Juniper Care Guide
In this article we're going to jump into how to care for Juniper bonsai, and this is mainly for the people out there that are starting off that maybe get a gift tree. You might get it from a big box retailer.
Or maybe even a bonsai nursery. There's a lot of confusion on the Internet and there's a lot of information that makes people confused about how to care for these.
this is going to be more or less of a crash course. It's not a full in depth tutorial on how to look after these.
But it's gonna have a lot of great information, so I suggest sticking around to the end because we've got sections on positioning, watering, pruning, fertilizing wire and soil.
so let's get into it.
This is probably the number one mistake that we see with these plants.
people keeping junipers inside....
Now the first thing you need to know about junipers is where they get their energy from and how they
Grow, so like most other bonsai, junipers get their energy from photosynthesis from the sun.
So if they're inside they don't get any sun, They don't get any food which means they don’t get any energy.
With Junipers, they store a lot of their energy in the foliage mass. So what can actually happen is and this is what confuses people is if you do put it inside and it doesn't get any sun it will look healthy and it'll look like it's thriving and just getting along fine. But the problem is It's slowly depleting that energy that it's got stored in its foliage, and what will happen eventually is the tips will start to turn brown and crispy and it'll start to die from the outside in, and once this is set in It's probably too late for your tree. so, with junipers they tend to Show the signs that they've died eight weeks after the fact.
So, if your junipers showing signs of ill health or death It probably happened 8 weeks prior, so it's really hard to tell when you're juniper is sick and if it does become sick, it's really hard to get it back from that.
They can have smaller issues that can be fixed here and now, but As for that it'll kill the plant really quickly, so don't buy them and put them on your bed side table or in your living room ( or even next to a window that get lots of light).
The other thing is when you put them outside, you want to put them in full Sun, now the reason for this is if they're not in full sun what will happen is the foliage will actually open right up and it looks very messy. So what you want is nice little tight Tufts of foliage, and the more sun that they get, the tighter this foliage is going to get.
And that's where you get those really nice looking pads, so it's really handy to have these in full sun.
They can take it as long as you keep up the watering to the amount of heat that's being generated.
They also need to be kept outside during the winter ( down to about –10c ).
Now a lot of people bring these inside, fearing that maybe you get snow or frost and it's going to kill the plant. They're actually Himalayan species, so they are used to that. They can take a fairly cold frost and they actually need to be outside during the winter because that coldness puts them in a state of dormancy and if they don't have that state of dormancy, then they're going to gradually get weaker.
So you need to have them outside during winter as well, so all year round just keep them outside and you'll find that they'll thrive unless your winters get below –10c then protect them in a hot house or un heated garage.
The other bit of information I can give you about positioning for these is It comes down to how often your home and a lot of this information I give you today once you finish reading this article you can make educated decisions on how you look after your plant.
So before I said the more sun these can get the better, which is absolutely true, but if you're somebody who maybe works Very early and very late, so you're away most of the day, and it's summer time you probably don't want this sitting out in full sun all day.
Just because of the fact that in that kind of environment you're probably going to need to water more than once a day, you may need to water once or twice, so keeping it out in full sun in an environment like that is probably not good.
So if you're somebody who works long hours and you're away for a long time maybe put them in a position where they get a good amount of sun during the morning hours And then get shade during the hottest part of the day.
So for us that's around 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon, So if you can watch the sun pattern in your yard, take notes of where it gets the most morning sun and then take note of where the afternoon shade is.
And that's probably where you want to position your tree. If you can't be home all day to keep watering it as you'll hear later on, soil can also affect this, so we'll talk about that as we go further on down.
This is very important. They don't like drying out and they also don't like being too wet, and that can sound scary. 'cause you think How can I not let it dry out but not let it be too wet?
What I mean by that is you don't want the soil to get bone dry because the roots will dry out and then the tree will die. But what you also don't want is for the pot to become waterlogged, so having a large amount of water to go into the pot is fine, That's not overwatering. But if you've got your drain holes clogged or there's not enough drainage in the pot and you keep watering it or watering it every day and you're just building and building and building the water up in the pot without it draining, that's too much water.
And what happens is the water sits in there and then you get root rot and that will kill the tree pretty quickly as well. But this happens over a period of weeks to months.
So how much water?
Generally this comes down to soil and the size of the Pot, but the first thing we'll go over is when watering something like this make sure you use a nice soft nozzle on your hose.
