Juniper design Q&A – identifying next steps on a Sierra juniper

I received some good questions following the previous post about a Sierra juniper.

  • Why aren’t you planning to keep foliage on the upper branches?
  • Why did you decide to graft and where are the grafts?
  • How did you decide which branches to cut?
  • What’s the overall plan for developing this tree and how long will it take?

If I didn’t have answers to these questions it would have been hard to know what to do next. Here’s how I figured that out.

Why aren’t you planning to keep foliage on the upper branches?

The key question for styling this tree is what to do with the upper half of the trunk. The lower trunk has taper and great deadwood. The upper half has interesting movement but little deadwood.

Upper trunkUpper trunk

Upper trunk

Lower trunkLower trunk

Lower trunk

For me, the most interesting aspects of the tree are the deadwood and shape of the lower trunk. To focus the viewer’s eye on these elements, I want most of the foliage to be near the deadwood and not one-to-two feet above it.

If I keep foliage on the upper half of the trunk, my favorite characteristics become a small percentage of the composition. By concentrating the foliage near the deadwood, I can ensure that the deadwood is the focus of the design.

Most foliage will be below the lineMost foliage will be below the line

Most of the future foliage will be located below the line

Once I have enough foliage to support the design on the lower half of the trunk, I have two options for the top half of the tree: I can remove it or create additional deadwood features. My current plan is to create a deadwood feature that I can remove down the road if it doesn’t suit the tree.

Why did you decide to graft and where are the grafts?

As you can see from the photos, there’s only one branch on the lower half of the trunk. I can either use foliage from this branch to create the apex and fill in the right side of the silhouette or I can graft new branches.

Bending existing branches upwards would take less time than grafting but would result in awkward branch structure. By grafting branches near the top of the first branch and on the right side of the trunk, I can develop new branches and create a simple branch structure. As a bonus, grafting can help me maintain key sections of the tree’s lifeline on the front side of the trunk.

Here are the graft points.

Graft pointsGraft points

Locations of the two grafts

How did you decide which branches to cut?

In addition to thinning dense areas by removing the oldest foliage, I reduced three branches.

Pruned branchesPruned branches

Branches that were pruned

The first branch could have been bent around to create an apex, but the resulting structure would be awkward (the apex would come from the base of the first branch). It’s also too large for use as a primary branch. By pruning it, I can encourage the inner shoots that will form the first branch on the left side of the tree to develop.

The second branch was shading out the graft and the lower branches I wanted to keep. By removing it, I can ensure these lower branches receive ample sunlight.

The third branch lacks the character of the main trunkline and brings the design too far to the right. By pruning it, I can reduce the amount of foliage on the top half of the tree without affecting the branches on the main trunkline.

What’s the overall plan for developing this tree and how long will it take?

Years 1-3 Establish roots after collecting the tree

Juniper in 2017Juniper in 2017

Sierra juniper before work began – January, 2017

Year 3 – Repot the tree to change the potting angle and establish roots in new soil

Year 4 – Limited pruning and grafting new branches

Year 5 – Reduce branches and thin remaining foliage (the work done this year)

Years 6-7 – Let grafts grow freely while reducing foliage on the upper half of the trunk

Years 8 – 10 Begin working with grafted foliage to create the future silhouette; create deadwood features on the upper portion of the trunk

Years 11-12 At this point the tree may resemble a bonsai! Continue to develop branch density and refine the silhouette

That covers the basic decisions that went into the plan for this tree. If you found this information helpful or if you have additional questions, let me know in the comments below!

Bonsai pots for sale from Daisaku Nomoto

Every year when Daisaku visits the garden, he brings pots along with him. Click the image below to see a selection of containers from his last visit.

Bonsai pots for saleBonsai pots for sale

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