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Let’s talk about Juniper

There’s a peculiar charm to the juniper bonsai tree. With its thin, closely-packed leaves and twisted trunk, it presents an interesting, dense bush-like formation. The tree itself stands beautifully green all year round, making it a premium choice for bonsai artistry.

Juniper Bonsai

Juniper has this distinctive style, known as Shari, where some of its branches are intentionally shaped into deadwood, resembling naturally broken branches. It’s all about crafting that look of a weather-worn tree, without giving away any hint of human interference. Now, that’s a touch of whimsical elegance!

Most common in the bonsai market is the Japanese Juniper, especially the Itoigawa variety. Its tightly packed, needle-like leaves and vibrant green color make it an absolute delight to behold.

Common juniper bonsai, by Chinese Bonsai Master Zhao Qingquan

But hey, don’t limit yourself to just one type! There are different varieties of juniper around the world, each with its own unique charm. So go out there and find the one that suits your taste!

Crafting your Juniper Bonsai

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: making your bonsai.

  • The Tree: To start, let’s do Mother Nature a solid: try not to dig up wild trees. You can easily buy a tree from a local plant nursery, or even propagate your own! You might want to go with cuttings, layering, or grafting methods.
  • The soil: Choosing the right soil is key. Juniper thrives in fertile, loose, neutral or alkaline soil. You can mix compost soil with charcoal bits or sand. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more lavish, you can opt for the Japanese Akadama soil, or any weathered granular soil you can get your hands on.
China Yixing clay pot
  • The pot: Yixing clay pot works well for juniper. For larger bonsai, you might want to consider a carved stone pot. And remember, mid-depth pots are generally preferred.

Now that you have your bonsai, let’s keep it thriving!

Caring for your Juniper Bonsai

  • Placement: If you plan to keep it indoors, make sure to place it near a well-ventilated, sunny window or balcony. Juniper is quite frost-tolerant, but its pot soil can freeze and damage the roots. So, when the frost starts to bite, move it indoors. In the height of summer, you might want to keep it shaded to prevent it from getting sunburned.
  • Watering requires a balanced approach. The soil should be moist but not waterlogged. Generally, you should water when the soil surface starts to dry. This doesn’t mean watering every 3 days – remember, the environment where your bonsai is placed can greatly affect evaporation. Regular misting of the leaves can also promote vigorous growth and maintain that vibrant green color.

In traditional bonsai art, mastering the art of watering is seen as a skill that comes with experience.

  • Fertilizing should be done from March to May during its peak growing season. Use a balanced organic fertilizer, or consider a slow-release fertilizer. If you can find it, Japanese-imported Jade fertilizer is a good choice too.

Remember, organic fertilizers like Jade can smell and may attract insects, so you might want to skip it if you’re keeping your bonsai indoors.

  • Pruning your juniper bonsai requires a delicate hand as it’s not particularly fond of heavy pruning. The styling primarily involves wiring with occasional trimming. In spring, as the tree sprouts new branches, trim the tips to promote side branch growth. This helps keep the crown dense.

Be careful not to use scissors to cut soft shoots; pinch them off with your fingers to avoid leaving rusty-colored cuts. Major pruning should be done during the dormancy period.

  • Repot: Every 2-3 years, your juniper bonsai should be repotted – ideally in March or April, although fall will do too. During this process, prune and tidy the roots, replace the old soil with fresh one.
  • Lastly, keep an eye out for diseases and pests. Juniper is mainly susceptible to rust disease and spider mites, so preventative care is important.

Juniper bonsai, by by Chinese Bonsai Master Zhao Qingquan

So, there you have it! A comprehensive guide to growing and caring for your own juniper bonsai tree. Here’s to the joy of nurturing your miniaturized version of Mother Nature!

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