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How To Bonsai a Juniper? (Step by Step Guide)

Junipers are one of the most popular trees for bonsai. 

Thus, there are many people out there eager to attempt to create a juniper bonsai for themselves. 

And luckily, it’s easy to do at home, as long as you have a healthy, established juniper on your hands. 

You can turn a juniper shrub into a bonsai by pruning it and shaping its branches and trunk with bonsai wire. 

Also, don’t forget that you will need to wire and prune the shrub continuously so that it keeps its shape. 

At the same time, you should be caring for your juniper by supplying it with proper fertilization, water, and sunlight. 

Keep reading as I impart my best tips regarding bonsai pruning and shaping practices and how these translate for juniper shrubs. 

I’ll also dive into the correct ways to care for these plants as you mold them into bonsais.

How to Pick a Healthy Juniper for Bonsai

The first step in transforming a juniper shrub into a bonsai is to select the right plant. 

The juniper shrub you choose should ideally be well-established already, meaning it has been healthy and growing for several years. 

It should also have plenty of long offshoots to show for itself, indicating that it’s ready for shaping.

And remember that although some bonsai aficionados wait up to 20 years before pruning and shaping a juniper shrub, you can actually do so after about five years. 

Thus, your juniper does not need to be too old to start shaping it. 

If you don’t have a healthy juniper that’s been alive for several years, you can purchase one from a garden center or nursery. 

Then, once you’ve chosen a juniper to bonsai, you should put it in a one-gallon pot so that the plant stays small for bonsai

However, if the plant is already too big for a pot of this size, you may need to use a slightly larger container. 

How to Prune a Juniper Bonsai 

Pruning Design

Pruning is a delicate process that requires you to remove both unwanted branches as well as branches that don’t go with your preferred style. 

Everyone has a different preference for a bonsai’s shape and look in order to promote feng shui. 

So before you start pruning, consider the style you want and even draw it out if needed. 

Pruning Order

As you prepare to prune, clean off a sharp pair of gardening shears with rubbing alcohol. 

Then, you can start pruning by selecting the large, unnecessary branches that you want to remove. 

Afterward, I suggest moving on to removing smaller branches that may add aesthetic value to your bonsai if you eliminate them.  

Pruning Downward Growth

In the pruning process, you also want to do some “cleaning up” on your juniper shrub. 

You can do so by pruning off small branches that are growing downward so that you can make room for the bonsai wire, which you will add later. 

I also suggest giving the shrub a good look-over to find any growth that may be falling off and in need of removal. 

Extra Pruning Tips

The key to pruning for bonsai purposes is to make sure to leave plenty of younger, smaller branches. 

These branches are more pliable and usable when it comes to shaping the shrub with bonsai wire. 

Further, you should try to avoid pruning off too much of your juniper shrub (no more than a third of its growth). 

Later on, when you do maintenance pruning, you can shear off more of the branches. 

Also, keep in mind that for aesthetic function, you may want to remove some of the bark off of the pruned branches to give the shrub an older look. 

How to Shape a Juniper Bonsai

The next step to bonsai a juniper shrub is to shape the branches using bonsai wire

Generally, you should wire your juniper shrub’s branches according to their thickness. 

Shaping the Trunk

Since the trunk of your bonsai is much thicker than the branches, you’ll want to use a wide bonsai wire for it. 

Wrap the wire around the trunk, moving upwards from the base to the top of the shrub. 

And since the trunk is stronger than the branches, you may need to double wrap it in some areas to help it bend and shape the way you desire.

Shaping the Branches 

The branches also need their own size of wire according to their thickness. 

You can use thinner bonsai wire than you did on the trunk to wrap the branches, working from the trunk outwards to the tips. 

Repeat this wiring to each branch you want to shape until you’ve set the shrub into the design you want. 

Extra Wiring Tips

When wiring a bonsai shrub, take precautions to avoid damaging the trunk and branches. 

To do so, you may need to secure the bonsai wire by placing foam between it and the bark so that it doesn’t make incisions. 

I also suggest that you try shaping certain branches you want to take on a curve using stakes. 

You can do this by planting the stake into your pot’s soil and using the bonsai wire to secure the branches to the stake so that they’ll grow in the intended direction. 

How to Care for Your Juniper Bonsai 

There’s more to creating a bonsai than the initial pruning and shaping session. 

Bonsai is an art form that requires continual maintenance, including pruning, feeding, and shaping. 

Juniper Bonsai Fertilization

One of the most critical steps in bonsai maintenance is learning how to fertilize your plant. 

Juniper shrubs typically require an acid-balanced fertilizer so that the soil can have a stable pH somewhere between 6.0 and 6.5. 

A good fertilizer option for juniper bonsai shrubs is Dyna-Gro Liquid Bonsai-Pro fertilizer, which you can apply once monthly in the spring and autumn months. 

Juniper Bonsai Watering

You also need to keep an eye on your plant’s moisture levels. 

And, you’ll, of course, need to manage this maintenance task long-term, as plants can’t survive without water. 

Juniper bonsai shrubs, in particular, need to have soil that is generally moist but not soaking wet. 

Therefore, you need to keep an eye on your soil’s relative moisture. 

Overall, though, how often you need to water your plant depends on your climate. 

The key here is to make sure the roots always have plenty of water, which you can ensure by soaking them and then draining them from time to time.

Juniper Bonsai Sunlight Needs

Proper sunlight, just like appropriate watering, is essential to the health of a juniper bonsai. 

I recommend keeping your bonsai in direct sunlight for a minimum of five hours daily. 

Junipers thrive best when they receive sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. 

Thus, many growers keep their bonsai plants outside of the home. 

Juniper Bonsai Continual Shaping

Aside from general bonsai care and maintenance, you also need to learn how to continue to shape and prune your juniper bonsai. 

Over time, your bonsai’s branches will start to take shape, bending to the direction you’ve wired them in. 

Once the branches have started to harden within the wires, you can take the wires off. 

And how long it takes until the branches harden depends on the tree and design, so it may be several months to a year before you can remove the wires. 

Then, when you take off the wires, you can continue shaping the plant by pruning small branches with small scissors. 

Here, you’ll want to encourage foliage growth closer to the shrub’s trunk, which you can achieve by shortening thin branches. 

But, just remember not to over-prune your juniper, or you might damage its health. 

Eventually, you can rewire the branches to make the bends more prominent as they grow. 

Juniper Bonsai Root Care

You need to maintain the roots of juniper bonsais with pruning.

To prune bonsai roots, you’ll need to take the plant out of its pot temporarily. 

Brush off some of the soil until you can see the larger roots and prune off no more than 30% of them. 

Then, you can spread out the remaining smaller bonsai roots to give them some aeration. 

Finally, you should put your tree back in its pot. 

Juniper Bonsai Re-potting Tips

As your juniper bonsai develops, you’ll need to re-pot your tree so that it can really thrive in its newly pruned condition. 

To do so, you’ll need to find a well-draining, slightly smaller bonsai container to put it in (less than one gallon). 

Add some new bonsai potting mix suited for junipers, and then water the soil. 

After a few weeks of rest, you can fertilize the shrub, being careful not to shock it with direct sunlight at first. 

Final Thoughts

Turning a juniper shrub into a bonsai is not too difficult. 

You just need to ensure you prune, shape, wire, and care for your bonsai over its life. 

But, make sure not to over-prune your juniper bonsai, or you could hurt your plant. 

If you do all these steps correctly, you’ll soon have a plant that looks totally different from when you started because you’ve put the time in to make it that way.

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