The Chinese Juniper, actually from originating from Japan, has been used to create some of the most breathe taking bonsai tree I have ever seen – caring from them however, is not straight forward. I have been doing some research and put together a full guide to caring for a Chinese Juniper Bonsai!
Whether you own one or not, you’ve probably seen a fair few of them as this species can be styled into the most creative bonsai. Famously known for it’s driftwood properties, combined with it’s ability to be styled into a cascading tree, the Chinese Juniper is definitely one of the most interesting bonsai trees out there.
1. Watering Your Juniper Bonsai
When it comes to watering a Juniper bonsai, there’s very little that can go wrong. These trees tend to be extremely thirsty through the summer months and can even get through a lot of water during the winter season. The Chinese Juniper can actually handle under watering very well for short periods of time but of course it’s going to be best of the tree if you’re keeping a constant check on the soils moisture levels to keep the tree well watered.
To water a Juniper Bonsai, push your finger into the soil, about an inch in depth. If the soil is moist but not wet, that’s the perfect time to water, without worrying about over watering the bonsai. Pour rain water if possible, or tap water, over the soil for 30 – 60 seconds, until water is running out of the drainage holes. Let the tree sit for 2-5 minutes, letting all of that water drain out, to avoid the soil being too wet and causing root rot. Repeat the process once more, then the tree will be well watered.
When to water your Juniper bonsai really depends on a lot of factors from climate, age, size and season but it’s definitely a thirsty tree. I would advise checking the soils moisture every day during the hottest months, then once every 2 days during winter. For more information, you can check out my full guide on perfectly watering a bonsai tree.
2. Growing Conditions & Sunlight
A Juniper bonsai should be grown outdoors all year round, in moderate to full sunlight. The more sunlight this species gets, the more tight and fast the growth of foliage becomes, although some owners actually prefer to place it in a semi shaded area as this slows down foliage growth and produces a slightly different colour foliage to that of being grown in full sun. Whether you choose to grow it in partial or full sun, make sure you’re watering well all year round as it’s going to require a lot of water.
Junipers actually do very well in cold temperatures too, meaning you won’t need to worry about bringing it in during cold snaps or freezing periods. I actually really like the way the foliage turns this really deep orange in the winter when temperatures drop a lot, so that’s something to look forward to every frost! As cool as the change in foliage colour is, as the season rolls on into spring, it’ll return to the beautiful green colour it was before the winter.
3. Pruning Your Juniper Bonsai
The ideal time to prune a Juniper bonsai tree would be in the last few weeks of summer. The tends to be the best time of year to do any sort of structural pruning as the sap is going to be starting to flow a lot slower. This species is a dream when it comes to styling and designing as you pretty much have complete creative control over the look of the bonsai. One of the hardships of styling and wiring a Juniper is that the branches are typically very springy, making it take a lot longer to actually set the new position of a branch, so be sure to leave sufficient time for this. As a a general guide, you’ll want to allow a year for a younger branch to actually set but a thicker, trained branch is most likely not ever going to stay in the wired position for a long period of time.
When unhappy with the shape of the foliage you can pinch away growth tips and thin out the foliage as this is going to bring the aesthetic back to a lovely silhouetted shape. Depending on the time of year you may have large shoots growing out at a very fast rate, these can be trimmed right back to the branches whenever you feel it needed. When doing maintenance pruning, try to let at least some of the newer growth actually become part of the desired shape, rather than just pruning it all away every few weeks. New shoots growing on the underside of larger branches typically doesn’t look great and they will most likely lack a lot of sunlight so it’s best practice to remove these fully. For more information, have a read of my guide: How To Prune A Bonsai Tree.
A Juniper bonsai will need to be re-potted no more than every 3-5 years and it should really be undertaken during spring for the best results. In terms of the soil, this species can grow extremely well in a standard soil mix, without needing to mix your own. You can pick up a bonsai soil mix from Amazon here – which is what I have personally been using recently. In my research I have also found that many long time Juniper owners like to add in some fresh, finely crushed sphagnum moss into their soil. If you struggle with repotting, read my Step By Step Guide To Repotting A Bonsai Tree.
Personally I have never added sphagnum moss into my soil mixtures so I cannot say whether it’s beneficial or not from first hand experience. I have used sphagnum moss a few times when creating bonsai moss to improve my soils water retention however and as the Juniper is such a thirsty tree, it might actually be worth doing. I have an article here breaking down how to grow your own bonsai moss (step by step).
When it comes to feeding, the Juniper doesn’t require anything too out of the ordinary for bonsai trees. In the summer, when the tree is growing nicely, you’ll want to give it a balanced feed – this is the one I am currently using from Amazon. As you get into the autumn months, using a nitrogen free feed is the best port of call. Many owners just don’t feed during the winter period, regardless of the species but you can actually get good results by feeding a Juniper in winter. You’ll need to use a slower releasing feed, in a low dose and this will give the next springs growth a lot of strength and vigor, but it’s not essential.
6. Juniper Turning Yellow
Bonsai trees typically let the owner know when it is struggling, normally through the foliage at first. If your juniper bonsai foliage is turning yellow, it’s most likely due to under-watering or being grown indoors. Junipers definitely like to be kept more on the dry side than over-watered but still under-watering it will cause the foliage to start yellowing.
If your Juniper bonsai is yellowing, make sure it is growing outdoors and well watered. The combination of being grown indoors and being under-watered is what will cause the Juniper to turn yellow.
Quick Tips For Caring For A Juniper Bonsai
When reading a full care guide it can seem like you’re being overloaded with information that might be hard to digest. I have put together quick care tips to just recap the care advise given in the larger paragraphs above.
Watering – Keep the Juniper well watered all year round, it’s a very thirsty tree.
Growing Conditions – Grow outdoors the whole year, full sun and partial shade will both yield great growth. Juniper tolerate cold snaps very well too, so no need to bring the tree indoors.
Pruning – Conduct any structural pruning of a Juniper bonsai at the end of summer. Wiring young branches will take upwards of a year and older, thicker branches are nearly impossible to wire successfully. Pinching out growth tips when needed is absolutely fine and will help keep the aesthetics of the tree. Thin out foliage as and when you feel it needed.
Repotting – Repot a Juniper every 3-5 years during spring. Use a standard soil mix and optionally add in sphagnum moss.
Fertilizing – Give the tree a balanced feed in the summer, a no nitrogen feed in the autumn and an optional slow release feed in winter.
Extra Tip – It’s worth watching out for any branches falling off your Juniper, which can happen all year round. Typically this won’t actually mean it’s infected or dying, this species actually does this to restore optimum performance between roots and foliage – so nothing to panic about!