Midoritsumi and Momiage – Pruning Pines

Pines in Japanese gardens are pruned twice a year.
In my company in Germany, where we hadn’t so much time, we only did all the tasks together once in early summer, which is possible too, but not desirable. Here in Japan, my first company did both, Midoritsumi in early summer, and Momiage in late autumn.

The perfect pine has branches looking like half-round clouds with the upper side building a light curve and a flat bottom. When looking from beneath, you can see the structure of the branches like the veins of a leaf. To preserve this appearance, Midoritsumi is necessary, but Momiage plays an important part too to let Japanese pines look so great.

In Japan, Momiage is carried out in November or December. In colder regions, it should be done earlier.

All old needles will be removed until only 7 or 8 pairs are left at the end of the branches. The numbers depend on the area in Japan and how healthy the tree is. I read that in Kyoto, in some gardens 15 pairs are a standard.

Momiage is carried out by hand. No need for other tools except the saw or shears if a branch needs to be cut to correct the shape of a cloud. When pulling the needles, it can happen, that a whole top of a branch comes off. To prevent this, the right amount of force is necessary. The ripping of the needles can also cause damage to the bark and sometimes it is advised to do Momiage with shears.

Momiage and Midoritsumi start from the top of the tree downwards.
A pine has three zones: the top, the middle and the bottom. After Momiage, the top should look thinner so that sunlight can reach the branches and needles at the bottom of the tree.



These pictures show the progress on a pine I pruned together with my co-worker.





While it is possible to skip Momiage in autumn, Midoritsumi in early summer is essential. In Tokyo, this work is carried out in May.

Midoritsumi is the maintenance where the future shape of the pines can be decided. Every plant is growing its whole life and every tree is getting bigger. By doing Midoritsumi, the gardener is not preventing the tree from becoming larger, but the overall manmade shape of the tree is preserved and the growth is slowed down. Before May, every pine makes new shoots, so-called candles. The right timing for Midoritsumi is important because, in one state, these candles become too hard to be shortened by breaking them between the fingers and scissors are needed. When using shears, there is always a risk to damage the new needles, which will then get brown at their top and do not look nice. That’s why Midoritsumi is preferably done by hand.

During Midoritsumi, unneeded candles will be removed and the leftovers will be shortened. Only two, or a maximum of three candles will remain at the end of a branch. The long candle in the middle will be completely removed when a branch has three candles. The remaining two candles will be shortened to two-thirds or, if one of the candles is already short, the other one will be shortened accordingly.

While working on a pine, the gardener needs to imagine how the pine will look when all the needles at the candles opened up and reached their final length. Imagining this needs a lot of experience, why I consider Midoritsumi the more difficult work.

Considering all the pines in a Japanese garden, stating that May is the busiest time for Japanese gardeners may be a truth.

In late June or July, an additional task can be added: Megiri.

Here, weak new shoots will be cut first and a week or two later, the stronger new shoots will be removed too. The advantage of doing Megiri is that wind will get easily through the branches and prevent them to be damaged by typhoons and the tree will be stronger against illness favored by a warm and humid climate in August. Until September, two new shoots will appear on each branch.

Megiri can only be done on strong and healthy trees.

Due to their number and size in Japanese gardens, Megiri on pines is seldom done and a technique preferably used on Bonsai.

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Useful tools:

Okatsune 103 Bypass Pruners General Purpose Medium

Price: $33.33
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Most common pruning shears used in Tokyo.
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Okatsune Garden Scissors/Hand Pruner Type A, No.201-SN w/BP

Price: $34.65
5-star rating.
Most common garden shears used in Tokyo.
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Okatsune Professional Snips, No.207

Price: $32.94
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This type is used for Megiri.
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Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears, 7 5/8″ blade, 22″ overall length

Price: $67.23
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Most common hedge shears used in Tokyo.
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