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix


Our garden curator showing guests how to prune pines during a workshop at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix.
Our garden curator showing guests how to prune pines during a workshop.

In the heart of Phoenix, the Japanese Friendship Garden stands as a testament to the enduring practice and artistry of Japanese pine pruning. Rooted in centuries of tradition, this practice usually requires over a decade of dedicated learning, with skills and techniques passed down through generations from master to apprentice. Let's explore the fascinating techniques around pine pruning, uncovering the intricate blend of aesthetics, horticulture, and enduring advantages that this age-old practice brings to the trees in our garden.

A specimen pine showcasing the 's' shaped trunk of the moyogi pruning style.
You can see the elegantly 's' shaped trunk of the pine in the image, along with the well developed pads of the tree.

Aesthetics:

One prevalent style of Japanese pine pruning is known as moyogi (or kyokkan-zukuri), characterized by an elegantly 's' shaped trunk, cascading branches, and an open, upright form. Reflecting the wabi aesthetic, this style combines natural beauty, aged charm, and artistic grace. Our garden curator, taught by his teacher and their teacher before, was told that proper pruning should reveal a bird sitting on the opposite side of the tree, showcasing the elegant curve of the trunk and the lateral movement of the branches. Achieving this effect involves "opening up" the front of the tree by thinning it out and removing front branches.

The elegant lateral branch structure produced by pruning. The underside of pine of the pines in the Garden.
The elegant lateral branch structure produced by pruning.

Horticultural Considerations:

Beyond aesthetics, pruning serves the horticultural well-being and long-term enhancement of the tree. By controlling the tree's size, our pruned pines, originally capable of reaching 40-50 feet, maintain a more manageable height of 10-12 feet. This careful management ensures the flourishing health and sustainability of these trees.

Unpruned pines and pruned pines next to each other. the cleaner, elegant shape of the pruned pine is clear next to the fluffier, unpruned pines.
The difference in appearance is clear between unpruned and pruned pines.

Techniques:

The primary pine variety in Japanese gardens is the Japanese black pine, but our garden thrives with the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), uniquely adapted to the desert climate. Pruning efforts peak in the fall and early winter, with additional candling performed to control tree size and encourage interior bud development. Starting at the top and center, our skilled niwashi carefully prune, dropping branches and needles to maintain a clean tree as they work.

Removing tachieda and ueeda.
Removing tachieda and ueeda.

Basic rules govern the pruning process, including the removal of vertical growth (tachieda) and downward-facing branches (ueeda). Thicker branches are removed in favor of thinner ones, contributing to the tree's long-term sustainability. Hand removal of three-year-old needles ensures both aesthetic appeal and the health of the tree. Additionally, it can help train new niwashi, as they learn to know what to look for when pruning.

Our Garden curator deciding where to create tochikiri along the branch.
Our Garden curator deciding where to create tochikiri along the branch.

Tochikiri, or shortening a long lateral branch, involves a meticulous process aimed at producing lateral buds and maintaining the tree's profile. This technique, along with other strategies such as removing long straight branches, focuses on showcasing the tree's elegant branch structure while fostering movement and balance.

The atama are clearly seen on the top of each tree.
The defined heads are clearly seen on the top of each tree.

Pines should also have a well-defined head (atama). The head is maintained and enhanced year after year, and if the tree is the desired height, it will be maintained for the life of the tree. The pruning technique goal is to make natural-looking trees for high quality gardens. The head should be rounded and integrated into the overall silhouette of the, balancing its 's' shaped trunk.

Fall pruning at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
Fall pruning at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix.

Conclusion:

Japanese pine pruning at the Phoenix Friendship Garden is a harmonious blend of tradition, aesthetics, and horticulture. As our niwashi carefully sculpt each tree, they contribute to the creation of a serene and timeless landscape. The commitment to preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of these trees ensures that the Japanese Friendship Garden remains a sanctuary of elegance and tranquility for generations to come.

Looking for more? Check out our pruning videos on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@thejapanesefriendshipgarde2279

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