Spring brings great opportunity to influence future growth on Japanese Black Pines. For information on Fall care, see Fall Care of Japanese Black Pine
Candles on a pine are the long, tender shoots that appear in spring. An entire branch, sub branches, and needles are condensed into thin fingers or candle-shaped growth. They are usually in clusters with one dominant or larger candle surrounded by smaller candles. The dominant candle becomes a long, straight branch and the smaller candles become its side branches.
Primary Candles: By removing or reducing the primary, or dominant candle, you can shorten the mature branch and cause the tree to produce many smaller branches at more desirable angles. These can later be selected to guide growth and provide attractive angles in the branching. In this way, the inter-nodal length between branching becomes closer toward the ends of the branches, giving the tree an older, mature appearance.
Timing: Candles should be removed while they are still tender enough to be snapped with the fingers and before needles begin to form. Whether this is early or late in the season is dependent on the growing conditions. This includes climate, exposure, and the vigor of the particular specimen. The later the primary candles are removed, the shorter the secondary branches will be, but this does affect the vigor of the tree as well.
Snap out the central candle and leave the smaller secondary candle and buds. It may be desirable to remove more than one bud in some cases. This may not be desireable in areas where longer growth is desired. Try to think several years into the future when making these choices.
Secondary Candle: As the secondary candles develop, it may be desirable to reduce some or all of those as well. The remaining length of each candle depends on the particular growing conditions and vigor of the tree. And again, the later these candles are removed, the shorter and more compact the growth will be.
Final Cut: As the tree approaches its desired final shape, the central candle should be removed completely. All secondary candles should be pinched back as well. This produces even shorter internodes, tighter growth, and a tree with the rounded apex of a mature pine.
In the Balance: The results of the spring “candling” should be evident the following fall. Fall Care of Japanese Black Pine covers removing old needles and balancing growth in the tree.
Don Pylant, 2005