Saturday, 9 March 2019

How to Kill a Juniper

Browsing through the Reddit bonsai group there are always a lot of posts from newbies with their first tree, and that tree is often a Juniper. Sadly many are led to believe that it's okay to keep their Juniper indoors. The truth is that's the easiest way to kill it. The bad news is that Junipers stay green for months while they're dying, and by the time the owner realises their tree is sick, it's usually already long dead.

I was lucky. I've never made that particular mistake. But that's not to say I've never killed a Juniper.

I've already written a few posts about the Juniper Mint Julep I bought as a candidate for Reddit's nursery stock contest in March 2018.

As purchased - March 2018

Having seen many people on Reddit advising first time Juniper growers not to do too much work at once, I tried to be gentle with my tree and though I removed a lot of the top, I left a couple of unwanted low branches to avoid shocking the tree too much.

April 2018

It made it through the Southern hemisphere winter without any trouble.

My big mistake was taking it to a club meeting in September 2018. I didn't even plan for it to go on the table for critique, just to enquire from an expert whether it was safe to remove those low branches. Unfortunately some of the members had other ideas, and I came home with this:

September 2018

I was really disappointed with this new styling and felt it was no longer "my" tree. And I was extremely concerned about its survival. The suggestion that I repot it immediately sounded like a bad idea, and I decided against it.

Perhaps at that stage it still stood a chance of surviving, though it would have been a long time before it grew branches that I would  have been happy to work with. Unfortunately, when discussing the tree with another experienced grower a few weeks later, I was told it was okay to repot it, so I did. The root pruning involved was the last straw, and by December 2018 it had lost all its foliage, though I found signs of hope in the form of one tiny green bud growing from the section that was intended to be used as dead wood.

Signs of hope - December 2018

And my hopes were finally dashed when that bud died a few weeks ago.

If I ever buy another Juniper (unlikely), I'll definitely take my advice from Reddit and stick to the principle of one insult per season. Perhaps they can survive more, but there are bound to be problems along the way.

That was certainly the case with a Juniper I worked on when I attended a beginner's course back in 2007. The tree was pruned, wired and planted in a bonsai pot, all over the period of two days. It survived, but the top died and a makeover was required within months. It's been restyled a few times since then, but to this day I'm not happy with that tree and I'm determined to find it a new home one day. If I can get a little money for it, I'll probably spend it on another ficus!


  1. I have heard from numerous sources that with Junipers you prune one season, and the next you repot. I have a Juniper Chinensis that will be repotted this year. Also when pruning them, you need to leave enough green growth on the branches. You prune back to a point and the next season you prune back again. This allows for the tree to respond, get over the shock and respond by creating new buds and branches. Get another one. I am just as scared of working with mine but taking baby steps will at least give it a fair chance of surviving, even if it takes longer for it to get where I want it to be. Good luck!!

    1. I've read that on Reddit too, which is why I was trying to be careful. Unfortunately, when people I know gave different advice I made the mistake of trusting them.

      I probably won't buy another Juniper because I don't enjoy working with conifers and I already have too many trees.

    2. A Bonsai Artist, never says he has too many trees.

  2. Bonsai is within you, what you perceive it to be. Don’t let nobody touch and/or cut your, ever!