The mountain pine originates from the mountain ranges of Central Europe. The species itself is very variable and botanists have sub-divided it into a series of sub-species and varieties
Pinus mugo, known as bog pine, creeping pine, dwarf mountain pine, mugo pine, mountain pine, scrub mountain pine, or Swiss mountain pine is usually found from 1,000 – 2,200 m, occasionally as low as 200 m. It is a species of conifer, native to high elevation habitats across southern Europe.
A low, shrubby, often multi-stemmed plant, usually 3 – 6 m tall but can grow to 15m given the right environment. It has dark green foliage, not always quite straight and with symmetrical cones.
Pinus mugo is very tough and is able to withstand the harshest of conditions. They have evolved to withstand extremely cold winter temperatures and hot, dry summer conditions. In favourable conditions, they will form dense bushy shrubs or small trees but given a poor situation they form scrubby, semi-prostrate twisted trees.
The main features that distinguish the mountain pine from the more familiar Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) are the resinous buds and the shiny-green to purplish bark on young wood. Pinus mugo produce paired needles, 2 - 5cm long that are dark-green and slightly twisted. Cones start as violet-coloured flowers that grow in large numbers along new shoots.
Pinus mugo has a poor reputation as a bonsai, but with the correct techniques, Mugo are easy to cultivate and style. They are easily available at garden centres and nurseries compared to most pine species. It is recommended that the basic Mugo pine is used. Mugo varieties tend to be weaker and unresponsive in comparison. Look for ordinary landscape pines rather than the miniature rock-garden varieties such as Pinus mugo 'Mops' and 'Valley Cushion'; they are known to be particularly difficult for bonsai cultivation.
The bark of older pine trees becomes scaly or flaky. Pines can grow in many different shapes in nature and can therefore be shaped in almost every known bonsai style.
Mugo pine care as bonsai
Mugos need plenty of light and water to achieve their full potential; however they must also have a fast draining soil so that their roots do not sit in water. For maximum health and vigour, feed mugos with slow release fertiliser from spring through to late summer.
Bud Selection and Pruning
As with other pine species, the number of buds at any one point on a branch is always reduced to two so that the branch forks into two sub-branches. Remove excess buds as and when they appear.
Bud selection on a Mugo Pine is required in early spring and during the summer after the first flush of growth is cut back.
Purchased from a nursery and after first exploratory shaping
A large collected hedging tree with potential for training
Four stages in the development of a mugo pine clump style. Originally from a garden rockery 10 years ago. Next three show progress to the present. Now in a more suitable pot and needing refinement of pads and a better apex. Never in that time has it had any root pruning, just a change of pot and minor additions or removal of soil.
Below are various levels in quality of tree right up to top exhibition standard
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