How Big Does a Juniper Bonsai Get?
Juniper is a humble conifer native to the northern hemisphere’s temperate regions. While not the most vibrant or visually striking of trees, junipers are incredibly hardy. These trees have been around since shortly after the biggest mass extinctions in our planet’s history; the Great Dying. Because they’ve been around for so long, junipers have had ample time for people to find uses for them, and we certainly have.
One of the best-known uses for juniper is the distilling of gin from the fleshy red juniper berries. But the delightfully fragrant fruits are not the only reason junipers are so important. The wood of the juniper tree is deeply aromatic and durable, so it too has found relevance in our daily lives. From carpentry projects to aromatic ambiance during various rituals, juniper is quite a versatile tree.
But before you read all about when to plant juniper trees and the best time to harvest its fleshy berries, you’ll probably want to make sure you have space for it. Times have changed; not everyone has a massive yard anymore. You don’t need to let limited space stop you though, why not grow juniper as a bonsai?
Juniper as a Bonsai
Bonsai is a Japanese word that directly translates to ‘planted in a container. There is, however, so much more to bonsai than just putting a plant into a container. Bonsai requires time, patience, and attention to detail. It is the art of creating perfectly miniaturized interpretations of the most natural wonders; trees.
The size of your Juniper bonsai will depend on the style you choose.
Juniper Bonsai Styles
The juniper outshines other miniature trees with its versatility, even as a bonsai. There are myriad ways to grow juniper as a bonsai, and it is perfectly suited to most bonsai styles.
Broom Style – Hokidachi
Juniper trees with extensive branching and fine foliage are ideal for the broom style. Broom style bonsais typically grow with thick trunks, but the trunk doesn’t extend all the way to the top of the tree. Instead, it stops around a third of the way up the tree and is replaced by branches the rest of the way up. This style of bonsai branches out in all directions, quite literally resembling a sort of natural broom. With the addition of the thick foliage some juniper species are known for, hokidachi is often an even more striking display during the winter months.
Formal Upright – Chokkan
This is possibly the most well-known and widely used style for juniper bonsais. The tree often exhibits this style in nature, especially when it is exposed to a lot of light and does not face competition from competing trees. This style requires a clearly visible tapering of the upright-growing trunk. Therefore, the trunk must be thickest at the bottom and become thinner as it grows taller. Branches should begin to appear at about 1/4 of the total trunk length. Chokkan tree trunks should not be so large that they span the entire height of the tree; the top of the tree should have a single branch.
Informal Upright – Moyogi
It is common in nature and bonsai to use the informal upright style. Growing upright in roughly the shape of the letter’ S’, the trunk typically branches out at each turn. The trunk should be tapered, and the lower portion of the trunk should be thicker than the upper portion.
Slanting Bonsai – Shakan
A tree will lean one way when the wind blows in one dominant direction or when it grows in the shadow and has to bend toward the sun. Shakan bonsai grow at about a 60 – 80 degree angle relative to the ground when leaning. To keep the tree upright, the roots develop well on one side. It is clearly visible that the roots aren’t as developed on the side the tree is leaning toward. To create a sense of visual balance, the first branch grows opposite the direction of the lean of the tree. Although the trunk can be straight or slightly bent, it is still thicker at the bottom than at the top.
Cascade Bonsai – Kengai
When a tree lives in nature on a steep cliff, it can bend downward due to several factors, such as snow or falling rocks. As a result, the tree grows downward. In bonsai trees, downward-growing trees can be difficult to maintain since they grow against the tree’s natural tendency to grow upright. These trees are cultivated in tall pots. Initially, the tree will grow upright, and then it will bend downward. As the tree grows, it usually develops a crown that rises above the pot’s rim. However, the remaining branches grow in alternating directions on an S-shaped trunk that bends left and right. To maintain the balance of a tree, these branches should grow horizontally.
Semi-cascade Bonsai – Han-kengai
As with the cascade style, semi-cascades can be found in nature on cliff faces and along rivers and lakes. After growing upright for a short distance, the trunk bends downwards or sideways. The semi-cascade trunk will never extend below the bottom of the pot, unlike the cascade trunk. In most cases, the crown appears above the rim, while branching follows below the edge.
Literati Bonsai – Bunjingi
In nature, this type of tree grows in densely populated areas where the competition for resources is so fierce that it can only survive by growing taller than all other trees around it. Due to the sun only hitting the top of the tree, the trunk grows crookedly upward without branches. The branches have been stripped of their bark to make them look even tougher. Whenever the bark is removed from one side of the trunk, the trunk is called a “Shari.” In this way, it is shown that the tree is struggling to survive. Small, round pots are often used to host these trees.
Windswept Bonsai – Fukinagashi
Another example of how weathered trees struggle to survive is the windswept style. As if the wind had continually blown the tree in one direction, both the branches and the trunk will grow to one side. Initially, the trunk’s branches will grow out from all sides, but ultimately they will be bent to one side.
