Styling Juniper Bonsai Branches : Part One, Thinning Out



Styling Juniper Bonsai Branches : Part One, Thinning Out

juniper bonsai

Before and after wiring images of a Chinese Juniper bonsai

To properly style a Juniper bonsai it is necessary to wire and position the foliage mass. This can be a long and time-consuming process but needs to be done periodically throughout the life of the tree to keep the foliage mass, and the bonsai itself, refined.

Thinning out the foliage

Before the branches can be wired, it is necessary to thin out the foliage. The foliage mass needs to be reduced so that the actual structure of the tree, the trunkline, the primary and the secondary branches can be seen clearly enough to arrange them into a refined foliage mass. The branches need to be cleaned of enough foliage to allow the wire to be applied.
Thinning the foliage also allows light into the foliage mass as a whole; if the tree is allowed to cultivate too dense a mass of foliage, it results in the inner and lower branches becoming shaded, severely weakening them and eventually causing dieback of the shaded branches.

san jose juniper bonsai

As can be seen in the image above, this San Jose Juniper bonsai had a mixture of the mature scale foliage and the less desirable juvenile needle foliage. That had been growing freely and become very dense. The inner branches had become weak as a result and in terms of shaping the branches, applying wire would be virtually impossible.

Thinning out a Juniper bonsai to prepare it for wiring

Thinning out the foliage mass of a Juniper is not simply a case of randomly removing branches and leaves. There are several types of shoots and leaves that can be viewed as ‘undesirable’ within the foliage mass. A great deal of the process of thinning out a Juniper encompasses methodically working over the tree removing all growth that is undesirable.

juniper bonsai foliage

‘Sports’ and ‘runts’ that have sprouted in the crutch of two older branches

Runts and ‘Hotheads’ or Sports
These are shoots that typically emerge from the crutch of two older branches; the runts will often just be a spray of foliage that will never extend into a shoot whilst a sport or a hothead is an extremely vigorous shoot that will grow at a rapid rate compared to the neighbouring branches it emerges between. If allowed to extend as vigorously as they wish to, ‘hot-heads’ will dominate the surrounding shoots and branches, weakening them. Both runts and hotheads should be removed using a sharp pair of scissors. Note that leaving the very bottom part of the shoot intact can result in backbudding from this point in the future.

juniper bonsai branch

The same branch with the ‘runts’ and ‘hotheads’ removed. What remains though are three branches at one intersection, one of these branches must be removed.


Reducing all branch junctions to two branches
All branches should bifurcate; that is, they should divide into two. Where there are more than two branches at a junction, the number should be reduced.

Which of the surplus branches are to be removed is down to the enthusiast and depends on which branches he perceives will be the most useful to retain for styling. This can depend on factors such as the length of the branch, the amount of useful foliage it carries, the type of foliage it has (whether it is mature and juvenile) and whether the removal of a thicker branch will improve branch taper.

juniper bonsai branches

The heavily congested section of the foliage mass before thinning………..

juniper bonsai branch

……………and after thinning out of the foliage on the remaining branches. … Note the bare shoots with sprays of foliage at their tips.

With the runts and hotheads removed and all branch intersections reduced to just two, the remaining shoots can then prepared ready for wiring and placement, also known as ‘laying out’.


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November 27, 2022


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