Developing a Juniper Shohin/ Juniper Bonsai Progression Series

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In 2002, while wandering around a garden centre, I noticed some cheap landscaping Junipers being one who is never able to resist a bargain, I thought I'd buy one to have a play around with. Unfortunately, this Juniper was untagged and I have yet to positively identify it.


Here is the Juniper as it was when I bought it home in August 2002. At approximately 2ft/60cm in height and planted into a 8" nursery pot, it was a reasonably big plant.

As with all nursery trees that are intended to be developed into bonsai, it is necessary to have a rough mental picture of how you intend the tree to appear when it finally becomes 'a bonsai'.

If I wanted a large bonsai with a final height of over 18"-24" I would first need a trunk with a suitably impressive girth. However, despite the luxurious foliage and numerous branches, this tree still only had a 1" trunk (diameter), slightly larger than the thickness of my thumb. Using the rough guide of having a trunk diameter to tree height ratio of 1:6, this tree, despite initial appearances, was only suitable for a bonsai roughly 6" tall.

The options I had were to either plant the tree as it was into the ground for several years, keeping as much foliage as possible to encourage faster trunk thickening and development, or, to opt for a smaller sized, 6"-7" (approx 15cm-17cm) tall tree so that styling work could start immediately.

This is a lesson that we all have to learn when we first start developing our own bonsai. The girth of the trunk must dictate the final height of the bonsai. Trying to develop a 12"/30cm tree from nursery stock with a 1"/2.5cm (or even less) diameter trunk will result in a young-looking bonsai or what is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a 'stick in a pot'. Very often enthusiasts new to bonsai do not realise exactly how big a tree must first grow in order to develop the 3"-4" or more trunk diameter needed for a 24"/60cm tall bonsai.


An hour later, the tree had been pruned extremely hard. Given the time of year, the health of the tree and good aftercare, I was confident that the it could withstand such severe treatment. However, I would highly recommend that a gentler approach is taken ordinarily, reduce the height and foliage mass in stages over a year if necessary.

It is common for Junipers to be styled like upright Pines with a central formal or informal trunk and uniformly placed branches growing neatly up the trunk. I wanted to develop a twisting, wild, gnarled-looking tree with plenty of interest. When one studies beautiful Japanese Juniper bonsai or wild European yamadori (collected trees) it is common for the trunk to have wild, random twists and turns that provide excitement and interest. More importantly, the foliage exists on just 2 or 3 branches. The majority of good quality juniper bonsai do not have a dozen neatly placed branches.

Notice that in the initial work I left plenty of branch stubs, these left me plenty of opportunity to create jin as points of interest on the trunk. Though all were eventually removed, it is important to keep your styling options open by leaving plenty of deadwood to play with in the future.


A month later and the tree has already responded with new growth (I tend to find that during the warm and humid August weather we get the UK, Junipers can be very responsive and fast growing). The final part of the initial styling was carried out prior to planting out the tree to continue its development.

In an effort to reach my goal of developing a bonsai with a twisting and undulating trunk, the remaining branch was wrapped with raffia (to stop it from splitting and to protect the bark) and wired. The process of bending and adding plenty of twists and turns to the branch (and new trunk-line) was then started. Over the next year as the new trunk continued to grow, more bends or movement were added to the trunk.

As can be seen in the image above, I made more decisions as to which jin (branch stubs) to keep and which to remove and then the tree was planted into the ground.

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