Double Trunk Bonsai – Sokan
While the double trunk style is common in nature, it isn’t that common in bonsai. There is a possibility that the smaller trunk grows out of the larger trunk just above the ground; both trunks usually grow out of the same root system. There is a difference in both the diameter and the length of the two trunks, with the larger trunk growing almost straight and the thinner trunk becoming a bit slanted. Eventually, the leaves/canopy from both trunks will form one single crown.
Multitrunk Bonsai – Kabudachi
Multi trunks are similar to double trunks in theory, but they have three or more trunks instead of two. There is only one root system, and therefore only one tree. The many trunks form a single crown, with the thickest and most developed trunk forming the top.
Forest Bonsai – Yose-ue
There is a lot of similarity between the forest style and the multi-trunk style, but the forest style is composed of several trees instead of several trunks. It is best to plant the most mature trees in the middle of a large, shallow pot. A few small trees are planted on the sides to contribute to a single crown. Trees are planted in a staggered pattern rather than in a straight line so that the forest will appear more realistic and natural.
Bonsai Grown on a Rock – Seki-joju
Roots of trees on rocky terrain often seek out nutrient-rich soil in cracks and holes. Before the roots reach the ground, they are unprotected, so they must protect themselves from the sun by growing a special kind of bark. As the roots of this tree grow over a rock and into the pot, it is similar to caring for any other style of tree. Junipers are perfectly suited to be cultivated in this way.
Bonsai Growing in a Rock – Ishisuki
The roots of the trees of this style grow into cracks and holes in the rock. As a result, roots have limited space to grow and absorb nutrients. A tree growing in rocks will never seem healthy; therefore, it should seem as if the tree is struggling to survive. Due to the limited space available to store water and nutrients, it is important to fertilize and water frequently. Ishisuki bonsai are frequently grown in shallow pots, sometimes filled with fine gravel or water.
Raft Bonsai – Ikadabuki
The branches of a cracked tree can sometimes point upward, which allows it to survive. Old roots can supply nutrients to the branches, thus allowing them to survive. After some time, new roots start growing, taking over the functions of the old roots. The old branches that point into the air grow into trunks with numerous branchings by increasing the influx of nutrients. Each of these trunks contributes to one canopy.
Shari Bonsai – Sharimiki
In some trees, harsh weather conditions lead to bald or barkless areas on their trunks over time. Baldness usually begins at the bottom of the trunk and grows thinner as it progresses. As a result of intense sunlight, these parts of the tree will bleach, becoming very distinctive. When attempting the Shari bonsai style, the bark is stripped from the tree with a sharp blade. The bald parts of the trunk are then treated with lime sulfur to simulate the sun’s natural bleaching process. The same effect is possible by leaving the sun to bleach the trunk, but lime sulfur works faster and is more targeted and controlled.
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The Size of a Juniper Bonsai
You, as the cultivator, have free reign here. There are no rigid rules to how big a bonsai tree can be. You should, however, prioritize the health of the tree over the visual aspects. This means using the right size and shape pot for the tree’s specific root structure. Like many other trees, junipers have a dual root system; A deep taproot to absorb water from deep within the ground and a vast system of matted roots to collect water and nutrients from closer to the surface. While root trimming and pruning are part of cultivating a bonsai, you don’t want to take too much off the tree. Otherwise, you could encroach on the tree’s ability to survive.
Growing a bonsai is a lengthy process, and your tree won’t necessarily look like you want the end product to look like through the entire process. For instance, if you want your juniper to have a thicker trunk, you may need to employ the sacrificial trunk trick. This basically means allowing one central branch to grow taller than the eventual end product bonsai so that the trunk gets thicker. Sacrificial trunks can extend more than a meter above the desired bonsai height and are cut down to size once the ideal thickness has been reached. There are similar methods to increase the thickness of branches and the overall strength of the tree.
Bonsai typically require attention to remain small, other than being potted in a container that somewhat controls its growth. So as long as you keep pruning and shaping your bonsai tree, you can keep it relatively compact. You might also want to groom the foliage to grow smaller and denser instead of the size and density seen on full-size trees. This process will dramatically improve how authentic your bonsai tree looks.
It’s important to remember that bonsais are normal trees in every meaning of the word, just smaller because of how they are grown. However, they still carry the same DNA structures as their full-size alternatives, so if you plant them in larger pots or directly into the ground, they will resume their usual growing habits and grow to full size.
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Juniper is one of the most versatile bonsai trees around. Because of the wide varieties of juniper that occur, this pretty conifer is suitable for nearly all the different styles of bonsai cultivation. While there is no set rule of how big a juniper bonsai should be, you should always make sure the tree grows healthy.
Bonsai relies on stunting the tree’s growth and training it to grow smaller by pruning the foliage and roots. But don’t take off so much of either that you limit the tree’s chance of survival. Junipers are also very hardy trees, so they are the perfect place to start if you’re looking to dip your toe in the deeply rewarding waters of bonsai cultivation.