You don't want anything that's going to blast your fertilizer or top dressing off or blast the soil out of the pot.
You want a nice soft stream, and what I do is I do a couple of passes over the soil surface and let the gravity take effect. So let it pull water through the pot, And then come back and do another one again, let it come through and then do that again, a couple of passes over the top.
Let the water go through and you want to do that a few times until you see the water coming out of the bottom of the pot, like a tap.
It should just be running out and then the tree is fully watered.
You wouldn't water that again until the tree needed it So this changes with the weather.
If you've got really hot weather, the soil in the pots going to dry out a lot quicker, so you're going to need to water once, maybe twice, maybe even three times in a day.
in the winter time, that's going to be less. Two to three times a week rather than a day just depends on how quickly the soils drying out so you need to give the tree water when it needs it, not on a schedule.
There's no way to schedule water. There's a lot of people out there that try to give information and say well, you should water daily or you should water twice daily.
This changes throughout the year.
So you can't even really just say well in spring time you start watering once a day again or twice a day or whatever it might be because everyone's environments and season are different.
So how does soil type affect your watering?
There's generally two types of soil that we were use in bonsai.
These are Organic Soils and Inorganic Soils.
Inorganics you will need to water a lot more because it's going to get rid of that water a lot quicker than something that's not as heavy draining like organic soils.
organics you don't need to water it as much because it's going to hold water for a lot longer and as I said before in a soil like that you don't want to keep watering it and then build the water amount up in the pot and then cause a waterlog, which is what can happen with those kinds of soils.
The other thing that can affect your watering to keep in mind is the pot size and this is where people get really confused and they think this is the opposite of what it is.
Taller pots will drain faster then slimmer pots.
now, why is that?
This is because of the gravity column in the pot.
A shallow pot doesn't have much of a gravity column where taller pots have a much larger gravity column.
So when you water a taller pot the water moves through the pot quicker and out the bottom, where as in a slimmer pot it doesn't really move that fast 'cause it hasn't got a big gravity column, so the water will sit in a slimmer pot a lot longer than a taller pot.
Things will so when it comes to having cascade pots you will need to water them a lot more than you will these ones and that goes with your soil types as well.
Don't come home every day and say I've got to water my bonsai, instead come home every day and look at your bonsai and see if they need water.
Maybe it might have rained during the day while you're at work and you might not know about it.
Maybe you didn't have a very hot day, Maybe it was very overcast and cloudy and the water from the day before still hasn't really left the pot, so you don't want to add more water.
If you had a week full of overcast days and your watering every day you're going to cause water log in your pot and you may cause root rot if your using organic soils rather then inorganic soils.
When it comes to Junipers, we want to practice strategic pruning and how we do that is we always ask the question why?
Why are we doing this?
Why am I making this cut?
What am I trying to get from this cut?.
If you can't answer that question, then maybe you shouldn't be doing it.
Find out why you want to make that cut.
what I see a lot of the times is the elongating shoots, people will come in and they'll just cut him off 'cause they go Oh, that looks ugly It doesn't suit my tree.
We've got all these needles which act like a solar panels for energy.
The more foliage we've got on the tree the more energy.
The other thing that's strategic is these elongating shoots, even though they're not nice and they're not part of the design.
What actually happens here is the longer we let these run, the thicker our branch is going to become, so we don't really want to cut these off until our branch has reached the thickness that we want.
And the other thing that you can achieve with the elongation like this is we can wire it down and create lower pads.
Another thing aboun pruning junipers is like I mentioned before, we want to keep as much as of the foliage on while we're developing because the more foliage we have on the tree, the more it's photosynthesizing and the more energy it's getting and the quicker it's going to grow.
You don't want to be taking too much of the foliage off because you're really going to impact the health of the tree, so try to keep a fair amount of foliage on when you can.
The other thing we want to do with junipers is we want to clean the interiors on them.
So what I mean by that is when new growth flushes out on a juniper it shades out all the growth on the inside branches of the tree stopping the sunlight from getting in. We need to not only prune the outer canopy to allow wind and light to pentrate but we also need to go in and clear out any growth from the interior which we wont actually use in our desgin because this growth will get shaded out and die later anyway so if we can get rid of it now we can let the growth we do want to keep make use of the trees energy rather then wasting it on growth that will eventually die.
So what do we use for fertilization?
