Close your eyes and imagine a classic bonsai tree in your head. Chances are you are picturing a small, stout tree with a sturdy trunk and beautiful green foliage. It has pine-like needles and branches that twist at artful angles. You’re imagining a juniper tree!
The juniper tree is one of the most popular varieties of bonsai. Junipers are easy to care for, which makes them the perfect choice for beginning bonsai hobbyists. They are also beautiful, which makes them popular with bonsai lovers of all experience levels. They can grow in many different temperatures and have varying requirements when it comes to sun exposure. No matter where you live or how knowledgeable you are about bonsai care, there is a juniper out there that matches your lifestyle and your knowledge base.
“Juniper” actually describes over 50 species of trees, all of which belong to the cypress family. All junipers are coniferous trees, which means that they have needles instead of flat leaves. Juniper foliage is either needle-like or scale-like in appearance. Scale-like junipers usually first grow needle-like foliage, which then changes shape as the tree matures.
Junipers have beautiful bark. It is dark in color and very hard. They are also known to be good for creating a “deadwood” style of bonsai. When a branch or a section of a tree’s trunk is stripped of its bark, the wood underneath is bleached by the sun and, in some cases, worn down by harsh weather conditions. This leaves a smooth, light-colored section of “deadwood.” When executed properly, this technique creates a unique look without killing the tree.
Are you a proud juniper owner? Or just curious about what it takes to tend to this variety of bonsai? Either way, keep reading below. You will learn more about the best juniper varieties for bonsai, the basic care and maintenance of juniper trees, and the health problems that junipers sometimes suffer from.
Best Juniper For Bonsai Trees
Many different kinds of juniper trees are suitable for bonsai. These include:
- Japanese Garden Juniper (also called Green Mound Juniper)
- Chinese Juniper
- Sargent’s Juniper
- Japanese Needle
- Japanese Shimpaku
- Chinese Juniper
Of these popular varieties, the overall best juniper for bonsai is probably the Japanese Garden Juniper. This variety is naturally short and shrub-like. It is hardy and can live for many years in the right conditions. Many traditional bonsai are grown using this variety of juniper.
It is a classic type of tree that is easy to take care of and aesthetically pleasing. Because of its popularity, it is also easily available at garden stores, home goods stores, and even online. If you pick up an unmarked bonsai at a garden store or at the mall, you have probably found a Japanese garden juniper!
Can Juniper Bonsai Trees Be Grown Indoors?
Junipers are typically better suited to the outdoors than they are to the indoors. Remember that your bonsai is a tree, not a houseplant. No matter how small it is in size, it still needs many of the same things a normal tree needs to survive!
With a little planning, a juniper bonsai can be successfully grown indoors. If you wish to keep yours indoors, make sure that it gets at least 4 hours of sunlight per day. If possible, place it outside for a few days a week, so that it is not inside for more than a couple days at a time.
Your juniper needs a lot of sunlight to thrive and should be placed in direct sunlight in a bright spot. The amount of sunlight it needs per day varies by variety. For example, Chinese junipers thrive when given plenty of direct sunlight, while Japanese garden junipers need fewer hours of sunlight per day and can grow healthily in partially shady areas.
If you live somewhere with cold winters, it might be necessary to move your bonsai inside during the winter months. Relocate your tree to a sunny indoor spot before the first hard frost of the year. Many people who keep their trees inside for the winter move them out of the cold by the end of November.
If you wish to leave your tree outdoors during the winter, you should prepare it for “overwintering.” Junipers, like pines, are coniferous trees; they can survive in the winter and are found in cold climates in the wild. To help your bonsai survive the winter, bury the plant, along with its pot, in a hole in the ground.
Make sure that the location you choose is out of the wind and not too exposed. Add mulch and bury your bonsai up to its lower branches. This will keep it warm during the winter. Alternatively, you can place it in an unheated room, like a garage, where the temperature will not exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more information, see our article: Can A Juniper Bonsai Live Indoors?
Juniper Bonsai Tree: Basic Care And Maintenance
Junipers do not do well in soil that is too damp and can suffer from root rot if they are overwatered. Be careful not to water your tree too often. If your bonsai begins to yellow, the branches look droopy, or the trunk feels soft, you probably have an overwatering problem. Allow the soil to dry out between watering sessions. It should not be moist to the touch.
Junipers thrive in humid environments, so humidity is a key part of growing a healthy tree. You may supplement your tree’s watering schedule with regular mists of water using a spray bottle. You can also use a humidity tray to keep your tree in an appropriately humid environment.
