Juniper is a genus is made up of 50-70 species of evergreen conifers and are the most common species used in Bonsai. For a good reason, widely considered the best species for beginners. Junipers also make breathtaking specimens with thousands of stunning Junipers worldwide, displaying the potential of what can be done with the ubiquitous Juniper.
The most common species used in Bonsai and widely available is the common Japanese garden Juniper (Juniperus Procumnes nana). Species like the Juniper San Jose (Juniperus chinesis San Jose) and Shimpaku (Juniperus sargentii) tend to be found at nurseries specializing in Bonsai and are highly sought after as material for Bonsai.
Why grow a Juniper bonsai tree?
The Juniper does well with hard pruning, is very resilient and tolerant enough to be forgiving for beginners experimenting with Bonsai. Although Junipers can be found in big box stores as well as garden centers. They are often grown as ground cover shrubs. On the other hand, Junipers that Bonsai nurseries sell are formed and shaped to be developed as Bonsai, meaning they are staked to promote an upright tree-like growth. Junipers are very rewarding in their appearance and growth habit. Their price makes them easily accessible, and their potential to flourish into gorgeous centrepieces makes them highly desirable. So the real question should not be "Why to grow a Juniper Bonsai tree?", instead "why not grow a Juniper Bonsai tree?"
Getting Started With Your Juniper Bonsai Tree
As with every living plant or tree brought into a new environment, it is always wise to place it in a ventilated area that gets plenty of sunlight and leave it alone for three to four weeks while the tree acclimates. Junipers love the full sun, temperature fluctuation between day and night and are strictly an outdoor species. Junipers will do well outdoors until the weather dips below 0° celsius for more than 24 hours. Until then, the best placement for your Juniper is outdoors in a garden or on a balcony. Junipers prefer dry soil, so be careful to not overwater. Letting the soil dry out between waterings will keep your Juniper happy and healthy. Junipers also do well with pruning, but I suggest never repot and hard prune in the same season; instead, alternate these functions to not cause unnecessary stress for the tree.
When developing for trunk girth or height, place the Juniper in a pot one size up from what it is currently in. Ideally, a fabric pot or colander so that the roots can get lots of air circulation. The substrate should be primarily a mixture of Akadama (or Horticultural clay), pumice, lava rock with peat moss or pine bark fines as an organic component.
When refining your Juniper, a mixture of equal parts Akadama, Pumice and Lava Rock (commonly known as Boon Mix) is highly recommended.
Care and Maintenance for Junipers
Some Junipers' foliage may turn brownish, yellow or purple during the colder months; this is a natural protection against frost, and their colour should turn back to green in the spring. Internal foliage on Junipers tends to brown and die when not exposed to enough light and air. So trimming down the outer foliage to help maintain the inner vegetation you would like to keep in your design. Never prune all the needles off a branch, as a branch with no needles will die. Instead, always leave a portion of the needles on Juniper branches you are keeping regardless of whether you need them in your design or not so that the branch stays alive and you have more design options down the road when the branches grow out.
Fertilize your Juniper from early spring when you see signs of new growth until late summer. Do not fertilize during winter. An organic pellet fertilizer like Bio-Gold is best applied every month during the growing season, or liquid fertilizer is applied weekly.
The Junipers roots do not like wet soil, so as mentioned before, try to let the soil dry out between waterings. During hot weather or after pruning or repotting, Junipers will benefit from a daily or even twice a day misting.
The best way to develop needle or foliage pads is to trim the shoots protruding from the desired design with sharp shears. This can be done throughout the growing season. Be careful not to cut any of the actual needles, as this will kill them. If the internal needles are browning, this means that they are not getting enough light and air. So if desired in the final design, a little pruning of the outer foliage is needed. Inner foliage will make the pads of the tree look robust and complete.
Always use sharp and clean shears when pruning. If the cut is significant, using the cut paste is recommended to protect from infection and drying out.
Bonsai is about the journey since there is no destination. It is still growing and will continue to change, evolve and grow. Take the time to enjoy each stage of your Bonsai journey and your Juniper, as each moment only happens once. Even when your Juniper reaches the final design of what you envisioned when starting your Bonsai journey.
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