Now this is a bit of a gray area, but what I generally use for junipers is just an across the board, even NPK, slow release fertilizer, something like a 10:10:10. The reason I say this is a gray area is because fertilizing is very goal specific so its impossible to tell you a good fertilizing strategy without knowing what needs to be achieved.
Slow release is good because it doesn't burn the roots It works every time you water, it gets activated from the heat.
You only have to apply it twice a year because the one we use is a six month fertilizer.
So every six months you just replace it.
When would you change your fertilizer?
This is a good question.
When you would change your fertilizer is when you are trying to achieve something very specific.
So what I mean by that is.
Saying you've got a tree and its roots aren't very healthy or it hasn't got a good root system and you want to really grow the roots out.
You might get a fertilizer and mix it up.
There's something that's high in phosphorus, or you might just put phosphorus in there.
And that will help with root growth. Or maybe you really want your branches to elongate so you can thicken or you can create more pads, so maybe you might want something that's a little higher in nitrogen, so then you can mix up your own fertilizers, put'em in tea bags or something and give it a bit more of a heavier feed
Or something I do is I use the slow release and then during spring when I really want their growth to come out and start elongating in certain spots, I use a liquid nitrogen fertilizer.
The one I use is called nitrosol. I'll use it once a month during the spring growing season and that gets me all this long Extra leggy growth that can be made into another pad soon.
And that's what I do for my trees.
There are people out there that probably have different methods, but me personally, that's just what I do.
So how often would you fertilize? As I said before, we use a six month slow release fertilizer and we use that all year round.
There's some trees that you wouldn't do all year round, like black Pines.
You wouldn't want to be fertilizing heavy just before summer before you're about to do your candle pruning.
But with junipers just a slow release all year round even through winter, and you'll find that.
In spring, that will really pump on.
They'll grow hard in summer.
They'll still keep growing In autumn, they'll still keep growing in winter, not so much, but they grow all year round. But in spring they just grow the quickest.
So when to wire?
Junipers can actually be wired all year round, it's not something that's a super big deal, but I do advise you try not to wire in spring where you can.
Sometimes you can't help this.
Maybe you want to wire something out, but the reason I say try to avoid wiring in
Spring is because of the growth.
So you could put wire on one week and then four weeks later you come back in the trees eating the wire and is bitten in so hard that it's starting to eat the wire.
And then you've got to take the wire off. You've got scarring on your tree, and the wire may not have even been on long enough in the branch to take shape properly. In spring you also run the risk of tearing the inner tissue of the branch because during the growing period in spring time it is very soft and delicate, so too big of a bend could tear it causing the branch to die. This is why we leave our larger bends for Autumn when that tissue is at its strongest.
What I generally do is let my trees just grow wild through spring.
Just let them grow and then come back and revisit in summer.
Do some pruning. Do some wiring.
So what does happen if the wire bites in? it's not a big issue, it's going to leave a mark.
It's going to scar, but it will callus back over and it will heal.
You'll still be able to see that the wire had been on the tree but it's not as big of a deal if you do that on a Maple for example.
It kind of looks good on the junipers. Just let it do its thing. It'll heal over.
What happens if you break a branch?
Now, with Junipers, you're probably going to break a branch. if you're not breaking branches, you're not bending.
So we break branches all the time here at bonsai-en on junipers and the thing we find is it's not really a huge deal.
Sometimes you'll snap a branch, but like when we do a shari If you've got a live vein on one side
then the branch will survive. Put some cut paste over the break just so water and moisture doesn't seep in there and rot it out.
If a branch does break, I suggest for people starting out when your wiring a juniper use aluminium wire because copper wire as you bend it, it hardens.
So if you make a mistake in applying your wire then it's going to be a lot harder to rectify that.
So if you use aluminium wire it's easier to bend and it's easier to fix a mistake if you do it.
It's also a lot cheaper, so there's really no reason to be using copper wire unless you're a professional and you really want to get a big bend in the tree.
Or maybe a trunk or a really thick first branch.
But other than that, aluminium is fine.
Now this is a very wide open topic.
A lot of people have their own soil mixes.
If you can get in organic materials that is the best to use for trees that have finished developing and are in refinement in the bonsai pot. If you are still growing and developing your tree then organics are what you will want to use. If you want to actually learn about soils I suggest you check out our bonsai beginners course at www.thebonsaidojo.com
. Soil is a massive rabbit hole that would add another 10 pages to this discussion.
I hope this has helped your understanding of Juniper Bonsai a little bit better.