How to Choose a Juniper Bonsai
The Juniper family of plants makes sensational bonsai trees. Whether you’re a beginner trying out your first prune and wire or you’re a bonsai master, you’ll find a Juniper variety that suits the scene you’re trying to create.
The Juniper Family of plants is very popular worldwide, not only for bonsai but also for garden and indoor plants. They’re easy to care for and, being evergreen, provide color all year round. As with most families of plants, there are many varieties of Juniper, and selecting the correct variety is essential.
Where to Find a Juniper Bonsai
There are two ways to find a suitable plant. The first is collecting it in the wild, and secondly, you can purchase a plant from a reputable nursery.
Collecting plants in the wild will depend very much on where you live as Juniper grows in temperate zones. If you don’t live in this area, you may consider a friend’s garden as your wild hunting ground.
If a friend has Juniper growing in the garden, ask if you can look at the plants. If one has interesting features or gnarled branches or perhaps its growth has been stunted, ask if you can harvest it for your bonsai.
When looking at plants in a nursery, choose carefully. Look for healthy plants with bright foliage and smooth trunks. Again, look critically at the plant and see if you can imagine it in one of the classical bonsai shapes. Also, try not to buy one that is very small, as it will take a long time for it to grow into its shape.
While at the nursery, poke around right at the back or ask the attendants if there’s perhaps some old stock round the back. This could be a gold mine of suitable plants with attractive features to build into your finished scene. They may have dead branches, gnarly trunks, or a windswept look. An additional feature is they may be half price!
Now, let’s look at some of the features you should consider when choosing your Juniper.
Look at the place that you intend to place the tree. Do you have the space to grow a reasonably large tree, or would a drooping or creeping variety suit you better?
If you’re an experienced bonsai artist, you may well be able to create a small specimen and keep it alive, but for the inexperienced enthusiast, it will be better to work with larger specimens.
Juniper comes in many varieties that will suit almost any size; just choose wisely.
The next thing to consider is where you intend to place your Juniper. Juniper grows very well indoors and outdoors and will only need to be brought inside if you experience deep snow for extended periods over winter.
Juniper bonsai will not do well in dark corners and, if you are growing it inside, you’ll need to place it in a bright, sunny spot.
Natural Growth of the plant
This harks back to purchasing the correct variety of Juniper to suit the look you wish to create.
For an upright type of specimen, look for the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis).
If the variety of Juniper you purchase is naturally a creeping variety, trying to train it into an upright is going to be a difficult task as you will constantly be fighting against the plant’s natural growth path. Look for Japanese Garden Juniper (Juniperus procumbens) to simplify your cascade bonsai creation.
There are plenty of varieties that make magnificent upright specimens, so choose carefully at the beginning.
Expertise of the Grower
Junipers are very forgiving as bonsai specimens. They make excellent beginner projects as they are simple to wire and are forgiving in terms of care and maintenance.
Improving the Tree you have
Sometimes you end up in a situation where you have a fantastic trunk with exciting features and perhaps some appealing deadwood, but the foliage is not making the picture you want. Also, what if you need a branch to balance the scene you are creating?
In cases such as this, consider grafting new branches that will develop the canopy you want. The Juniper will accept grafting, and you may well be able to save or improve the trees that you have.
The Juniper is the perfect beginner’s tree as you can practice all of the bonsai skills on a very tolerant and very hardy plant. Junipers lend themselves to every type of look, and whether upright or cascading, you will find a species of Juniper that suits.
Remember that bonsai trees are not deformed; they are trained to imitate a natural tree, so choose healthy stock and use your research and skills to create a wild scene.