To make a humidity tray, fill a shallow tray with pebbles and water. Place your potted bonsai on top of the pebbles. The water level should not be so high as to cover the pebbles or touch the pot; the purpose of the tray is to create a humid environment, and it should not be used to directly water your tree. A humidity tray can also catch excess water that is drained from the bottom of your tree’s pot after you have watered it. Remember, it’s important that your pot has drainage holes in the bottom!
Like many other bonsai trees, juniper trees are dormant during the winter. They don’t grow as quickly in the winter as they do in the spring, summer, and fall. This means that during the winter months your tree does not need to be watered or fed fertilizer as frequently as it does in the spring or summertime. However, it does still need sunlight, even in its dormancy!
In spring and summer months, fertilize your juniper tree every six weeks and monitor its water level carefully. Once your tree begins to grow more quickly again in the spring, you should also start paying extra attention to pruning. To maintain your bonsai’s shape and size, pinch off the ends of new growths that appear on your tree. You may also use small gardening shears to trim off unwanted leaves. Never trim off new growth in its entirety, as this could jeopardize the health of your tree. Limit casual trimmings to 10% or less of the total foliage to prevent excessive stress on your tree. To protect the areas that you have trimmed, you may want to apply a sealant. This will help you control how your tree heals and how the trimmed areas scar over.
When To Repot A Juniper Bonsai Tree
To tell when it is time to repot your juniper bonsai, check its roots. Roots that have become overgrown and are tangled or forming a “root ball” need to be trimmed and placed in fresh soil. Most junipers require repotting every two years, but it is not a bad idea to check the roots once a year. Older trees might be able to last longer between repotting sessions.
It is good to repot your bonsai in the springtime, as it enters its yearly growth period. In March, April, or May, take your tree out of its pot and assess the health of its roots. Trim away any excess roots and return your tree to its pot with fresh soil. You soil mixture should be rocky enough to allow water to drain easily but thick enough to retain some water. Combine bonsai potting soil with gravel, kitty litter, small rocks and pebbles, or clay mixtures. You can also add fertilizer (liquid or solid) to this mixture.
Juniper trees can thrive in a variety of soil types. In the wild, some varieties are found in very rocky areas with minimal soil coverage. The most important factor for a healthy juniper is adequate drainage. Make sure that your soil mixture is not retaining too much water!
Pests And Diseases
Junipers are truly hardy trees, and they do not need excessive upkeep to stay healthy and beautiful. The number one problem for junipers is overwatering.
Like all bonsai trees, junipers can fall victim to pests like scale, aphids, and spider mites. In case of such infestations, a pesticide or miticide can help rid your tree of pests and return it to good health. Purchase one of these products at a local garden supply store and apply it to the affected areas. For some infestations (such as scale), you may first need to physically remove the pests from the leaves or branches of your tree. If you find that one of your bonsai trees is affected, make sure to check any other trees you have for the same pest. Isolate the infested tree to minimize the likelihood of spreading pests to other plants in your home and consider treating all plants with miticide or pesticide as a precautionary measure.
Depending on the type of juniper you have, rust and rust fungus may also be a problem. A tree suffering from a rust infection may have dead leaves, deformed leaves or branches, or strange growths on it. Rust fungus, one variety of rust, causes hard balls to form on juniper branches. These balls then form strange, orange growths that look like tendrils or tentacles. Rust is highly contagious. Because it is a fungus, it can be spread when airborne fungal spores from an infected juniper land on another plant.
Some varieties of juniper are known for being less susceptible to certain types of fungus. For example, Chinese juniper is known for being resistant to cedar rust, which is a common variety of rust. Unfortunately, fungal issues still tend to spread quickly. Because of the possibility of contamination, it may be advisable to dispose of an infected tree before it can infect any others. This is especially true if you own more than one bonsai tree. Some bonsai owners recommend burning an infected tree in order to fully kill the fungus. Fungicide can also be applied.
Fungal infections can be spread from wild trees outside to your bonsai trees, indoors or outdoors. Keeping your bonsai in an area with good circulation will help ensure that spores do not easily settle on your tree.
A juniper is a low-commitment investment. In exchange for basic care and occasional pruning, you get a tree that is immediately identifiable as a classic bonsai. While they can vary in size, bark color, and foliage type, all junipers are beautiful and easy to care for. The juniper is a hardy tree that is fit for bonsai beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. It can thrive on minimal care and is more likely to grow unhealthy when over-pampered, so be careful not to overwater, over-fertilize, or excessively prune. With any luck, your efforts will be rewarded with a beautiful and long-lasting bonsai!