The world of evergreens if full of unique plants, and many are special forms of large specimen trees. Some are very small, and very slow-growing, but others are vigorous, and soon become valuable and attractive specimens in your garden, attracting attention and admiration from fellow gardeners. One of these is the Kotobuki Japanese Black Pine. This upright tree is a dwarf form of the famous Japanese black pine that features in so many classic Japanese gardens, as well as being widely grown in coastal areas of America, where its ability to thrive in sandy places, exposed to the sea, is unequalled. The Kotobuki Japanese Black Pine is a handsome specimen, growing up to 6 inches a year, and so quickly reaching a substantial size. In 10 years it will typically be 4 or even 5 feet tall, and about 2 feet wide, with its tight, upright branches forming a beautiful narrow, but irregular column.
This tree is an ideal choice for a smaller Asian-themed garden, where there is not enough room for the classic black pine that is so essential for an authentic character to your garden. It has the same irregular form, but on a much smaller and upright tree. It is also popular with collectors of evergreens, who value its rarity and unique form. Use it for a vertical accent of distinctive character in any garden or grow it as a unique specimen in a container. It also makes a very special bonsai tree too.
Kotobuki in Japanese means ‘congratulations’ or ‘long life’, and while you congratulate yourself on a wise plant choice, you can look forward to the long life of this lovely tree in your garden. This tree has shorter needles than its parent, which contribute to its attractive dense growth. The needles are a rich dark green, and in spring the new buds are silver-white as they expand, creating a gorgeous contrast. When young the tree is quite upright and narrow, but as it matures it takes on a more irregular form, with tight branch clusters developing up its height. Each year it adds about 6 inches to that height, so that in 10 years it will be about 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and in 30 years about 15 feet tall, but still only about 4 feet wide. Branches remain on the tree almost to the ground, and older trees show sections of attractive trunk.
The Kotobuki Japanese Black Pine has bright-green needles about 3 inches long, which radiate upwards on the branches. If you look closely you can see that the needles are attached to the stems in bundles of two. These needles live for 3 to 5 years, before turning light brown and falling from the tree in late spring. Yellow needles at that time, as they fall, is normal, and not a cause for concern. In time the dark gray bark becomes deeply grooved and furrowed, giving the tree a very rugged look, while young branches have orange to yellow bark. In time your tree may produce small dark-brown cones, about 2 inches long, in clusters.
The Kotobuki Japanese Black Pine grows best in full sun, although it will tolerate some light shade too. It has remarkable tolerance of adverse conditions. It grows well in both clay soil and gritty or gravel-filled soil, and even in almost pure sand. The only conditions it does not like is wet, poorly-drained soil. The most rapid growth is seen in richer, moist soils that are well-drained, but this is a very tough tree for tough spots. It is also heat tolerant, thriving in hotter zones, but hardy all the way into zone 6. It is drought-resistant once established, and it is even usually left alone by deer. Be careful to plant no deeper than in the container, and keep mulch and fallen needles away from the base of the tree and the trunk, to keep the root system healthy.
When young you will probably want rapid growth, but as the tree matures it is best to ‘candle’ it each spring. This involves snapping the new shoots in half with your fingers, while the needles are still small. Several buds will form on this shortened stem, and more shoots will come the following year. This creates a denser, more attractive plant, and accentuates the dense character and irregular, upright form of this tree.
Black Pine, Pinus thunbergii, is a native tree of Japan, growing in coastal area of Kyūshū, Shikoku and Honshū provinces. It also grows in South Korea. In Japan it is widely grown in gardens, often trained as niwaki. This means a garden tree that has been trained and sculpted like a giant bonsai. In smaller gardens there is no room for a large tree, so selected smaller forms are often grown. The variety called ‘Kotobuki’ is very old, probably first found in Japan hundreds of years ago.
Wansdyke Nursery in the UK was the first business to imported it in1976, and from there it spread to America, but it is always a rare and very desirable tree. Our trees are produced from the original stock of this ancient variety, by attaching stem pieces to seedling roots. They are of course far superior to any cheaper seedlings of this tree, which will not have its utterly unique character. We know that this rare and special tree is highly sought-after, so order now, because our stock will quickly be depleted.